A high-performing team is the key to a successful business

The Royal Airforce Red Arrows squadron flying in formation over London with dramtic skies in the background.

I’ve listened to many outstanding pitches from entrepreneurs over the past few years. With every idea I hear pitched, I’m always encouraged by the enthusiasm, confidence, energy, optimism, and creativity of the entrepreneurs. But I’ve never seen an entrepreneur’s idea evolve from concept to reality without equal contributions from a high-performing team. In fact, I’ve seen great ideas flounder when the supporting cast isn’t functioning well. I’m confident that while an idea can be generated by one person, translating that idea to reality takes a high-performing team. And high-performing teams share a few common characteristics.

High-performing teams have a compelling, common purpose

High-performing teams must have a compelling, common purpose. That purpose must provide essential and unique contributions to customers and stakeholders, contributions which at the same time are personally meaningful to team members. That may seem like a mouthful, but getting everyone pulling in the same direction is critical. Investing the time up front with the team is crucial for an entrepreneur – they need to make sure everyone has bought into their idea. It’s easy to tell when a leadership team isn’t aligned just by observing non-verbal signals: negative body language, eye contact, enthusiasm, and tone of voice. Each team member, whether they are the technical, financial, or commercial expert, needs to be able to clearly communicate the essence of the business, and they need to be convincing when they do it.

High-performing teams contain complementary roles

High-performing teams have members with complementary roles. Ideally, each team member brings their own functional expertise but also has clearly defined responsibilities within the team. While one person may be the de-facto leader or CEO, the leadership of the team may shift from time to time, as appropriate, to drive results. In a high-performing team, team members complete some tasks that a traditional leader holds; for example, chairing regular team meetings and driving the decision-making or conflict-resolution process. Motivation comes from enabling team members to play to their strengths, and trade tasks for which they are less suited. High-performing teams have members not only with complementary roles, but also compatible personality types. Wherever members fall on the Myers Briggs spectrum, a high-performing team has representation across all quadrants. A team full of extroverts won’t get very far without the introverts bringing it back into balance. As Stephen Hawking once said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

High-performing teams promote collaborative relations

Finally, high-performing teams have a solid foundation built on collaborative relations, where team members have open and candid communications, and where conflict is managed in a way that’s constructive, depersonalised and focused on improving and learning. The journey that they are on together should be fun. When I’ve built teams in the past and am interviewing candidates for the team, I have several criteria I use to select team members. In addition to evaluating their technical skills and business acumen, I also use the “cross-country test” as one of my selection criteria. I imagine for some reason, normally a long-distance flight cancellation, our team needs to drive “cross-country” to return home (and as I come from the United States, this can be quite a long journey). I imagine three to four days in a small hire car, with limited choices on the car radio. How well would I do on that journey? Would I abandon the team at the first lay-by? If the idea of this journey doesn’t scare me, then the candidate is probably a good fit.

So, if you’re an entrepreneur with an idea or an outstanding innovation, don’t underestimate the importance of building a high-performing team. When doing so, consider the key characteristics. And just to be on the safe side, the next time you hire a car for a road trip, choose the largest vehicle you can.

Steve Twait

Steve Twait

Vice-President, Alliance and Integration Management at AstraZeneca
Steve Twait, Vice President, Alliance and Integration Management (AIM) AstraZeneca (AZ), Cambridge, UK. Steve has responsibility for AstraZeneca’s alliance and integration management (AIM) strategy and execution capabilities. Steve’s team leads the integration of all major acquisitions, the transitions for divestments, and management of key alliances for AZ. Steve joined AZ in January 2015, after spending 26 years at Eli Lilly and Company where he was a founding member of Lilly’s Office of Alliance Management. Steve is a well published author in Pharmaceutical Executive, PLG’s Business Development & Licensing Journal, and Strategic Alliance Magazine and is a board member and treasurer of the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals.
Steve Twait

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