9 Tactics For Better Team Performance by Harvard B-School

Tactics For Better Team Performance by Harvard B-School


  • Emotional Leadership
  • Be a Role Model
  • Step Back and Analyze
  • Set Expectations Without Micromanagement
  • Agile-like Stand-Ups
  • Cultivate Autonomy
  • Be Willing to Let Your Employees Fail 
  • Use Constructive Conflict to Your Advantage
  • Foster Professional Development 
  • Conclusion

  • Teamwork is anchored in humanity’s success as a species. A champion team will defeat a team of champions – team performance outruns lone efforts.  
  • But how can you get your team to deliver their best performance? Harvard B-School research makes some striking points on how to fully leverage team performance.
  • From Emotional Leadership to Constructive Conflict, read about 9 team performance boosters that managers can actively use in their management style. 

Explore your team’s performance to its full potential with ProofHub team management software. Get Started for free.   

In the 6000 years of civilization, one reason why we transformed from hunter-gatherers into urban-dwellers, is due to our ability to work in teams. If we hadn’t learned to organize in groups and boost team performance, we wouldn’t have come this far.

In a team, we strengthen our core abilities and expand on individual talents.

But that is true only when it has a nourishing ecosystem. Today, as teams buckle up to achieve more, they often end up asking – how to boost team performance? 

The question boomerangs back to the manager. What more can they do, in addition to their current tactics, to achieve higher levels of team productivity? Is there anything that can elevate their managerial skills?

One answer lies in years of research carried out by the top-ranking Harvard Business School and by NASA astronauts. Both organizations sit at the pinnacle of human achievement and have some golden words of advice for managers who constantly strive to bring out the best in their teams.   

better team performance

Let’s go over a compilation of research findings, broken down into actionable points for forward-looking managers.  

9 Tactics For Better Team Performance

1.Emotional Leadership 

The ability to recognize emotions and cater to them responsibly is a highly underestimated leadership trait, one that you can’t afford to miss out on. 

We all, dare I say, “regulate” our emotions at work. We balance our laughter, put on a social smile, and restrain from sounding too cynical. 

Sure, it helps us cater to the professional decorum but this active emotional governance can become taxing. 

This is where emotional leadership comes into play. Leaders who are aware of their team’s mood, morale, and psychological setup, can reduce the need to be selectively emotional at work.

They’re courteous enough to walk up to employees having a bad day for a quick “How can I help? ” session. They can help ease the tension when targets are unmet, and revitalize team performance.

With a less-restraining emotional environment, and a manager who gets them, the team members can use the same emotions to deliver better work. It’s similar to swimming with the flow of the river, than against it.       

How to Practice Emotional Leadership?

  • Be Authentic – The last thing that team members want to see is their manager faking enthusiasm or being overly optimistic. It doesn’t work that way. Bring your real deal to the table and pilot the team’s emotional state by being “natural and responsible” rather than “fabricated and uninspiring”. 
  • Manage Yourself First – Harvard’s research on Primal Leadership stresses upon managing the self prior to delving into the team’s emotional affairs. As a manager, you are both a point of inspiration and influence. Work on dealing with your own emotional crests and troughs first, because your attitudes go a long way in building or breaking the team’s mental state, research shows.  
  • Sense How Your Mood Affects The Team – The same team from Harvard found that a worrying number of managers don’t really know how their mood affects the team. They could very well be sabotaging team productivity in complete oblivion. Hence, being aware of how mood dips are affecting coworkers or obtrusive crankiness is pissing people off, is something you can actively do. 

2. Be a Role Model

In 2000, researchers at the University of Michigan and New York University studied 70 teams for their emotional contagiousness. They found out that even when team members were from diverse industries and backgrounds, it only took them about 2 hours to start sharing moods. 

The same is true for the Manager-Team dynamic. Team members are quick to pick up the work attitudes and semblances of the manager. Your approach to work, your self-discipline, and your decision-making – all become unsaid protocols for your team. 

Therefore, one of the best ways to keep your team performance under check is by being a bright, shining source of inspiration. It both psychologically motivates your team to be productive and also propagates the feeling – “If my senior is trying so hard, what prevents me from doing the same?”


How to Be a Role Model?

  • Self Discipline – Productivity is an outcome of priorities. What you choose to focus on, is what your team will follow along with. Therefore, orienting yourself towards a disciplined work routine, and minimizing productivity-stealing practices (you know what they are) is what will get your team’s house in order. 
  • Self-Time Management – Time is paramount to being productive and if you’re not productive with your time, you can’t set examples. This is true while being available for meetings, brainstorming on critical points, and overall time delegation, necessary for productive work.  

3. Step Back and Analyze Team Performance

We managers constantly find ourselves asking the question, “If everything is alright, why isn’t the team performing?”. 

This is the moment when you need to “step back and analyze” what is killing the team performance, even when you seem to know everything about your team.

It’s important to remember that team dynamics change over time. The most seemingly simple issues such as personal strife between two members can weigh down the team.

It’s your job to wear the investigator’s hat in this situation and identify unobvious bottlenecks.  

How to Analyze Team Performance Issues? 

  • Take Clues from the Data –  In most cases, your team performance data readily spills beans on the issue. Try to look for objective signs of declining performance at individual levels and how they may percolate to the team. You can use a team management tool that lets you report on these metrics easily. 
  • Active Discussions – Opening the floor to team members is another good idea to address productivity issues, without guesswork. Address your assumptions in clear words, let team members speak up, and listen carefully to find the needle in the haystack.
  • 1-on-1 Meetings – The last resort is to ask everyone individually with privacy and confidentiality intact. It could be both an introspective and planning-oriented discussion where you figure out productivity bottlenecks.

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4. Set Expectations Without Micromanagement

Your team members are great at executing tasks but it can get puzzling for them if they don’t know which task to do when.

It might not sound too important, but in absence of clear expectations, productivity starts to dwindle. The team members struggle to create results that are expected from them which throws off their efforts, the timelines, and eventually the motivation to great work. 

Therefore, clearly laying out work essential to on-time and high-quality work. But don’t be lured into doing the classic mistake that managers do! – Micromanagement. 

Micromanagement refers to over-simplifying tasks to the point where you’re dictating how to do the task rather than assigning it. No employee welcomes it unless they specifically need to take detailed directives.


How to Set Expectations Without Micromanagement?

  • Define Quality Work – When there is a clear demarcation on quality work with the help of guidelines, do’s and don’ts, and quality parameters, the complexity of expectation setting is automatically resolved. The team knows how to identify quality work, which becomes ingrained in their expectations, even when you don’t mention what is expected from them. 
  • Set Expectations with Context – At the time of task assignment, if you use “rich context” rather than “over-simplification”, you’ll be saved from the dreads of micromanagement. Context elaborates on useful information about the task. Micromanagement does the opposite by handing out information on how this task is done, which may or may not be useful.

5. Agile-like Stands-Ups

In the Agile way of working, teams have daily short meetings called “Stand-Ups” (nothing to do with stand-up comedy) intended for discussing daily agendas and reviewing the past-day performance.

Even if you don’t wish to adopt Agile in its entirety, this little element can prove beneficial in keeping the project progress on track. These daily meetings enable team members to voice concerns openly. Not only is it good for comparing notes with each other, but it also fosters better communication.

Generally, a Stand-Up doesn’t last for more than 15 mins and is focused on quickly going through “what went right/wrong?”  


How to hold Agile-like Stand-Ups?

  • Address the 3 Qs – A good practice for meaningful stand-ups entails asking the three important questions to everyone in the team; 
  • What have you completed since the last meeting? 
  • What do you plan to complete by the next meeting?  
  • What is getting in your way?

These questions provide everyone the updated information they need to steer the project towards the common goal. It also helps them openly address issues that are keeping them from being productive.

6. Cultivate Autonomy for Better Team Performance

In my personal experience, autonomy is one of the strongest virtues to be found in employees. Team members who collaborate well but can execute their own tasks autonomously, usually end up being far more productive.

The simple reason behind this is that everyone’s “productivity style” is unique. Some people work the best with headphones blaring white noise in their ears, while others prefer pin-drop silence.  

Many complain about incessant meetings and actually end-up hurting their productivity by participating. Hence, allowing team members to do their own thing in the way they deem the best, improves the group’s overall productivity.  

How to cultivate autonomy?

  • Calendar Blockage – It’s deemed a good workplace practice to let team members block their calendars as per their time utilization plans. Rather than forcing everyone to a singular team calendar, individual calendars keep everyone progressing in their own time. 
  • Off-loading Decision Making – One sure way to cultivate autonomy is by progressively off-loading decisions to the team members. Start with trivial things and lead them to make major decisions by themselves. At least provide them with the freedom they need to be autonomous while they get better at it.

7. Be Willing to Let Your Employees Fail 

Failures happen if not by choice then by chance, but fearing failures makes it really tough for the team members to innovate.

For your team to stay productive, a lot of experimentation will be needed. Don’t be too afraid of facing failures in projects and milestones. Calendars will be derailed and deadlines will be extended, but in the end, your team will only emerge as the winner.


When failure is not a punishable offense but a respectable outcome, the team members are willing to venture out of their comfort zones to try. Something that’ll only make them more productive.

How to build a safety net for team failures?

  • Planned Risks – Failures that cost teams an entire project or exorbitant losses are probably not what you’re aiming for. Hence, failures need to take place in planned campaigns with the foresight for a failure, and a definite Plan B.  
  • Learning From Failures – As a manager who is helping your team discover productivity, it’s your responsibility to propagate lessons effectively. The real loss lies in not being able to derive lessons from failure, not in failing per se.       


8. Use Constructive Conflict to Your Advantage

Harvard’s Business School’s online course Management Essentials lays down the concept of “constructive conflict”. It’s the conflict that arises when different heads tackle the same problem with varied perceptions, ultimately brewing up innovative solutions. 

In team environments, this kind of conflict can be healthy in several ways. It brings the team members together to brainstorm. It enables critical thinking and generates solutions that a single team member couldn’t have comprehended.

In the end, you get smarter decisions, a more connected team, and efforts that boost productivity for the entire team.

How to use Constructive Conflict?

  • Group Decision Making – A few decisions are best left to “everyone”. In certain decisions, it’s better to engage the entire team and this can be done in the occasional Group Decision meetings. You’re free to choose what kind of questions you want to pose to the team. Keep something that affects everyone alike, and is not focussed on a single member specifically, such as putting a date on the project’s tentative deadline.  

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9. Foster Professional Development 

Ambition is a virtue that is prevalent far and wide in today’s youth workforce.

A LinkedIn report shows that 69% of talent development professionals seek out managers and leaders to promote avenues of up-skilling. Similarly, 75% of employees would take their manager’s advice while choosing a course.

In order to satisfy their career aspirations, employees are on a constant lookout for talent-enriching team environments. 

The apparent results of offering the same are increased motivation, better team performance, and natural engagement in work borne out of curiosity. 

How To Foster Professional Development? 

  • Education at Work – Offering training programs at work, sponsoring training for employees, and setting aside time for MOOCs, all contribute to better professional development. Even if it’s 2 hours in a week, significant efforts can be made to education at work as it ultimately benefits the company. 
  • Challenging Work Opportunities – “Challenging Work Opportunity” is HR’s favorite buzzword to write in millennial job descriptions. Challenging situations shape abilities and drive creativity in individuals that stay with them life-long. By catering to this appetite for learning, you can help the team stay motivated and productive.   


At the end of the day, we can be as productive as we choose to be.

We can choose to transform our work habits, adopt new ones and see what works for us. The most resilient of managers actively adapt to changing times. There’s no secret to better team performance, it’s all in the courage to hit and try.

The points mentioned in this article are not productivity hacks but pieces of empirical wisdom to boost team performance. There’s no debate on the fact that some teams end up performing better no matter what stands their way. While we shouldn’t envy them, we can sure learn a lot.

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