What Makes A High-Performing Team?

Our teams lay the groundwork for a successful business. Their actions and interactions can determine the day-to-day flow of work and how well projects are executed. But what is that makes high-performing teams tick? In this article we explore 4 key traits of high-performing teams, that will allow your business to flourish.

What is a team?

As we discuss in this article (What’s the difference between training and coaching?) for a group of people to be defined as a team, they need to be interdependent around a common purpose on goal.

Different types of teams:

Cross-functional teams

A cross-functional team has members who come from different functional areas or departments within an organisation that use their separate skills to collaborate.


A group of people who are brought together to use their specific skills to solve a particular problem.

Project team

Like a task force but their goal is to work on a broader range of tasks and is a more ongoing and long-term

Virtual/Hybrid team

a group of people with a common goal or purpose that collaborate online through a virtual workspace

4 things high-performing teams do:

1. Normalise Emotions

We may choose to minimise our thoughts and emotions at work, for fear of rocking the boat or looking unprofessional. However, this eventually learns to stress and further negativity, reducing the success of teams. Organizational behavioural scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Normalising emotions is a powerful way of making people feel heard, accepted and safe. Encourage emotional dialogue with your teams by allowing them to voice their feelings. Let them know it’s normal to feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, and nervous. Create a safe and trusting space by sharing your emotions with them in return.

2. Be Real

Acknowledge that they are human, and that you too have and will make mistakes. In the words of Alexander Pope, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” Essentially, errors are part of being human, and you can’t expect your staff to be never make a mistake! Fostering an environment that embraces failure is essential for businesses to evolve. This is even truer for staff working in a team, as they may feel more anxious about making a mistake if they feel they are letting more than one person down. A great team will stand strong and support one another through their mistakes, helping to build each other back up, rather than knock them further down. Mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth for the team as a whole.

3. Leverage Diversity

High-performing teams embrace and leverage of the power of cognitive and demographic diversity. "Demographic diversity (differences in race, gender, age, class, sexual orientation, religion, and so on) can, in circumstances, increase group wisdom. Teams that are diverse in personal experiences tend to have a richer, more nuanced understanding of their fellow human beings. They have a wider array of perspectives – fewer blind spots. They bridge between frames of reference."- Matthew Syed, Rebel ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking . Basically, the more varied and diverse your teams are, the broader scope they will have for ideas and plans to put your projects into action with greater success. A lack of diversity may result in narrow-minded decisions that may have less of an impact.

4. Look for Alignment

It can often feel impossible to get a team to agree on everything, and that is okay. High-performing teams don’t have to agree on, or like, every decision that gets made. Great teams look to find alignment around a common purpose or goal, particularly when the going gets tough, to find a way forward that benefits the business’ bigger picture.

Here are two key opportunities where teams can utilise the power of alignment:

1. When starting a new project.

When we jump into a new project, the urgency (and often need) to get started can have focused on the deliverables: all the things we need to do together and who’s going to do what. Yet, slowing down at the start by pausing to design behavioural agreements can set a team up for success in the long run. Before diving into all the things we need to ‘do’ a team can first start by asking how they want to ‘be’ together. What kind of atmosphere do they want to create? And perhaps most importantly, how do they want to be when things get challenging. Known as a Design Team Alliance (DTA), this powerful practice comes from the work of CRR Global (home to the Organizational & Relationship Systems Coaching Program) and is an incredibly effective way of creating behavioural agreements, accountability, and co-responsibility for the atmosphere within which the work takes place.

2. When there’s conflict.

Alignment is different from agreement and is useful when there are different perspectives around how things should be done. In order to get unstuck from their respective positions (“I think it should be like this” “well that’s not going to work for us..”) the best teams look to find common value sets that they can align around. Finding alignment, enables teams to quickly get unstuck and move towards a common purpose or goal. Alignment is an essential pillar for high performing teams, serving as a driving force for reaching goals. Teams who have a strong sense of direction will outperform teams who have no purpose or common goal. Helping your team find a clear direction a way of working together will offer a sense of motivation and commitment that will enable your team to perform well.

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