The Key Characteristics of High-Performance Teams

Top advisory teams stand out from their peers

By John Bowen, founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide

Key Takeaways:

  • High-performance teams encourage membership and a sense of belonging among members.
  • HPTs share a vision, values and goals that they work together to create.
  • They are driven by high standards, a strong desire for excellence and deep levels of mutual trust.

In a past article I discussed the importance of being part of a high-performance team (HPT) and how elite advisors strive to be members and leaders of HPTs.

There are six primary characteristics that distinguish HPTs from ordinary teams:

1. Membership

Membership is about more than being a member of a team; it’s about feeling that you belong. The ideal recruitment process helps members-to-be feel that they belong from the time they start interviewing. This results in team members who not only feel that they belong, but are happy about belonging.

HPTs also have healthy ways for individuals to leave the team. In a non-HPT, leaving the team can create awkwardness. Even if a team member needs to be fired, this should be done in a respectful way with clear communication that honors everyone’s feelings.

2. Common vision, values and goals

HPT members share a common vision, values and goals. Usually the team’s leader or leaders will formulate these, but teams can also use a more democratic process. When all team members get at least some say at this core level, they are more likely to really embrace the team’s vision, goals and values. These three things should evolve over time.

While there’s no exact formula for how often they should be revised, fresh and fine-tuned goals lead to better team performance. For similar motivational reasons, the vision, values and goals should have an inspirational but achievable component that involves learning, stretching and growing. Having such challenging—but not overly daunting—“stretch goals” is both energizing and life-renewing.

Best advice: Write your vision, values and goals in just a couple of pages, not a 30-page document. You should also have a simple version, an “elevator speech” that you can use frequently. As with advertising, repeating a simple but powerful mantra infuses team members with your message. During your meetings, regularly use the elevator speech and some key phrases associated with it.

3. High standards of excellence

High standards of excellence help to create your desired outcomes, to ensure world-class customer service and to prevent errors. By embracing high standards of excellence, HPTs create a structure and a standard of service that satisfies clients and keeps them happy in the long run. When errors do occur, the team learns from them.

4. Mutual influence

Mutual influence refers to the notion of two-way influence between all team members, including the team leader. On teams that don’t perform well, team members compete for influence with each other in what they see as a zero-sum game. The goal of high-performance team members is to build a system of mutual influence in which everyone is highly valued.

Mutual influence begins with reflective listening—that is, showing others you’ve understood them. Explicitly letting others know that you’ve heard and understood them is a great way to build two-way influence. Other elements of mutual influence are safety, acceptance and low judgment. When the team’s norm is safety and acceptance, team members can be confident that they won’t be taken advantage of or insulted. Team members may disagree with you, but if they are working to understand you, they won’t try to make a fool of you or otherwise harm you.

5. Trust

Truth-telling on all levels is the key to building and maintaining trust. For example, a situation might involve telling the truth about a task, certain facts (about clients, investment products or market realities), the work process, the team’s overall emotional state, or personal needs and emotions. All these levels won’t be part of every conversation, but team members—and especially the team’s leader—are aware of these levels and can “go there” when necessary and appropriate.

Trust also naturally arises when there is congruence among team members—when team members consistently do what they say and say what they’ll do. Even if it’s impossible to do this 100 percent of the time, members of HPTs will, when challenged, admit their incongruence and make necessary adjustments.

Congruence issues show up on both the micro and macro levels. On the micro level, an incongruent act might be a team member saying she is really happy with the results of a meeting, but with a scowl on her face. Other team members will read this as emotional tension and wonder what’s really happening. On the macro level, other team members will sense unspoken disagreements, making difficulties even harder to address. It’s far better—far more congruent—for team members to be explicit about what’s going on and to talk about it respectfully and openly.

6. Leveraging of group power and intelligence

HPTs are able to leverage group power and intelligence fully. They create synergy—an effect that is greater than the sum of the team members’ individual talents, skills and qualities. This leverage enables HPTs to do each of the following:

  • Produce better results across the board.
  • Be much more enjoyable.
  • Attract the best talent.
  • Attract the best clients.

As you build and grow your team, look to instill these characteristics. By doing so, you’ll find that you are able to leverage each team member’s unique strengths and skills—and build a hugely successful business.

About the Author

CEG Worldwide’s founder and CEO, John Bowen has long been known as a leader in the area of adding value to financial services firms. Bowen started his career as an independent broker-dealer representative and then became a fee-based financial advisor. He was ultimately named the CEO of Reinhardt Werba Bowen (RWB), a money management firm that helped other financial advisors raise billions of dollars in assets. In 1998, Bowen became CEO of Assante Capital Management upon the acquisition of RWB by Assante. He left Assante to start CEG Worldwide in 2001, in order to help advisors realize substantial success through the use of CEG Worldwide’s business development systems.

He is the author of many books, including Breaking Through: Building a World-Class Wealth Management Business and The Prudent Investor’s Guide to Beating the Market.