How to Build High-​Performing Teams Without Burning Them Out

BY C. Lee Smith
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Managers understand that high-​performing teams can positively impact the bottom line. Being a member of this kind of team also builds loyalty and motivation. But convincing individual employees to cooperate with co-​workers can be a manager’s biggest challenge.

Building High-​Performing Teams

When it’s time to begin a new project, managers might already know who they want on their team. They might base their decision on skills and expertise. But employees also have unique motivational and work traits.

Managers should consider an employee’s ability to collaborate. Another detail to take note of is their level of emotional control when assembling a team. These details, and information about a team member’s reliability under stress and pressure, are available in good psychometric assessment results.

When a manager must bring an employee with specific challenges onto a team, extra individual coaching may be necessary. If the employee struggles with follow-​through, the manager should also encourage them to ask other team members for reminders. Done in a positive manner, these extra communications may head off conflict and strengthen team bonds.

Managing the High-​Performing Team

Managers shouldn’t expect to assemble a talented group of workers and send them off with a mandate to complete a project in three months. Ron Friedman’s research, reported in Harvard Business Review, reveals the harsh truth about the success of teamwork in a typical organization. Less than 10% of surveyed employees say they work on teams that deliver high performance.

Part of the problem comes down to managerial oversight. Finding the balance between guiding employees and micromanaging can be tricky.

In our survey of sales professionals, we learned that 35% believe their managers lack the ability to motivate the team. And 33% accused their leader of micromanaging.

To avoid burnout and a slip into mediocrity, managers must play an active role. Helping team members determine “how [the team] will work together is crucial,” notes Friedman. This includes “signaling respect for one another’s strengths and preferences.”

Managers can facilitate this process by setting expectations regarding team interactions. When managers insist on courteous exchanges, team members understand the rules. Exhibiting the kind of behavior expected from employees is the best way for the manager lead by example.

Reducing the Problem of Groupthink

At the same time, managers shouldn’t discourage differences of opinion. In their quest to optimize results from their high-​performance team, managers must know when employees have concerns.

They should encourage productive conversations between employees who have opposing points of view.

These open exchanges should lead to improved output. They may come at a time when a problem arises. The best way to find a cost-​effective solution to a problem is to listen to every opinion. This requires receiving input, even when it conflicts with what the manager believes. 

Not all team members feel safe speaking up though. Our research indicates that when team members trust their manager, they will give their opinions. These people are also motivated to work harder than team members who don’t have that trust.

Planning for Team Success

The next time you’re tasked with successfully completely a challenging project, develop a plan before charging into action. Take sufficient time to establish key goals that your team will need to meet on their path to completion. And build in a cushion to allow for unexpected problems.

Nothing impacts high performance team dynamics more than the stress of possibly missing a deadline. Some team members relish the challenge of working around the clock. They strive to be sure their mission is completed on time and under budget.  Brain-​lock may be the default response from other team members.

Leaders should combine achievable metrics in the march to project completion with proper management styles. The end result will be limited burnout and optimal output from their high-​performance team.

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