A high-performing team never really loses sight of its goals--and in most cases, it's largely self-sustaining. Your team takes on a life of its own, and can skyrocket your business to new heights.

But that's the end game: no team starts out that way. It develops from strong leadership.

Approximately 72% of 191 organizations surveyed in Brandon Hall Group's recent Team Development and Performance Study said team performance has a positive or extremely positive impact on overall productivity.

Yet more than one third (34%) of those same organizations said they do not have a strategy to improve team development, and 21% said they don't invest any time or resources in developing teams at any level within their organizations.

That's a mistake.

Leaders who want to build strong teams operate in a systematic way, and use a specific toolset to build, shape, and grow their teams. This formula not only involves what they should say and do, but also what they should avoid saying and doing. Strong leaders work backwards by envisioning the future before they deal with what's in front of them.

A Gallup study that looked into how managers create high-performance cultures revealed not only what managers expect from their teams, but also some of the factors used to drive those teams to success. Here are six keys to developing a top-performing team.

1. Manage performance effectively

Managing the performance of your team has the most significant impact on sustainable growth for your business. Unfortunately, a lot of companies still rely on outdated models for annual performance reviews that don't directly engage the individual or involve them in the process.

Effective performance management:

  • differentiates high and low performers based on merit
  • defines standards and expectations at all levels (individual, team, department, and organization)
  • includes transparent and equal rewards systems
  • clearly defines shared goals and objectives

Effective performance management has a significant impact on shaping the culture of your organization, because it directly shapes your team.

2. Empower your team

Empowerment and authority are directly tied to trust and accountability within an organization. If trust and accountability are absent--or weak at best--then you'll have a difficult time turning authority over to your team. How can you trust them to do the right thing if you can't trust them at all?

Conversely, in organizations where trust and accountability are strong, employees often feel empowered to take action. They can recognize and respond to changing information, they'll be more likely to develop innovative ideas to help you meet market demands, and they can better connect with customers to create a more robust brand experience.

When you empower your team, they grow naturally. They feel vested and have a strong desire not only for their own success, but for that of the team.

3. Create organization-wide buy-in

You have to sell your entire team on what you want. Your vision for a high-performing team should involve the team sharing a common mission and purpose: the same mission and purpose you have at the top of the organization.

That doesn't come from a one-off mission statement that lives on your website. You have to constantly sell your mission and get your team on board. Inspire them through consistent and regular communication, both as a group and as individuals.

Make it personal by connecting their work and initiatives to where the organization is heading. Show them how their work plays into the company vision. From there, you can more accurately communicate the mission and show your team how to live it every day.

The real vision of your organization will crystalize once you create organization-wide buy-in among your employees.

4. Create a customer-centric focus

You might not think that focusing on the customer is the way to build a high-performance team, but if you want to play ball you need to know where to put the ball and how to score. Creating a customer-centric focus puts the responsibilities squarely on the team and will also help you reduce churn. When you back this up through empowerment and trust, you create a lot of opportunity to increase employee engagement.

A great example of this is how REI encouraged customers to #optoutside. The company announced it would not be open for Black Friday and shut down all 143 retail locations, encouraging employees and customers to reconnect with family and friends during the Thanksgiving holiday. As part of the initiative, they launched a microsite where people could find recommendations for hiking trails and other outdoor activities.

The company gained a great deal of brand recognition and praise via word of mouth, but it also showed employees that the company cared not just about its customers, but also about its employees. It was an investment in its team.

Actions like these anchor employees with the mission of the company and help them bring company values to life as a group.

5. Communicate at every level

A big part of building a high-performance team is maintaining communication at every level--and that means effective, constant, purposeful communication.

A Watson Wyatt study found that the companies that communicated most effectively were over 50% more likely to report turnover levels below the industry average, compared with only 33% for the least effective communicators. In addition, effective employee communication was a leading indicator of financial performance: companies that were highly-effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over a 5-year period when compared to firms with less-effective communication.

Better communication is a complex challenge for any business, but it can and must be achieved: it's a core component for building a high-performing team.

6. Understand that growth begets growth

40% of employees who receive poor job training and little investment leave their positions within the first year. Often these employees cite lack of skills training and development as the main reason they chose to depart.

Training and development is seen by employees as an investment in their careers. Offering learning opportunities, development, and training to your team gives you a competitive advantage for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that your company winds up with knowledgeable, capable employees who are ready to reinvest their talents.

Setting up your employees for success is vital to ensuring continued growth and improvement while you work to build a high-performance team.

What activities and actions have you taken to help you build a better team? Share in the comments below: