Media Advisory: Now’s the time to create high performing teams

Our workforce depends on teams more and more as employees perform additional work without the level of hiring seen a few years ago. Wake Forest University’s Evelyn Williams says it’s critical to create high performing teams and this is actually the time of year to do it.

“Late summer is a great time to come back and start fresh. Your workers have had vacations so they are rested and come back ready,” Williams, associate vice president for leadership development, said. “It’s a great time to kick off the fall and establish new patterns that are more functional and productive.”

Williams says high performing teams are good at celebrating successes and embracing rapid change because they have a different dynamic than dysfunctional teams. More importantly, they take the time to consider projects in terms of tasks, process and relationships.

Task perspective

A high performing team will create goals related to tasks by asking questions like:

  • Are we clear about our end goals?
  • Do we have the right people on the team?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of team members?
  • Where do we want to go and how do we want to get there?

Williams says creating diverse teams usually provide richer outcomes, but they do take longer to form. “They can have conflict because so many perspectives are represented, but if you manage it well, the outcome is worth the effort.”

Process perspective

This is where a team determines the methods it will use to be most productive:

  • How are we going to communicate? How can we streamline our communications?
  • Who needs to make the decisions that will enable us to move forward? A lengthy approvals process will slow down the team.
  • Do we have the right infrastructure to share information?
  • How do we manage the journey from start to success?

Williams said, “In this perspective, teams should be thoughtful about how to be inclusive and supportive and develop a good brainstorming/decision-making process so everyone feels comfortable contributing. One idea is to appoint someone to be the devil’s advocate during discussions, but be sure to rotate that role so that person is not seen as a negative force.”

Relational perspective

When you are going through change, managing emotions is key:

  • What is the team’s motivation?
  • What are the values and beliefs we need?
  • How can we tap into the energy and spirit of our team members?
  • How I becomes we.

“Many executives and managers forget about this perspective and it can be the most detrimental if it is not handled,” Williams said. “Teams can be dysfunctional through a lack of trust, lack of respect, lack of commitment or the fear of conflict or accountability.”

While creating a cohesive team leads to higher performance, and there is a good likelihood that a high performing team will be on good terms with each other, Williams cautions leaders not to confuse cohesive with buddy-buddy.

“Sometimes teams with too many friends have a hard time facing hard truths,” she said. “Cohesion is more about respect and trust that you’ve got my back. You won’t belittle me if I don’t know something, and you care enough to question a decision for the right reasons.”

Acknowledging that you might not always have the right answer can be difficult for team members until they understand the culture of trust and respect that their leaders are creating through this process.

“Great leaders know they almost never have the answer by themselves,” Williams said. “They put together the right team to answer the tough questions, and have confidence that their team will find the right answer.”

About Wake Forest University:
Wake Forest University combines the best traditions of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university. Founded in 1834, the school is located in Winston-Salem, N.C. The University’s graduate school of arts and sciences, divinity school, and nationally ranked schools of law, medicine and business enrich our intellectual environment. Learn more about Wake Forest University at

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