Seventy-five percent of the US 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 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 HPTs share three characteristics that directly speak to the meeting of three important needs of team members. Let's take a look at these three keys to developing HPTs:


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 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, 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. Achievement 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:

  • Challenge of the work itself
  • Acquiring new skills
  • Ability to perform
  • Perceived importance of employee's job
  • Recognition received for performance
  • Working for a company of which the employee can be proud


One tool that we can use to help build a sense of achievement is to participatively set and work together to achieve these SMART goals.


SMART goals are team goals that have these characteristics:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Ambitious yet achievable
  • Results-oriented
  • Time-specific


Communicating progress and celebrating progress made 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, try having periodic fun and team-building activities. Need some ideas? Here is a list of five to get you thinking:

1.                   Take your team to a movie (the large screen IMAX movies are great even better if in 3D!).

2.                   Play a fun game together, like your own customized version of "Family Feud."

3.                   Try a fun recreational activity like miniature golf, or just have an afternoon in the park.

4.                   Attend a favorite sporting event, concert or other social event that team members would enjoy (important to know your team on this one).

5.                   Last but not least, anything with FOOD seems to a be a big hit. Either having food catered in or going out to a nearby restaurant seems to always be a hit.


A tremendous yet overlooked tool that leaders can use to help build camaraderie is recognition. A recent Gallup Poll found that 65% of employees claimed to have received NO praise or recognition the past year how sad! To help carry out recognition well, consider these five recognition principles:

·         Be specific about what is being recognized

·         Do it in person

·         Be timely

·         Be sincere

·         Recognition should be given for both individual and group performance


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" 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," when in reality everybody contributes to the success of the team.

4.                   Avoid micro managing. Give employees as much flexibility and as many choices as you can. Avoid "dirty delegation" and think about how you would like to be treated.

5.                   Spill the beans. Our CEO (Peggy Fowler) once said there are three keys to being a great manager: communication, communication and communication! If we don't communicate, a vacuum is created. The 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 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." Good luck as you intentionally pursue the development of even higher levels of team performance!


Wes Friesen, CMDSM, EMCM, MQC, ICP, CCM,CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR is Manager of Revenue Collection & Community Offices for Portland General Electric. Email