Building High Performing Teams

Over the years I have built several high performing teams. How do I define a high performing team? In the simplest terms, a high performing team is one that accomplishes its goals while remaining true to the cultural aspects I have put in place. To succeed and reach the goal, but done so at the cost of destroying the culture is not success, nor is it high performing in my book. Thus, establishing a high performing team includes both a personal view of the leader of that team, combined with core competencies that typically appear in most teams that consistently meet or exceed their objectives.

I have 10 focus points when recruiting new candidates to build my team, or deepen my bench strength:

  1. Chemistry. Do they fit? What’s the first vibe I get when interacting with this person? Are they engaging? Stimulating? Are they able to operate and respond to circumstances, or scenarios, when under fire? How do they react? What are the observed behaviors noted when they are interacting with others?
  2. Curiosity. Do they possess a healthy curiosity about things? Forget whether they’re asking questions and instead focus on the question itself. Is it thoughtful? Are they asking questions that demonstrate an ability to assimilate new information and inquire beyond that point? Or did they show up with the standard pre-packaged set of questions?
  3. Ability to see the negative space. Can the candidate spot things that haven’t been discussed? Do they possess a level of intuition that identifies areas to probe? Can they engage me on what I haven’t said, as much as what I have said?
  4. Challenging. Does the candidate seem to go along for the ride? Do they fully agree with everything I’m saying? Often times I will ask a question that goes completely against what I believe, just to see how he/she reacts. This exercise gives me insight into their intellect and ability to pivot quickly.
  5. Active listening. How well does the person listen? I give high marks to note-takers. Taking notes is a sign of an active listener. Notes are a good indicator of detail. Using those notes to ask follow-up questions demonstrates the ability to grasp complex concepts and expand on a topic or conversation.
  6. Think in 3’s. How well does the individual tell the story? How quickly do they get to the point? Do they talk in circles when asked a question with lots of words really saying nothing? Or do they demonstrate structured thinking by responding in 3’s? “I believe there are 3 reasons for…”
  7. Problem solving skills. How well can he/she frame the problem? To solve a problem you must first understand exactly what you’re solving for. I will provide a scenario and gauge the candidates response to gain insight into their thinking and how they go about solving problems. Do they simply react to the obvious, surface-level, problem? Or do they take their time and begin to peel it back one layer at a time by asking more and more questions?
  8. Continuous learning. I’ve asked this question for the better part of the last 20 years of team building – “Tell me the name of the last book you read, and what was it about?” It still amazes me how many people don’t read. Or, you get the typical response, “I read the WSJ”. I am looking for responses that offer a mix of reading material beyond business. My ears get happy when I hear Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell, Stuart Woods, Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, or Michael Crichton. I also look for autobiographies of past leaders or influential members of society. Reading, followed by doing, is the most powerful accelerator of progress.
  9. Crucible moment. A crucible moment is a turning point in someone’s life. Ask, what was your crucible moment, or at least provide one? I myself have had several throughout my life. Look for substance. Not the standard, “When I met my wife”, or “When we had our son”. Only if those moments are backed up with something completely out of the ordinary, it’s not a crucible moment in by book. I’m looking for adversity, failures, fear. How willing is this person to open up and be vulnerable?
  10. Finally, last but not least, I look for empathy. How does this person relate to others? When faced with specific stressful scenario, how do they react? How do they treat others? What happens to their voice, and tone, when they are talking and responding? Empathy is likely the single biggest competency that defines success. The ability to relate to others is critical when working with others on a team. It feeds directly into chemistry as its most powerful ingredient.

Whether you’re building a new team from scratch, adding a few new players, or re-tooling the existing team, having a clear culture – rules to live by – is critical. As the leader it’s imperative that you state clearly what you expect of others. Establishing the right expectations and further executing upon them most certainly increases the probability of your success and that of your team.

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