It’s one thing to build a team that works well together but quite another to get that team in peak form, increasing productivity and effectiveness with every achieved goal. So what are the essential characteristics of high-performing teams that set them apart from the rest?
Eraj Siddiqui, Autodesk’s director of customer success, might know. Siddiqui and his teams are charged with ensuring the ongoing satisfaction of more than 30,000 customers internationally for Autodesk, an industrial design software company offering more than 150 products.
Autodesk has a diverse customer base, ranging from civil, mechanical and automotive engineers to major construction and manufacturing companies. That breadth means that the teams Siddiqui manages—both at Autodesk’s headquarters in San Francisco and in offices around the world—have to be highly effective, operating seamlessly on multiple levels. We asked him about the most important characteristics of high-performing teams in the workforce today.
“Being high-performing means people are not only bringing their capabilities and their domain expertise to that overall team, but they’re also bringing their ability to collaborate.”
Slack: How would you describe the characteristics of high-performing teams at Autodesk?
Eraj Siddiqui: At Autodesk we use a nine-value grid that helps us evaluate people on a quarterly and annual basis. We think about people as a resource and about how they should operate in teams. It’s how we hire for them and how we develop them. So the questions that we’re asking about an individual, and ultimately about a team, are:
- Are they smart?
- Are they thinking innovatively?
- Are they generally adaptable?
- Do they show humility in their work?
- What level of impact are they having?
- Are they being inclusive of different points of view?
- Are they holding themselves accountable for their work?
- Are they pragmatic in their thinking about solutions?
- And finally, are they courageous? Are they willing to go against the norm and status quo and question how things are done?
What does “level of impact” mean to you?
ES: Is the work they’re doing impactful to their overall project? Is it helping to build a better customer relationship or better customer outcomes?
Autodesk is driving towards being a customer company. So everything that we do revolves around the customer: the customer experience, interactions and so forth.
How do these nine characteristics of high-performing teams play out in practice?
ES: High-performing teams are composed of capable individuals who each fully understand their roles within that particular team formation. Let’s take a cross-functional team that works across different business segments within the company. In that cross-functional team—and I’ve led a few of them—being high-performing means people are not only bringing their capabilities and their domain expertise to that overall team, but they’re also bringing their ability to collaborate.
They’re checking their egos and their political alignments at the door and coming to it with the idea that they are participating in something that will make an impact on our internal processes or on the customer experience. That’s the goal that we are trying to achieve. They’re not fulfilling their own sub-organization’s objectives—they’re fulfilling the higher-level organization’s objective, as well as [thinking about] what impact it truly has on the customer.
So they’re able to zoom out and think more collectively. And being able to leave egos out of the equation is crucial?
ES: Sometimes when teams come together, they struggle to check their personal predilections at the door. With the forming, storming, norming, performing type of team-building, it can take a while for a team to come together. And sometimes on projects, you don’t have that much time to dedicate to something long-winded.
But in my experience, truly effective teamwork is done by getting people into a room and actually having them converse, eye to eye, understand each other’s points of view, and really having the courage to bring out their differences and talking through them, rather than keeping them under wraps and being passive-aggressive or detrimental to the work.
One thing that always comes up when describing characteristics of high-performing teams is goal-setting. How do your teams achieve goals without your having to stay on them?
ES: The way I think about it is—and I encourage direct employees and team members to operate like this as well—even in the team complex, really think about it from the standard “objectives and key results” point of view. It’s a well-known concept, but [our high-performing teams] tend to frame most of their projects within that particular framework.
So in the current quarter and in the next two quarters, what are the objectives that your team is actually geared towards? What are they working to achieve, and how are they measuring their success?
ES: For example, if the objective is to launch a particular system, what are the metrics driving the success of that particular launch? Or if a system has launched and we now have people using it, our objective is to prove the value of that system: What are the metrics by which we are assuming whether that value is going to hit the mark? One metric could be how many people are using it; another could be how many customers are being impacted by it or whether their dollar values increase, et cetera.
You mentioned “adaptability” as one of the characteristics of high-performing teams. What does being adaptable mean for Autodesk?
ES: We deal with a lot of uncertainty, in terms of business processes and customer relationships. Adaptability is three things: It’s the ability to deal with some degree of ambiguity, to adapt to different circumstances, and to look on the positive side and see an opportunity. If somebody gave you the message that your program is only partly successful at this stage, do you see that as a failure or do you see it as room for improvement?
And it’s the ability to be in a continuous learning and growth mindset mode, as opposed to a fixed mindset mode. The landscape is constantly changing, our business model is changing, our customer relationships are changing. If you’re not in a learning and growing mindset, your teams will get wrapped up in the gears of the machine rather than actually operating it.