The (not so) Secret to Team High Performance

Team High Performance

Why it’s still our greatest competitive advantage.

Team high performance comes from our ability to create an environment where we use people's strengths and weaknesses to create better outcomes. This seems simple, but sadly rarely happens. Here's how to change that. 

Forget first to market, customer service, value-adding features or perfect strategy. You can have all of the above factors yet fail dramatically. You can have none of the above factors, yet succeed beyond reason. But if you manage a team, you better have one thing nailed down, because without it, nothing’s going to work as well as you have hoped. The only real competitive advantage you need to know is about team high performance.

Great Team Culture

Great team culture is not just about having a workplace that people enjoy. Great team culture allows us to unlock the real benefits for teamwork. Sure, you can celebrate birthdays, go out to lunch to celebrate great results and have a great staff development program, but the real reason we want great team culture is so that our team performance improves. I mean, I have never heard anyone say “I just want people to love working here – it doesn’t matter if we do a terrible job and make no money! As long as people love it here I’m happy.” Business doesn’t work like that. Sure, if people love working for your team chances are they will do a better job. But you might be missing out on the real reason we work in teams.

What is Team High Performance?

We work in teams for two standout reasons:

The first reason is division of labour. This makes our team more efficient. We can get more done, have experts in various aspects of the business and ‘production lines’ where people focus on what they do best. The is great, but the most compelling reason we work in teams is this:


When high performance teams work most effectively, their outputs are greater than the sum of their parts. Collectively, the team achieves better outcomes and solutions than any one team member could come up with individually. Sure, this happens when we organise teams in a way that gets the work done efficiently, but it becomes a game changer when we apply it to the way the team thinks, innovates and problem solves.

And this is still the greatest competitive advantage in the market, because almost no one gets it right. I mean, think about it.. how many teams have you worked in that truly makes the 1+1=3 phenomenon work? When I ask this question in team high performance workshops, most people can more readily relay stories when 1+1=1 (or less – the worst I have heard is -258!!).

Why does this happen?

Team Diversity: The double edged sword

Team high performance comes from diversity. But diversity also derails team high performance.

It’s no secret that the entire 1+1=3 phenomenon is possible because our team members have different backgrounds, experience, education levels, upbringings, cultures and perspectives. When we use this diversity well, everyone’s ideas go in the melting pot of iteration and out pops a brilliant idea that no one individual could possibly have ideated themselves.

But.. diversity also naturally brings conflict. And this the true reason it is so hard to build great high performance teams, because the very thing that boost team high performance is the same thing that crushes it. And whether you rate your team 3/10 or 9/10 for teamwork, mastering the ability to capitalise on the good aspects of diversity will help bring your team up a level.

Forget Chemistry

Great teams behave like great teams. This is a simple and yet undeniably true platitude about high performance teams. Team high performance doesn’t happen because of ‘chemistry,’ it happens because team members are willing to engage in the behaviours that make teams great. Conversely, teams that underperform do so because their team members aren’t willing to engage in the behaviours of great high performance teams.

Will you benefit from constructing your team based on differing personalities, thinking styles and experience? Maybe. Can you achieve team high performance with a team who has similar backgrounds, experiences and personalities? Also maybe. While the material diversity of the team can help, it doesn’t matter as much as the following traits for your team members:

  • Self awareness
  • Humility
  • Commitment to personal and professional growth

These traits, above anything else, will help you set the tone for unlocking team high performance.

Check out our course: Managing Teams: Foundations of High Performance

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Three Steps to Building the Foundations of Team High Performance

Having team members with the traits to unlock teamwork is half the battle. The other half involves  consciously building the environment for diversity to thrive so we create a high performance team. Here are a few things you need to be doing to make this happen.

1. Be clear about your team culture.

Culture often just evolves. Sometimes it evolves into a ‘good’ culture and sometimes it doesn’t. Instead of letting it just evolve, we need to help it take the right course. I often ask teams that say they have a ‘great culture’ to explain what that culture actually is, and they mostly have a tough time articulating it. This usually means they will have a difficult time keeping that culture on track and reinforcing the behaviours that go along with it.

While there are many aspects that go along with culture, the key aspects that relate to team high performance and creating a 1+1=3 environment described as follows:

A culture of constant feedback - when everyone in the team knows that regular feedback is part of the process, they get better at handling feedback and being less defensive. More people are willing to give feedback when they know it is expected and when they have seen that it is used as a tool for change, not an absolute assessment.

Constant feedback means constant. It does not mean formal feedback at regular reviews. It means that people hear it daily and they hear it in a timely manner.

A team culture of open and honest communication – this sounds simple, but making this overt and clear is key to shaping people’s expectations about their role in the team high performance. Open and honest communication is a cliché when we talk about teamwork, but rarely do teams do it properly. Most leaders say they want open and honest communication but then act in a completely different way.

A team culture of constructive conflict – true 1+1=3 teams happen because people are willing to argue and debate topics, ideas, and points of view. It doesn’t come from everyone compromising and just getting along. Most teams are so worried about conflict that they don’t engage in the useful kind. Meetings should be lively and heated at times.

A disagree and commit team culture – this is important for execution. If we are open and honest and have high levels of constructive conflict, then it is sometimes easy to hold on to your way of doing things when others vote against it. To create team high performance, we need to disagree to get the best solution, but then commit to making that solution work.

A team culture of continuous improvement – if everyone is willing to grow, then everyone is willing to be wrong and accept where they can improve. When people see all of the above traits as ways to improve instead of a personal attack, they commit to growth.

2. Create psychological safety

Psychological safety is simply a feeling that we can be candid without fear of repercussions. As you might guess, this is key in creating a 1+1=3 environment to build team high performance. Creating psychological safety takes time, but can be fast-tracked by doing some simple things:

  • Create situations where people can be human rather than employees
  • Help people get to know each other and understand their drivers, goals and fears
  • Show your own vulnerability and willingness to take feedback
  • When people make the effort to speak up, be sure to show them how that effort made a difference. You can do this by showing what you did with their information
  • Show that you think each team member is an expert at what they do, and has very specific insights into their job
  • Avoid blaming
  • Communicate honestly – don’t use ‘tricks’ to cover up what you really want to say


3. Encourage the behaviours you want to see

Finally, the culmination of all of this is simply to reinforce the behaviours that you want to see. If people are brave, open, and honest, thank them for doing that. Recognise people who are engaged and vocal in the team meetings, but also recognise those who are making a concerted effort to listen more and create space for others. Different people will have different levels of comfort with speaking up versus listening more, so recognise when people are showing the behaviour that is uncomfortable for them.

Often when I am facilitating, I see team members start to argue and the situation gets a bit heated. The natural tendency of others is to cringe away from this behaviour. But, as long as it is not being destructive, this can be a great indicator of team high performance. As leaders our job is to encourage more of this, and harness it in a positive way. Tell people, in the moment, that you think this is a great conversation – that way you will encourage more of it.

Finally, hold people accountable. If you see someone rolling their eyes, as them to share what’s on their mind. Help your introverts to get involved in the conversation or pre-prepare someone who is naturally quiet to contribute to an upcoming meeting.

There is nothing that improves team high performance like this enormously beneficial way of working. We work in teams for a reason: so we can get better, more innovative, more effective outcomes. If we’re not having the frequency or quality of conversations that makes us a 1+1=3 team, then we’re leaving a lot our team performance on the table.








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