I’ve been lucky enough to work in some high performing teams, and to have led a few as well. Looking back, my impression is that these were relatively rare events, and they’ve become more rare over the years. Maybe because it’s the privilege of the young, and needs that energy – but that’s not how it feels. I certainly wish it happened more, and that I had a reliable recipe for it. More of that later.

The Red Arrows (pictured above) practice for 6 months every year to do those death-defying stunts automatically, knowing that they can depend on their team mates to be in the right place, at the right time, without supervision. Three members of the team are replaced every year, but even after 3 years, when all nine of the starting team have gone, they’re still the Red Arrows, and they’re still a high performing team. The Royal Air Force seem to have a dependable recipe for success.

In this presentation Dan Pink identifies Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as the three preconditions for better personal performance – I reckon the same is true for team performance. You can get more work out of people – and they will give it willingly – by attending to those 3 needs. No need to give them more money, as long as you pay them enough so that money isn’t an issue.

I don’t have a recipe, but here are a some common qualities that I can name in the best teams I’ve been involved with

  • Spending non-work time together (not necessarily BFFs)
  • A common, agreed and simple purpose
  • Leaving their ego at the door
  • Eager to learn from each other
  • Self-directed
  • Willing to give their discretionary time and energy

When did you last work in a team that was a well-oiled machine?

What makes a high-performing team? Is it chemistry? Can it be learnt?