The 6 Benchmarks of High Performance Teams

Benchmarks-of-Team-Excellence-222x250In 1996, 51% of US employees were reported to be members of team.  By 2006, it had increased to 84%. As our world becomes more complex, the need for teams will continue to grow. Understanding the characteristics of effective teams gives you a target to shoot for and better prepares you to support your team’s development.

Our research* revealed six Benchmarks of Team Excellence:

1) Alignment: Alignment around a shared vision.

All team members are moving in the same direction toward a shared vision. Individual and team goals are related to the purpose of the team.   Team members clearly understand their goals and job responsibilities.  There is a strong and clear connection between all activities and the purpose of the team.

2) Team Effectiveness: Effective team processes.

Coordinated efforts are supported by effective group dynamics and strong team processes for open communication, sharing information, flexibility, problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting, accountability, and recognition.

3) Empowerment: Power to do what is necessary.

Teams members experience a sense of individual and collective power to do what is necessary. They are free to make decisions within the boundary of their assignment and have access to the resources they need. Practical risk-taking is encouraged and mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of the creative process.

4) Passion: Energy, enthusiasm, and confidence.

There is a high and sustained level of energy, enthusiasm and confidence about their work and the way team members work together. Team members feel inspired and able to perform at levels never before imagined and in their ability to overcome obstacles. There is an aura of excitement and focus that sustains growth of new capabilities and openness to change.

5) Commitment: Deep commitment to the team and to each other.

Team members are deeply committed to the purpose of the team, to the goals, to each other, and to accomplishing the work that needs to be done, regardless of the effort required. They know what needs to be done and they will find a way to do it.

6) Results: Sustained outstanding results.

High performance teams sustain results over time. They set high standards for performance that are clearly defined, measurable, and are consistently met by individual team members and the team. They “go for the gold” and are energized by the opportunity to provide top-quality services or products.

Benchmarks of High Performance Teams


How Is Your Team Doing?

Here are some typical patterns and some tips on how to improve them:

High Results and Low Empowerment

Team with this pattern have difficulty sustaining their results over time because productivity and morale are interdependent. Often this pattern is due to one individual’s herculean efforts or due to an over-reliance on the team leader rather than through a cohesive team effort. Sharing decision-making and responsibility for results can help empower and unify the team.

Low Results and High Passion

This pattern is often found on teams that have functioned well in the past but now have a new, complicated assignment. To determine what to do, first see how strong they are in Alignment – Do team members understand what is expected of them as a team and how their individual roles will further the mission of the team? Next, look at their Team Effectiveness – Do they have the necessary team processes in place that will enable them to work in a coordinated effort? If both of these Benchmarks are high, the team can concentrate on improving Results. Otherwise, they need to answer the questions, “What do we want to accomplish?” “Why do we exist?” and “How do we want to work together?”

Higher Commitment than any other Benchmark

Often teams will be higher on Commitment than any of the other Benchmarks. This Benchmark is about the commitment of the individual team members and is often the last Benchmark to drop. Even if all of the other Benchmarks are low, there is hope for improvement here. Teams can capitalize on this aspect of human nature by revisiting their vision and by identifying the strategies and resources needed to move forward. If things do not improve, eventually, commitment will drop.

* About the Research: The Benchmarks of Team Excellence were identified as part of a research project conducted by Jesse Stoner that investigated the relationship between visionary leadership behaviors and good management practices and the performance of their team. An in depth analysis of the literature had revealed six characteristics of excellent teams.  Although we could find assessments that measured some of the characteristics, we were surprised to find that a statistically-sound team assessment that measured all six did not exist.  Therefore, it was necessary to develop a new assessment in order to conduct the research.  Over 500 employees participated in the development of this assessment. It demonstrated strong validity and reliability, and a factor analysis confirmed the six benchmarks.

For more information, see Benchmarks of Team Excellence Facilitator Guide (published by HRDQ).

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14 comments to The 6 Benchmarks of High Performance Teams

  • A wheel is a great analogy for these 6 benchmarks. Poor performance in one area and the wheel goes flat which you explain well in the last half of this post.

    Excellent Jesse!

  • Meredith Conder

    Do you know of companies that complete team performance appraisals?

    • Hi Meredith, That’s an excellent question. When a company announces they expect teamwork, but only evaluates and rewards based on individual performance, the message is not taken seriously. Many companies do provide team-based rewards and compensation. It would help to know more about why you are asking this question.

  • Hi Jesse

    Great Article.

    I would add one thing to the Low Result High Passion part. Sometimes teams get given assignments that take them outside of the current skill sets they have on board. I have found this often, so you also need to ask these two questions as well, “what skill sets are we missing?” and “who do we need to add to the team to solve the weakness?”; we may not always like it, but there are often times when an existing team just cannot handle a new assignment because they need other skills. It is like any sports team that picks up a new player to fill in a weakness in the existing team.

    • You make an excellent point, Robert. And thanks for sharing your two questions.
      High performance teams can sometimes adopt an “invincible” mindset where they do not recognize when they need help. Anytime there is a drop in any of these benchmarks, the team must stop and have a conversation about what is going on and what is needed to reset the dashboard. If they simply rest on their laurels, they are in danger of slipping into “Team Drift.”

  • Jesse, excellent post
    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and research. I also agree with the additional thoughts expressed between you and Robert – very valid points.

    Best regards,

  • Nice post. I was wondering if you’ve ever worked with the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model. It offeres a map and a process for reaching high performance. Here’s a link from my blog:

    The theory behind the Drexler Sibbet model is derived from the work of Arthur Young (process) and Jack Gibb (trust). I also find Will Schut’z work? The Human Element, based on his previous FIRO work to be invaluable.

    • Thanks, Robert. I’m not familiar with their model. Although of course, I am familiar with Jack Gibb’s classic work on trust at Esalen in the 1960′s and 70′s and with Will Schutz’s work on interpersonal needs in the 1950′s. I like the FIRO-B, although I think it provides a better explanation of one’s personal journey than group dynamics. For stages of team development I like Bruce Tuckman or RB Lacoursiere’s life cycle of groups.

  • Hi Jesses, I am a big fan of John Spencer’s ” Awesomely Simple” Chapter 2 on Best People, page 39 concerning Collaboration. It is right in tune with your writings. Also I would like to comment on your comment about passion. I am a product of General Motors Salespeople Training and in the first week of attending their school, the instructor went to the black board and told us that he was going to write three words and if we master what he wrote, then we would be successful salespersons. The first word was “Knowledge” the second was “Confidence” and the third was “Enthusiasm”. He explained that we needed to learn everything about our products or services and if we did so, we would not be intimidated by customers who knew more about our products and services than we knew. And lastly this confidence unable us to become “Enthusiastic” and welcomed all and any questions that came our way, if we didn’t have answer we told the customer that we would go it for them. I believe for a salesperson energy is a given, without it nothing really gets airborne.

    • Thanks, Cecil, for the information on the connection between my work on collaboration and John Spence’s work. I’ll check it out. Also, love your story about the three key words for salespeople. When we truly care about something and want to get a message out, we are all salespeople, in the very best sense of that word.

  • Paul Garvin

    I would like to add something to this post more on a personal level. You possess the ability to articulate in a way that draws people in. Plus i can tell from the way you write articles and answer questions your a very bright woman. The information is always on point never too much or too little so as to lose your audience. Your kindness and sincerity comes shining though when you speak. I found myself smiling and being informed at the same time, for that i thank you

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