Tapping Into Talent: Building a High-Performance Team

(Part 3 of 3)




Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.


This Chinese Proverb feels like the perfect way to begin part three of this series on high performance teams. When it comes to developing individual talent to build a stronger team, organisations have to keep rowing. If they don’t, someone else will.


There is a link between companies that actively develop high performers and companies that perform better overall, and it isn’t mere conjecture. Studies like this one by the Center for Creative Leadership paint an increasingly clear picture, as does our own experience working with high performance teams. Those who attract, recruit and develop the right people have distinct advantages over those who are too pessimistic or apprehensive to go in for such development.


How are these advantages expressed? Higher individual performance, better perception of leadership from within, and improved work culture to name a few—all of which support recruitment efforts and improve the pedigree of the organisation.


I wish it were as simple as reaching out and claiming these benefits for your own; but the truth is, seeing the importance of high performers is only the first step. Finding and developing them is a more delicate task. There is a rhythm to the rowing; without it, the boat goes in circles.

For example, it’s possible for a company to have the right mindset (i.e. professional development is a good investment), but invest in the wrong people. It’s possible to make a flawed assessment of existing team members, or hire new recruits who aren’t the high performers they appeared to be. A high performer may even be given development opportunities that don’t suit his or her professional goals, which can actually hurt performance instead of helping it.


Such pitfalls can be avoided by consistently building knowledge of teams, putting careful thought into leadership assessment, and forming a development strategy that has an impact on the right people. Personally, when I work with companies on these issues, I find it useful to categorise people into four groups:


  1. Leaders of the future (about 20% of the group)

  2. High potential with risk attached (about 25%)

  3. Easy way out (about 45%)

  4. No way (about 10%)


The first two groups are obviously the most desirable, and this is where companies should focus their development and recruitment efforts. As discussed in part one of this series, these individuals have professional and personality traits that lend companies a competitive edge.


The second two groups of people also play an important role, as discussed in part two. A company comprised entirely of high performers would have trouble meeting the development needs of every single person. Plus, not every role is suitable for the high performer and frankly, not every person is looking for career development and progression. For example, call centre operators and data processing specialists are necessary roles but should be filled by the right people. These might be people who love what they’re doing in these roles, or perhaps who are working purely to derive an amount of income with no thought of, or need, to progress. A high performer won’t be happy without consistent challenge and opportunity for growth.


Not every organisation will have the exact same percentages of these different groups; it depends on the goals, needs and culture of the organisation in question. This is where specialised assessment and interviewing techniques play a critical role. Using such techniques, we’ve worked with companies in Australia, Asia and India to accurately assess talent and predict how people might perform. Time and time again, we’ve seen first-hand how the right techniques give a clearer picture: Where the high performers are, how to develop them, and how value will be added to the organisation through such development.


After people in the first two groups (i.e. high performers) have been identified and/or recruited, companies are faced with the question of how to work with and nurture their talent. We’ve seen a few important themes, both in research and in our own practice. First off, the importance of feedback can’t be stressed enough. High performers respond to in-depth, two-way performance feedback. They also want clearly defined roles, open communication, mutual accountability, and enough flexibility to do what they do best within the scope of corporate needs. Oh—and don’t forget the importance of a good challenge. High performers need to be challenged, and shown what’s in it for them when they succeed.


Let’s fast forward a bit. Let’s say you’ve spotted your high performers, and/or recruited new ones using specialised techniques. From there, you’ve developed the right people in the right ways. What does your organisation look like now? What changes have come about as a result of your efforts? To answer these questions, we can list some common characteristics of high performance teams. They generally:

  • Develop goals

  • Encourage open communication

  • Maintain positive relationships, using conflict as a team builder

  • Solve problems effectively

  • Exhibit team leadership

  • Provide training and development


Developing high performers is really about plugging into all of these characteristics, and evolving an organisation from the inside out. It’s not a conclusion we’re after, or a fairy-tale ending, but rather the ability to row the boat faster, stronger and more in-sync. In other words, attaining and sustaining high performance.


*This is part two of a three-part series on high performance teams. For part one, please click HERE and for part two, HERE.


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