The 7 Habits of High Performing Teams, Part I

High performing project teams are a special breed, but not so special that becoming one should be totally left to chance, writes PMplanet columnist Ron Ponce of Fog City Consulting.
Posted February 25, 2011

Ron Ponce

You just know it when you are part of one. Things just click. There is actual progress. There is a positive vibe that lasts throughout. You are all truly acting and feeling like a team.

That feeling is truly something very special, but rarely do we take a moment to reflect on why it is so special while we are in the middle of it. Yet we start to reflect later when we are longing for those days because the current project is the exact opposite.

Being on a high performing team is a memorable experience. In many cases, that experience will have a profound impact on how we judge and shape future project teams.

What is it that made that team so special? The answer can be elusive if real thought and analysis is not applied to find out why. Determining not only the answer, but how that can then be repeated on a consistent basis can provide numerous benefits personally and for your organization such as career growth, improved employee retention, increased efficiency and client satisfaction to name just a few. I believe that you need to have seven skills and qualities in place to consistently transform a group into a high performing team. Those seven skills are:

  1. Leadership
  2. Purpose
  3. Innovation
  4. Focus
  5. Accountability
  6. Communication
  7. Responsiveness 


Leadership on a high performing team starts with the project manager. The role of the project manager is central and critical as they are the glue, the voice, and the face of the project. They are by no means the most important member because that would defeat the purpose of a team, but every team needs a leader.

Many times leadership for the project manager manifests itself in many different ways and from different angles. It is critical though, for the team to flourish, that the project manager creates and fosters an environment that values the individual and allows for others on the team to possibly lead. Team members are more apt to actively participate because they feel encouraged to think creatively, voice opinions, and as a result have input on decisions.

The respect that is placed on individuals begins to create the foundation for shared team values: Values that help further bond team members as well as get passed on to future team members. These values range from respect, trust, responsibility, openness, but what is important is that the values are shared. From these shared values, the team begins to form its own identity. No longer is the team a collection of individuals from different areas or different organization, but rather they view themselves as members of this project and this team. They have a primary focus to support each other in order to succeed at meeting the project objectives.

As a project manager, not only is it important to help define the key values as well as provide a solid example of them, but you also need to take that focus and continue to shape it and keep it centered on the future. The future of what the world will be like once the project is successfully delivered.


As the team becomes focused, they will also begin to determine their purpose as a team as well as individually. Purpose in this case is more than just executing on the tasks assigned. The purpose is really more holistic to the project in terms of being able to have a clearly defined vision, set of goals, objectives, and metrics that together provide the foundation to shape, direct, and manage the project. The purpose further helps to bond the team around a united identity, but it also provides the reasons for the how and why team members individually are playing crucial roles on the project.

The project manager influences greatly the purpose as they must be able to successfully define and articulate to the team the vision, objective, goals, and metrics in practical terms especially if they are coming from management and may not be tangible to the project team. The ability for the project manager to be able to align the goals of the organization, the project, and the individual is a critical link to creating a high performing team. That success in creating the link will enable each team member to be more self directing because they not only understand the purpose as it relates to both the project and themselves, but they buy-in and own it.

I realize that is a major burden to place on the shoulders of the project manager especially when they are not the people manager of most if not all the resources. In some cases, management may be helpful and provide assistance, but don’t wait for help just do it because the tie in is that important. That extra effort will by big dividends for the project manager as the project goes on.

It is important to point out that the project manager must constantly keep the purpose front and center with the team in order for it and the team to stay focused. If that is not the case, not only will the work collect dust it will also lose relevance. We all know things change on a project and so those changes need to be factored back into the purpose to keep it current at all times.


Now that a solid foundation of leadership and purpose has been laid, it is time to focus more on individual team members and their environment. I realize that it is rare that a project manager can hand pick their team members. In most cases, you might have some influence, but the reality is that you need to bring the best out of those that have been assigned to the project. I believe that you need to focus on the environment that the team will work within from a cultural perspective more so than the physical layout in order to spark and cultivate innovation of thought.

Projects are always being confronted by obstacles that require creative ways to approach and solve them. As a project manager, you need to create an environment that encourages freedom of ideas, opinion, and that welcomes constructive conflict while respecting the talents and experiences of each individual.

Team members will pick up quickly that they are being asked to contribute more than just to execute on tasks. They will appreciate the fact that they are being empowered to influence the project. This goes hand in hand with a clear decision making process that is known and bought into by the team because it needs to be well understood that input is just that. At the end of the day, decisions are made that may or may not take that input into consideration, but in an open environment decisions are not only better understood they are institutionalized faster.

In Part II, Ron will explore the concepts of Focus, Accountability, Communication and Responsiveness.

Ron Ponce is president of Fog City Consulting, a San Francisco-based program and project management consulting firm, which specializes in organizational infrastructure, project delivery, and professional development and training services. He can be reached at

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