High Performing Teams (HPT)

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This wiki article is a spin off from an earlier article, as we had the option to revise an old article and make changes. The wiki article on High performing teams is therefor a revised article from the DTU Wiki page. The parts that has not been edited are marked in Italics (regarding paragraphs, not quots or words) . It is also worth mentioning that some parts could seem similar that is not in italic, but has been rephrased. This is not a big part of the article though.


High performance teams are critical to the success of organizations in today's fast-paced and competitive business environment. They are characterized by high levels of collaboration, clear and shared goals, effective communication, and a positive and supportive culture [1]. Research has shown that high performance teams contribute to improved employee engagement, increased productivity and efficiency, and higher levels of innovation [2]. To build a high performance team, it is important to focus on creating an environment that supports collaboration and encourages open and honest communication. This can be achieved through a variety of techniques, including regular team-building activities, clear goal setting, and a strong emphasis on feedback and continuous improvement. This articel however, will focus on identifying the characteristics that represents high performance teams.

Macmillan (2001) [1] identifies six key characteristics that define high performance teams, all of which are essential for achieving high team performance. This article provides an explanation of each characteristic, with supporting sources to validate the claims. Moreover, this article addresses the application of high performance teams within a project management context, with a specific focus on the role of leadership. This discussion emphasize the significance of the leader's role in a high performance team [3]. Additionally, this article explores potential limitations of high performance teams, particularly the hindrances outlined by Raman (2014) [3]. Finally, it emphasizes that the characteristics of high performance teams cannot be used in isolation, as they only represent observations of features that distinguish high performance teams and not a direct tool for achieving high performance.

Big Idea

Figure 1: Team performance curve based on Katzenbach and Smith,1993 [4]
Figure 2: Life Cycle model based on Neel Raman, 2014 [3]

High performance teams are critical to the success of organizations in today's fast-paced and competitive business environment. Teamwork in general is a concept that has gained a lot of attention in the workplace in the last couple of years, and organizations are now focusing on enhancing team functionality to create high performance teams. This shift in mindset from the late 1900s, is mainly driven by the new understanding that innovation and creativity are now essential for organizations long term stability [1] [3]. In order to understand how high performance teams work, different characteristics will be presented in the article. High performance teams are characterized by different factors, and research has shown that high performance teams was a result of improved employee engagement, increased productivity, and efficiency [5]. To build a high-performance team, it is important to focus on creating an environment that supports collaboration and encourages open and honest communication. Although there exists several point of view on how high performance of team work is best practiced, the majority of the characteristics seems similar. The article will take inspiration from the six characteristics presented by Macmillan (2001) [1].

There is a fundamental difference between groups and teams, and it is essential for a company to recognize the difference between them to comprehend the causes behind the success or failure. On one hand, a group is composed of individuals who work for the same company but may not work with a common agenda or collaboration. In a group, it can seem like each member is only held accountable for their own performance, and not the total output of the group. In contrast to this, a team is a gathering of individuals that has a common purpose and focuses on the output of the team. In a team, the individuals often put aside their differences to work together, and everyone is held equally accountable for the output [3]. For a more detailed explanation of the differences between them the author refers the reader to external resources.

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable" [4]. To illustrate where high performance teams difference from other types of teams, Katzenbach & Smith developed the “Team performance curve” which illustrates different stages of teams. The figure 1 illustrates how a working group can evolve into one of the four distinctive types of teams, with the ultimate objective of achieving high performance teams. The graph presents the performance between the team effectiveness and the performance impact. For further explenaiton of the curve, the author again refers the reader to external resources. [4]

Every team goes through a team life-cycle, and poorly design team may not reach the potential of high performance teams. The four stages of the team life cycle are the formatio, dissension, collaboration, and execution [3]. An illustration of the lifecycle process is shown in figure 2.

  • Formation. At this stage the knowledge about the problem is limited and the expectations are low. The stage is mainly about introducing the team to each other to get a feel of the individuals and the group dynamic.
  • Dissension is the next stage of the life cycle and is maybe the hardest stage to defeat as it normally consist of conflict. In this stage, low- vs high performance teams are already being distinguished as low performance teams will collapse at this stage, while high performance teams will learn and adapt moving forward. A typical reaction to this stage is that individuals often will find their specific roles based on their personalities and skillset for the high performance team.
  • The third stage is collaboration which emphasizes how the high performance teams now start to work more effectively. This stage is characterized by role definition, rediscovered optimism, “we” instead of “me”, etc.
  • The last stage, which is execution, is where a team becomes a full on high performance team where individuals understand their role, communication is optimized, and the team functions freely.

Characteristics of high performance teams

Figure 1: The six characteristics based on Pat Macmillan, 2001 [1]

The first characteristic that Macmillan (2001) [1] covers is the Common purpose . “The single most important ingredient in team success is a clear, common, compelling task”. This is how the first characteristic is described, and refers to the importance of team members common agreement of the purpose. Common purpose can also be referred to as the goals of the team, which is presented as one of the guidelines from Johnson and Johnson (2013) [6]. It is important for a team to have a common purposse so that every individual are working towards the same goal.

The second characteristic being highlighted is the importance of Crystal Clear Roles in a team. “Every team member is clear about his or her particular role, as well as those of the other team members” [1]. Making clear roles is about how tasks are distributed within the given team to optimize the work. Belbin emphasized on the importance of team roles to build high performance teams. His research showed that the most successful teams were made up of a diverse mix of roles within a team with each of the roles with different strengths and weaknesses. [7].

The third characteristic is the Accepted leadership and how it affects the performance on teams. “High performance teams need clear, competent leadership. When such leadership is lacking, groups lose their way.” [1]. Macmillan argues that inadequate leadership could be the main reason for team ineffectiveness. He goes on explaining that team members need to accept the given leader of the team that can motivate through initiative and creativity to extract individual and team performance. Johnson and Johnson (2013) [6] also emphasize on the importance on leadership, whereas they argue that equal participation and responsibility leads members to feel ownership for decisions. Resulting in more satisfied fellowship and bringing all skills available to the table. Together, this emphasize the importance of having a clear leader but also allowing individuals to have ownership of their work.

The fourth characteristic described by Macmillan (2001) [1] is the Effective processes. “Teams and processes goes together. […] processes might include making decisions, managing a meeting, processing insurance claims, or any other activities we undertake in pursuit of our mission.”. The characteristic refers to how teams working with different factors like identifying, mapping, and mastering how their team handle unique processes. Effective processing is not something that is done over night, but an iterative process that asks the team the questions on how to get better each time to optimize their performances.

The fifth characteristics is Solid relationships. “[…] teams and teamwork is the belief that to work and communicate effectively, team members must be close comrads. Not true. In fact, the diversity of skill experience, and knowledge needed for effectively and creativity […], which is most often based on common interest” [1]. This characteristic is mainly referring to the importance of diversity in a team and how that contribute to becoming a high-performance team. Research has shown that having a diverse team can enhance both the productivity of the team and the quality of the final outcomes [8]. By having a team that visualizes tasks from different point of view, the team will be able to handle problems, decisions, and other issues with a higher standard of IQ [1]. The diversity of a team can vary between gender, function, experience, personality, ethnicity, etc.

The last and sixth characteristic Macmillan (2001)[1] presents is Excellent communication. “Communication is the very means of cooperations.[…] A team, or the organization in which it resides, cannot move faster than is communicates”. Communication is therefore key to team and organizations success. High performance teams understands that effective communication is essential for successful teamwork because it facilitates coordination, conflict resolution, and collaboration. Increased efficiency and productivity, avoid duplications of work, and aligning the work towards common goal are just some of the benefits a team will face when having excellent communication. Furthermore, communication allows the team members to share ideas, opinions, and feedback, which can result in better decision making and improved outcome [6].

Application of high performance teams: leadership

Providing a step-by-step guide for project managers on how to incorporate knowledge about high performance teams directly into their projects is challenging, because each project is unique, and adjustments must be made to suit the companies’ conditions and specific teams. For that reason, leadership becomes essential for teams to be able to perform at a high level. The section will therfor take a closer look at the importance of leadership of high performing teams. In additiion, the section will touch upon how high performance teamwork relates to PPPM (Project, Program, and Portfolio Management) and what is done to create high performance teams. While it is important for all of them, the focus will be on project management


Leadership is a major part of creating high performance teams and even though the accepted leadership is one of the characteristics of high performance teams, Macmillan (2001) emphasize on the importance of leadership to create a high performance team in relation to every characteristic. There is an overall importance of having a leader through the process, that can manage how the group is facilitating the characteristics and, in the end, working together towards a common goal. Even though it is the characteristics of a high performance team that is making the team perform at that level, it is the leaders responsibility to guide the team through the process and acknowledge all the characteristics in the team. To become an effective leader, it is important to demonstrate effective leadership behaviors to your team members. If leaders fail to lead the team effectively, he or she is unlikely to achieve high levels of performance for the entire team. High performance of teams occur when thoughtful and mindful leadership is taken place [9]. The leadership is a crucial factor in any project across alle the stages of the project lice cycle [3]. After years of change in market and strategies, different theories and practices have developed to define different leadership styles. It is therefore important to use the appropriate style of leadership for each situation and more specifically each team in order to achieve project success [10]. A situational leadership approach is motivated by the development and effectiveness of the team, rather than self-serving interest. [11] Therefore, situational leadership style is considered most suitable for project management as it enables the leader to select the best course of action based on the circumstances and create high performance teams.

Team performance is also a focus in the standards of Project Management Institute (2017)[12]. In section 9.4 and 9.5 the focus is on how management facilitate the team to improve results through improved teamwork. Project managers use knowledge about effective teams to select the best strategies for obtaining their goals. This project manager-approach is a nice add-on to the six characteristics. More or less, project managers try to push their team into a suitable environmental and cultural frame. This is to give the team a climate of trust. To obtain this Project Management Institute (2017) [12] introduce tools and techniques that help facilitate this environment. When the environment is good, the team is more likely to be able to focus on developing and applying the six characteristics in their project.

Discussion and limitation

The six characteristics presented in the article are useful in many ways, but as they are only characteristics describing what a high performance team often perform well on, it is not enough to be used alone. The characteristics do not guide the reader on how a team should fulfill the characteristics through activities or phases in a project. As they are presented in the article, they are only intended as guiding towards how a high performance team should operate. So to actually make use of them, additional tools is necessary. Understanding how to create a team, implement activities and phases, and in general learn about how to manage a team through leadership are examples of knowledge needed to take use of the characteristics. This article should therefor be seen as a step towards increasing knowlede about creating high performance teams.

Raman (2014) [3] presents some hindrances to high performance teams. These bullet points are presented as hinders that companies needs to overcome to create high performance teams and represents limitations of high performance teams.

  • The hierarchy of a company refers to the structure of a company and how it affects the performance of teams. A hierarchy with many levels of management can hinder team autonomy and slow down the decision making process, especially if employees needs to be involved with co-workers on different levels of the company. Simultaneously, hierarchies that are flat and can often result in smaller teams with less diversity leading to the risk of group thinking resulting in lack of new ideas and problem solve efficiency.
  • Communication is key, and Raman (2014) argues that it is crucial for high performance teams. As communication is mentioned as a characteristic of high performance teams, this emphasizes the importance on communications to create a high performance team.
  • Lack of accountability within a team can lead to the team falling apart due to distrust. Without accountability, the team members may lose sight of their goals and the necessary steps to achieve them.
  • Lastly it is also important to acknowledge that in today’s fast-paced markets, companies does not afford to slack off and argue that “now is not the time”. If a company truly wants to change and be competitive, excuses like not having the time is no longer an option to stay competitive.

Another issue with the characteristics is the applicability in an organizational context. Previously, the balance of the guidelines have been put against other tools like matrix management and time, cost and quality. Projects have a constant pressure on their resources. High performance teamwork takes a lot of time and may not always be the best solution for the organisation as a whole. The high performance must be weighted up against effectiveness and allocation of resources and can therefore not be seen as complete.

To summarise the concerns of the characterisics in a project management context they are now compared to project management standards. "Managing the project team requires a variety of management and leadership skills [...] to create high-performance teams. Team management involves a combination of skills with special emphasis on communication, conflict management, negotiation, and leadership" [12]. And "Managing is a term that implies capability to direct and administer the work of others" [13]. In project management we need both good managers and well functioning teams. Project managers need to recognize their role in the team according to local adaptions and find a nice balance between applying their duties as project managers according to the standards from Project Management Institute (2017) [12] and the characteristics of high performance teams from Macmillan (2001)

Annotated bibliography

The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork, Pat Macmillan, 2001

The performance factor is a book that for big parts focuses on six different characteristics of high performance teams. The book also explains the urgent need for high performance teams and how the last 70 years has changed towards a team based organization structure. Furthermore, the book presents how the characteristics can be turned into practice to build a high performance team.

Building High-Performing Teams: 7 Principles that will Increase Productivity and Accelerate the Results of Your Team (The Leader's Guide Series Book 1), Neel Raman, 2014

This book presents the reader, and especially the leader, with a guide on how to create high performance teams. More specifically, 7 principles to increase productivity and results. The book emphasizes on the importance of leadership through all principles to show how important the leadership is for high performance teams.

The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization, Katzenbach, Jon R.; Smith, Douglas K., Harvard Business School Press, 1993

This book provides information and a guide on how to create high performance teams within organizations. The book present the reader with successful and unsuccessful examples of teamwork, giving the reader the aspects from both sides. I also places importance on the various of team performance and how to learn about team effectiveness. Furthermore, the book looks into the dynamics of effective teams, again through the examples.

Joining Together. Group Theory and Group Skills. Johnson, D. & Johnson, F. (2013). Pearson, twelfth edition.

In Johnson & Johnson (2013) the reader can have broader explanation of the seven guidelines for effective teams through research and explanations. Each of the seven guidelines have their own chapter where the focus is on the basis of the guideline and skills for applying them in practical situations. This is a brilliant way to get a better understanding for the seven guidelines as the presentation of them in this article is basic.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork, Pat Macmillan, 2001
  2. Katzenbach, J. R., & Smith, D. K. (1993). The discipline of teams. Harvard Business Review, 71(2), 111-120
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Building High-Performing Teams: 7 Principles that will Increase Productivity and Accelerate the Results of Your Team (The Leader's Guide Series Book 1), Neel Raman, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization, Katzenbach, Jon R.; Smith, Douglas K., Harvard Business School Press, 1993
  5. The discipline of teams.Katzenbach, J. R., & Smith, D. K. (1993). The discipline of teams. Harvard Business Review, 71(2), 111-120
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Joining Together. Group Theory and Group Skills. Johnson, D. & Johnson, F. (2013). Pearson, twelfth edition.
  7. What is a Team Role?, Meredith belbin, https://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles
  8. Creating and maintaining high-performingcollaborative research teams: the importance of diversity and interpersonal skills, Kendra S Cheruvelil1,2, Patricia A Soranno, Kathleen C Weathers, Paul C Hanson, Simon. J Goring, Christopher T Filstrup, and Emily K Read, 2014, https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1890/130001
  9. Leadership in high‐performance teams: a model for superior team performance, Linda S. Wing, 2005, https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/13527590510584285/full/pdf?title=leadership-in-highperformance-teams-a-model-for-superior-team-performance
  10. A Guide To the Project Management Body of Knowledge (pmbok® Guide), Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI), seventh edition., 2021
  11. Role of transformational and transactional leadership on job satisfaction and career satisfaction., Riaz, A., & Haider, M. H., 2010, Business and Economic Horizons. (1), 29-38.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI), sixth edition, 2017
  13. Project Management. Maylor, H. (2010), Prentice Hall, fourth edition
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