According to a recent survey, 75% of the United States' workforce is not fully engaged on the job. Many work teams struggle and perform at a mediocre level or worse. In contrast, some teams stand above the normal and are high performance. These high-performing teams (HPTs) are known for their positive morale, high motivation, productivity and commitment to excellence. How are HPTs developed and maintained?

An extensive research project involving over 2.5 million people in 237 companies sought to find out the common characteristics of HPTs. It was discovered that they share three characteristics that directly speak to the meeting of three important needs of team members:

#1: Sense of Fairness
HPTs are first of all characterized by a sense of fairness. People have a need to be treated equitably, and that sense of fairness has three components. There is a physical component; this includes a safe working environment, realistic workload and reasonably comfortable working conditions.

Another component is economic fairness. People have a need to feel they are paid a fair day's pay for a fair day's work with satisfactory benefits, and that they have a reasonable degree of job security. The third component is equity (being treated respectfully).

Included is a reasonable accommodation for personal and family needs and being treated like an adult and not a child. One way to monitor the perception of fairness on your team is to conduct an annual team survey and include some questions related to fairness.

#2: Sense of Achievement
HPTs are characterized by a sense of achievement. This includes: taking pride in one's accomplishments by doing things that matter and doing them well; receiving recognition for one's accomplishments; and taking pride in the organization's accomplishments.

There are six primary sources for a sense of achievement: 

  1. Challenge of the work itself 
  2. Acquiring new skills 
  3. Ability to perform 
  4. Perceived importance of employee's job 
  5. Recognition received for performance 
  6. Working for a company of which the employee can be proud

One tool we can use to help build a sense of achievement is to participatively set and work together to achieve SMART (Specific, Measurable, Ambitious yet achievable, Results-oriented, Time-specific) goals.

Communicating progress and celebrating progress on goals will help develop a strong sense of achievement within your team.

#3: Sense of Camaraderie
Benjamin Franklin said, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

HPTs are characterized by a sense of camaraderie - having warm, positive and cooperative relations with others in the workplace ("one for all and all for one"). Setting and working together to achieve SMART goals helps build camaraderie. In addition, periodically try having fun, team-building activities. Need some ideas?

Here are some to get you thinking: 

  • Take your team to a movie. The big-screen IMAX movies are great - even better if in 3D! 
  • Play a fun game together, like your own customized version of Family Feud. 
  • Try a fun recreational activity, such as miniature golf, or just have an afternoon in the park. 
  • Attend a favorite sporting event, concert or other social eventthat team members would enjoy. (It's important to know your team on this one.) 
  • Last but not least, anything with food seems to be a big hit. Either having food catered in or going out to a nearby restaurant works.

Putting It All Together
Let's look at the six things managers can do to maintain engagement with their employees on an ongoing basis: 

  1. Don't let the newbies sink. Get your new employees off to a great start by clearly explaining the goals and expectations of the team, regularly checking in with them and assigning a teammate as a "buddy"â❠mentor. 
  2. Create a physically comfortable work environment. Ideas can come from peers, conferences and the employees themselves. 
  3. Eliminate perks that favor one level of employee over another. The goal is to avoid sending the message that some employees are "second class,"â❠when in reality, everybody contributes to the success of the team. 
  4. Avoid micromanaging. Give employees as much flexibility and as many choices as you can. Avoid "dirty delegation,"â❠and think about how you would like to be treated. 
  5. Spill the beans. Our CEO once said there are three keys to being a great manager: communication, communication and communication! If we don't communicate, a vacuum is created. This vacuum is filled with the rumor mill, which is notoriously negative and will sink morale faster than the iceberg sunk the Titanic. 
  6. Observe basic courtesies. Never underestimate the value of simple greetings, a smile or saying "thank you." These courtesies send a positive message to employees that they are appreciated and that you care.

Let me leave you with a quote from Fred Smith, CEO of Federal Express: "The way I see it, leadership does not begin with power but rather with a compelling vision and a goal of excellence."ââ

Wes Friesen, CMDSM, EMCM, MQC, ICP, CCM, CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR, is the Manager of Revenue Collection & Community Offices for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon that serves over 810,000 customers. He can be contacted at