How to build a high-performing team

In this video, I explore the characteristics that make a team successful and high-performing and discuss how your team can be one, too.

In a 2-year study by Google, the company discovered that there are 5 key attributes present in high-performing teams:

  1. Psychological safety: As a member of this team, can I take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can my team members count on each other to deliver high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & quality: Do all of my team members know and understand goals, roles, and execution plans?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

Why do these attributes matter?

Let’s imagine what happens when these attributes are absent in the team we work with. Imagine that in your team, there’s no psychological safety. You can’t depend on anyone to take up the slack, whether you control it or not. You are unclear about the team’s goals and everyone’s roles, and you’re uncertain if there is even a definite execution plan. And because you’re unsure if what you are doing is important or even makes an impact, you don’t find meaning in your work.

How do you think you’ll perform? You’ll be likely to only do as you’re told and most likely won’t initiate or offer suggestions out of what you believe is normal. You’ll likely think and act within the box. You certainly won’t take unnecessary risks—or any risk for that matter.

It becomes stifling, but we would rather be stifled rather than have others perceive our competence or attitudes negatively. This is a natural survival strategy—but this also is extremely harmful to a team and its performance. Team members take less initiative, and they become less creative. That’s because when things are uncertain, we would rather wait to be told about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Rather than blaze the trail and then risk failing and possibly be blamed by the entire team, we are likely to just ‘play it safe’.

So how do we build a high-performing team?

The way I see it is that we need three things:

  1. we need the right people,
  2. they need the right tools and systems to work with, and
  3. they need to work in the right environment.

The right people, the right tools and systems, and the right environment will be different for each business—so there isn’t going to be the fixed formula for each team.

But we need to start somewhere, so here are a few things we, as business owners, might consider if we are going to build and nurture a high-performing team.

Let’s start with the people: hire the right ones. And the common hiring guideline is to hire for attitude and train for aptitude. You want to work with people who have the capacity and disposition to deal with the kind of personalities and situations that your business deals with daily.

Don’t try to get the best people at the lowest possible hourly rate. People who are good will command a higher rate—and even if they agree to come in at a low rate, they are not likely to stay for a long time. Find a good and fair rate to attract the kind of person you want to work in your business.

Once you find the right people, set them up for success by providing them with the right tools and systems to work with. This means making roles and objectives clear, and execution plans concrete. Provide further training if their roles or objectives call for it. The absence of any one of these makes people guess and leads them to improvise, which may not always result in what is ideal.

Encourage communication. A clear indication of psychological safety is found in the quality of team communication. That everyone feels that they are heard, or everyone feels confident that they can freely but reasonably express themselves means that there is a high level of psychological safety in the team.

While communication cannot guarantee that teams will not run into conflict, a culture that encourages open communication can help team members work through problems. Open communication nurtures an environment where team members will feel psychologically safe.

Google’s Head of Industry, Paul Santagata, who was involved in the 2-year study, has this advice: To build and nurture high-performing teams—and nurture the environment of trust, everyone must learn to approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. The goal in resolving conflict is not to win an argument, but to find a mutually beneficial solution—and one that works to everyone’s best interest.

Santagata also advices to learn how to replace blame with curiosity. When exploring the problem as a team, focus on finding solutions, not blame. But when you do find that one member might be the source of the problem, try to ask this person for the solution. The people who are responsible for creating a problem often (but not all the time) hold the keys to solving them.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.



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