December 15, 2020

Building a high-Performing Team

Mary Despe

Mary Despe
MK Despe Consulting LLC/Recruitment Consultant + Advisor

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Just what does a high-performing team look like?

When I’ve asked this of clients, the answers vary greatly. Some believe that they are cohorts of people with their own track record of consistently achieving results at a high standard, while others cite the importance of teams stacked with individuals deep in domain expertise.

While few would find fault with these characteristics, I find that many would also believe that high-performing teams need to have a shared approach to how their members operate within the professional environment.  For example, their best teams value things like open communication,  collaborative work, and a standard of excellence. They don’t just find themselves in agreement with these characteristics, but rather, that they actively practice these things with everything they do.


Finding common ground around what people value isn’t enough, however. In fact, I find that it’s the area that people miss out on the chance to really build a team destined to do great things.  They equate finding common ground with the license to hire people just like themselves. They find people who would approach problems exactly as they would, or who would offer an experience that would support the type of solutions that those in charge would automatically propose. Rarely do they make an effort to include people who might present a contrary opinion or, do I even dare, a challenge to the popularity of a solutions-based approach.

This is why it’s so important to realize what sharing common ground, as a key to high performance, truly looks like. It’s acknowledging that the choices that led to success withstood healthy debate, feedback and tests.

So how do you put together these kinds of teams? Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid ‘vacuum’ based hiring. Decision-makers tend to move quickly, opting to pick members of a team on their own, or at least without solid input from those directly involved in the day-to-day operations. While it is important to get the opinions of project sponsors or others at the macro level,  getting the perspective from those performing the work is essential, too. Not only are you able to gain insight on the gritty details of how things ‘really are’ on the ground, but you’ll also be able to sense which people have the respect of their peers and colleagues for what they do on the job.

  • Integrate behavioral testing into selection. Assessments like DISC, Myers-Briggs, and others add dimension to the selection process. While managers review resumes and solicit feedback from others familiar with someone’s work to formulate opinions on the mastery of skills, behavioral assessments offer a deeper look into what the person values and what motivates them. Such tests provide insight into how people react to pressures in the workplace, including how they handle conflicting work styles, communication patterns, and other important characteristics. Though helpful in adding an additional layer of knowledge about a person’s work profile, these tests should be used in conjunction with other evaluative tools. 

  • Select from a robust pool of candidates. Just as it is important to understand whether resources have the ‘street cred’ among their professional peers, decision-makers need to stack their candidate pool with more than a few potential team members. Oftentimes, those building teams rely only on ‘word of mouth’ recommendations on who might be strong candidates for key roles in a group, only to create a narrow pool of people to consider. Instead of having one or two people to consider for a role on a team, consider expanding selection to no fewer than four to five individuals.  Furthermore, the pool should also reflect candidates that offer an ‘out of the box’ alternate perspective that has lent to success historically.  Decision-makers need to actively seek out the talent for each role within a team that reflect not just a track record of success, but interesting and different talents that help them reach that goal.    

What things do you consider when building high-performing teams?

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