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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20 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.

  • Cecil Edge

    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

  • Pat

    Thank you Jesse. This information is just what I need. Have recently (In Feb.) joined a team who is working with a disabled client. There are private providers and an agency supplying services in the home. Once every two months we meet with the clients doctors, family, and other care providers. We are titled as the Core Team for providing services. There has been a rift in the collaboration between the agency and the private providers who attend to the client on a daily basis. As a certified Special Educator I have attended many meetings such as we have for our clients. Unfortunately, there are members of our team who are displaying behaviors the show they do not know how to be part of a team and are not receptive to direction/suggestions. Your blog is a great way to teach them without “pointing fingers”. Thank you very much for your insight.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Hi Pat, You are providing such an important service. I’m really glad my blog is helpful in pointing out things you can do instead of pointing fingers.

      It might be helpful for everyone to take a step back and look at the big picture – why the team exists (to provide quality service for this client) and what you want to accomplish together. What would be happening for this person if the team were doing a fabulous job? Then you can talk about how you can work together more effectively.

      Here’s a thought about an activity that might be helpful, once you are ready to talk about how. I learned this from my colleague Jake Jacobs, who calls it “Sending Valentines” naming it after the idea of Hallmark cards “when you care to send the very best.” The activity provides a way of giving feedback on what you need from each other in order to do your own job well. (without getting caught in blaming and finger pointing).

      The way it works is (1) first each person writes on post-it notes what they need from others on the team in order to do their job effectively. Write each thing you need on a separate post it note. (2) Once all the writing is done, then the post it notes are sorted by area of service (private providers, doctors, family, PT, OT, etc.). (3) Then each group gets together and sorts their post it notes and creates a list of what they heard, and after that, they then create a list of what they can and will do. (4) Each of these lists are then shared with others on the team. This activity works best if it is conducted during a face to face meeting, so there is an opportunity for discussion and to clarify communications.

  • Jon

    Vision – The What and some of the Why. It provides direction and purpose.
    Passion – Energy and drive; but shows a personal commitment and devotion. It is walking your talk and leading by example.
    Empathy – Builds Trust. Opens doors of communication. Fosters humility

    Support – If the team is cross-functional or matrix organized, support of the functional area chiefs is essential. The team’s function has to be identified as important, not just by the team members, but by the team members’ bosses. I really like the idea of team performance appraisals.

    A key element is the team charter. Ensure team members and their bosses know what is expected of them and what they can expect in resources and authority.

    Thanks for sharing


  • Pat

    Thanks. that’s a great idea. I will try to make this happen at our next team meeting.

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