Every successful endeavor requires a good team. The bigger the endeavor, the bigger the requirement for a high-performing team. Startups flourish (or perish) on the performance of their founders and first hires. Corporations out-perform competitors because employees are their biggest assets. Sports teams become national champions because of the performance of their players. Non-profits and charities are only as relevant as the performance of their donors and volunteers. The military depends on soldiers to perform life-and-death missions.

What do all high-performing teams have in common regardless of the sector or endeavor?

The foundation for all high-performing teams is the organization. An organization is not a team, it is comprised of teams. The organization provides the infrastructure, training, discipline, support systems and, of course, the rewards and incentives through which teams come together in the first place. No organization, no chance of success. Some organizations do this much better than others, but that is a blog post for another day. There are many types of teams within an organization. Those that accomplish extraordinary things…those that perform at the highest levels…have three attributes that most other teams do not have.

1. Affinity. Members of high-performing teams like each other. They have similar interests, they are devoted to the cause they were assembled to advance. They usually know each other, they have a history together and good chemistry. They don’t always agree with one another, but they understand each other. Most importantly, they respect and trust one another.

If you have ever wondered why a particular “dream team” failed to live up to lofty expectations, look no further than a lack of affinity for one another. There was no bond, just disparate knowledge and experience peppered with lots of ego. They are often suspicious of each other. Exceptional people do not always make exceptional team members. In fact, more often than not, it is ordinary people with a great affinity for one another that accomplish the most extraordinary things.

2. Alignment. Members of high-performing teams all pull together in the same direction. Whether it is called vision or mission; whether it’s a plan or single objective, they are all crystal clear on where they are going. There is no ambiguity, no confusion about what they are trying to accomplish. The purpose is clear and so are the goals. Get them into separate rooms and ask them what they are doing there and where they are headed. They will all give you the same exact answer. They may debate the “how” and the “when,” but never the “what” or “where,” because they have the utmost faith in the “who.”

Most endeavors fail because the entire team is not pulling in the same direction. In fact, they are often working at cross purposes. The team members cannot even articulate the purpose or goals for why they were assembled. This is not only a failure of organizational leadership, it is a failure of team selection, because a high-performing team member would never join such a team. Those who were duped into joining such a team would soon enough call bullsh*t and insist on cohesive alignment, or take themselves off the team.

3. Accountability. Members of high-performing teams not only hold themselves 100% accountable for the entire endeavor – not just their roles – they also hold the other team members accountable. Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. There are no over-lapping roles in high-performing teams. Each member of the team has one very specific role that does not compete against, or infringe upon, the role of any other team member. They each have defined responsibilities within those roles and they take them very seriously.

When an endeavor fails and every single member of that team does not step forward to take responsibility for it, you know right away it is not a high-performing team. In high-performing teams, no one is along for the ride, no one points fingers or shifts blame. They know that the mission and the team depends upon them. They know that if they fail to perform their individual roles and responsibilities, the entire endeavor would be in jeopardy.

A high-performing team is a rare and indispensable asset. Nothing great can be accomplished without one. If you’re on one, count your blessings. If you’re looking to join one or hire one, look for affinityalignment and accountability among its members.

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