Michael Afonso
High Performing Teams 101: Getting the Basics Right

A team is a group of people with defined skills committed to achieving set goals. In any context, the compatibility of its team members is the differentiating factor between an average or low performing team and a high performing team.

It is the high performing team that wins their organisation a significant advantage over the competition. A team with optimal performance boosts productivity which we all know is pivotal for your business.

Attracting highly talented employees and arming them with the right resources and training is not enough in building a high performing team. It is just like a football team. You can’t expect to win the cup just because you recruited highly talented players into your team.

It is the high performing team that makes all the difference between a successful and an average organisation. They are not just a group of skilled individuals they are people who very well understand the values and purpose of their company. They have clearly aligned their personal purpose to the organisation’s purpose.

A study published in the American Behavioural Scientist shows how connectivity is a non-linear dynamic that determines the performance of a team dividing them into low performance, medium performance and high-performance teams.

Here are a few characteristics that differentiate high performing teams from other teams.

• High performing teams practice high connectivity. They get along with each other well, which improves their interdependence.

• They are not afraid of taking risks.

• They have expansive emotional space which widens their scope of action. According to the study published in American Behavioral Scientist, expansive emotional space broadens the horizon of possible actions. Fear and other negative emotions narrow the possibility of different actions.

• High performing teams are interdependent and have great trust in each other.

• They have problem-solving skills and are flexible.

When you look deeper at the points, you will notice that the foundation of a high performing team is Trust.

How does trust invigorate high performing teams?

The core to building a high performing team is Trust.

According to a study by Paul J. Zak, building a culture of trust results in better outcomes for both individuals and businesses. A team lacking trust is incompetent and incapable of reaching its full potential.

Let’s use the football team analogy again. Management has recruited the best players and has started training them and you are the coach. As the leader, you need to earn the trust of the players. If they are unable to trust you, they won’t believe in your plan of action and the team will be divided. No matter how skilled the players are, a team that is divided has a significant disadvantage over its competition. The players won’t feel like playing under you or together, and they would start looking for other options.

Trust creates a positive workplace environment that leads to producing massive results. It improves teamwork and bridges the gap between supervisors and direct reports.

When employees have faith in their peers and leaders, they work actively towards their goals. Knowing they have a say in matters and their opinions are heard boosts their confidence resulting in them engaging more in work.

Research shows that individuals at high-trust companies are 23% more likely to share ideas and solutions. Studies also highlight that when compared to employees at low-trust organisations those employed at high-trust organisations:

• experience 74% less stress,
• are 50% more active,
• practice 76% more engagement,
• are 106% more energetic at work,
• suffer 40% less burnout,
• take 13% fewer sick leaves, and
• are 29% more satisfied with their lives

Those numbers say it all.

“If you put good people in bad systems, you get bad results. You have to water the flowers you want to grow.”
~ Stephen Covey

Let us look at how you can create a safe environment for your team.

Be all ears!

To build a high performing team it is essential for you to listen to the viewpoints of your subordinates. Give them a chance to voice out their opinions and listen to their ideas attentively.

Everyone likes to be heard. When you are heard, the production of oxytocin increases, and we are motivated to come up with creative solutions.

PRO TIP! Improving listening skills is probably the greatest skill team leaders can gift themselves in 2022! Small little steps like being the last in the group to voice an opinion or and idea. Or rotating facilitators for team meetings. Don’t take our word for it. Try it out and see.

Acknowledge and Reward

Being recognised and acknowledged for one’s work improves trust in relationships. Acknowledging efforts foster trust.

Rewarding your employees for their hard work motivates the others to strive for excellence. Recognition results in increased productivity. When employees feel valued, they work more optimally. Recognition can mean different things to different people. Some like the adulation and glory of public appreciation. While others prefer more subtle gestures of credit and acknowledgement.

Celebrating achievements with the team enhances interdependence and communication. It is an opportunity for leaders to highlight the vision of the organisation whereas team members can interact with each other.


There is no better way to evoke trust than being transparent.

Workplace transparency leads to long term success. Transparency among team members and the leader and the team enhances trust, improves morale resulting in a high performing team.

One useful strategy is constructive criticism. Giving feedback in an honest yet kind manner – in public and private. Also, do not hesitate to ask for some in return.

Yes, it puts you in a vulnerable position and yet, if the leader is open about their mistakes, the team members won’t be upset when their mistakes are pointed out.

Intolerance towards drama

There are instances when people are found to be stuck in a drama triangle at the workplace. Such situations need to be managed before it leads to disintegration in the team.

Rather than becoming a part of the vicious drama triangle, team members need skills for harnessing positives in conflict through communication. Knowing what to do when they see others (or themselves) in victim, rescuer or prosecutor position is an exercise of EQ in leadership in itself!

It is natural for us to disagree or get angry or argue. In fact, it’s healthy for a team to be able to respond well in these situations.

Promote self-growth

Studies reveal that learning new work skills is not sufficient, growing as an individual is as important as acquiring new work skills. If a person is unable to grow personally, their professional life is sure to suffer.

As the leader, you can facilitate your team’s growth by:

  • • Engaging with each member on a personal level.
  • • Discussing their life outside work, like family and friends.
  • • Understanding how they deal with work-stress, like how they take out time for recreation.
  • • Reflecting on their work-life balance.

SECRET WEAPON! the flowprofiler® assessment we use in our Leadership in Flow work. Not only does it help us help leaders to find balance and to adapt to work demands in a healthy way, it helps them help their team develop leadership skills. Read our blog on motivation and wellbeing.

Build Relationships

Experiments show that people who build social ties at work other than professional relationships tend to be more productive. A study by Google shows how managers concerned about their team members’ personal well-being are more likely to be more productive.

Personal relationships between team members foster trust.

These are a few ways in which you can build relationships at work:

  • • Value your team, not only as employees but also as individuals
  • • Learn more about their personal life
  • • Plan and participate in meaningful team-building activities
  • • Take your team out for lunch, celebrate birthdays or work anniversaries.

Clichéd but effective!

Sense of belonging

Understanding the perspective of the other members builds empathy. Empathy elicits trust, resulting in stronger relationships. It improves communication and creates a sense of belonging. When you feel you belong somewhere, it becomes easier for you to be yourself at work.

Be curious

Ask for feedback. Ask questions. Listen.

Knowing that you want to know what they think is a strong motivator to engage. This helps bridge any communication gap between the team members and leads towards optimal performance.

Psychological Safety in your team

Here is a checklist you can use to ‘measure’ the degree of psychological safety within your team:

Amy Edmondson, an organizational behavior scientist at Harvard suggests using these seven statements to understand the degree of psychological safety in your company. Ask your employees to rate these questions on a scale of 1-5, where 1 implies strongly disagree and 5 implies strongly agree.

  1. 1. I can bring up problems and tough issues, without any fear.
  2. 2. I am not scared of taking risks in this organisation.
  3. 3. It is difficult to go around asking for help from other members of this organisation.
  4. 4. People at this organisation do not deliberately act out to undermine my efforts.
  5. 5. My skills and talents are valued and utilised in this organisation.
  6. 6. Mistakes are often held against me.
  7. 7. People at this organisation sometimes reject others for being different.

Analysing the result of this survey will help you know where you stand and how much effort you need to put into building a high performing team.

Building a high performing part is an ongoing effort. It is easy to recruit the best talents but knowing how to use their talent for your benefit is what makes the difference. Your team might include highly skilled members but how you get them to perform optimally is the trick.

Building a high performing team requires careful nurturing at each step. The most important ingredient is trust. Optimal performance and well-being based on trust is strong and long-lasting.


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