How to build a high-performing team

Is your team operating at the optimal level?

Every leader, senior manager, and business owner wants needs their team to operate at their best level, but very few achieve it. We help you do just that…

Optimising ​team performance​ isn’t easy. When the success of your organisation relies on the collective efforts and commitment of diverse individuals, you’re bound to run into a few issues.

Winning new business, improving performance, reducing sick leave, and striving for a higher quality of work are concerns that every business owner faces. Whether you’re a small start-up, an established enterprise, or a management consultant, you regularly face the challenge of optimising ​team performance​. Smashing success is a fire that needs regular stoking, and a large part of it depends on a reliable, committed team.

So, how do you build a high-performing team?

We dove into the research on ​team performance models​ and talked to managers representing varying industries.

Our investigation revealed two overarching categories to team productivity and ​team performance assessment​ adapted from the T7 Model of Effectiveness developed by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger (1): internal and external approaches. Both demand our attention, but we’ll start with internal approaches, for they form the foundation for overall success.

Caption: Is your team operating at it’s full capacity?

Internal Approaches To Optimising ​Team Performance

Before we dig into how you can produce a higher-performing team, we need to understand ​why people resist the hard work it requires.

How do you build a solid team, meet goals, and acquire new business if your staff aren’t willing to work hard? The Lencioni Model, described in Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,​ outlines five reasons why teams don’t perform well (2):

The five reasons why teams don’t perform well:

  1. The absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflicts
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention

The common denominator in all of these? ​Individual resistance​.

Meeting goals and executing tasks requires taking a human approach to the people you’re working with. We can manage teams, but we can’t manage individuals. Teams are constructs we’ve created to organise ourselves. As individuals, we are complex, emotional, and as inconsistent as we are predictable.

We’re incapable of perfection and prone to inconsistency. We’re also the brains, creativity, blood, sweat, and tears behind a successful enterprise.

Internal approaches to optimising team performance​ involves starting at the individual level and meeting each person where they’re at

Our humanness drives our success if we know how to manage our flaws and capitalise on our strengths. As managers, we can reward teams and individuals for their hard work, but we can’t make them care.

If this sounds hopeless, rest assured it’s not impossible to get to the heart of the matter––inspiring care and a sense of purpose and meaning in each individual. Like a child mimics a parent, your team members feed off your enthusiasm, strength, and commitment to your work. The most effective and authentic way to inspire someone to genuinely care and work hard is to model those values yourself.

Individual level

Internal approaches to optimising ​team performance​ involves starting at the individual level and meeting each person where they’re at.​ In the following sections, we’ll cover three must-have elements for boosting individual performance, minimising sick days, and cultivating a team that cares deeply about its work.

As you read, consider these approaches within the context of your team using the critical questions posed at the start of each section.

Caption: Build on your teams strengths

Pinpoint & Capitalise on Strengths

Is everyone on your team aware of their limits and strengths? Are you?

The GRPI model of team effectiveness identifies four critical components of a successful team (3):

  1. Goals
  2. Roles
  3. Processes, including established decision making and problem-solving approachs, and
  4. Interpersonal relationships.

We advocate for a fifth component here: Intrapersonal relationships.

Intrapersonal refers to the relationship one has with himself, his level of awareness, and his professional identity.

The GRPI model of team effectiveness identifies four critical components of a successful team: goals, roles, processes, including established decision making and problem-solving approaches, and interpersonal relationships (3). We advocate for a fifth component here: intrap​ ersonal relationships. Intrapersonal refers to the relationship one has with himself, his level of awareness, and his professional identity.

Team performance assessment ​requires us to address the more subtle aspects of a high-functioning team: What incites someone to work hard? What convinces them to slack off? Exploring these questions gives us insights on staff well-being and the factors that motivate effort.

Everyone enters their work with a unique skill set and personal competencies. One of the main barriers to optimal​ team performance​ is individual confidence.

Some people don’t have the personal efficacy to apply themselves effectively, which can prevent team cohesiveness. Overconfidence, however, also fragments team solidarity and punctures performance. A veritable “too big for one’s britches” comes across as a resistance to learn, accept different ideas, and meet conflict with an open mind and a positive outlook.

We all have unique strengths, but not all of us know what we’re capable of. Most people are intelligent, but we occasionally fall short of our intellectual potential for different reasons. When this happens, we need common-sense approaches to boosting individual morale that reflect understanding and compassion for human error.

Create visibility.​

Notice and develop a relationship with each member of your team. People want to be seen, which requires acknowledging who they are, where they come from, and some general details about their personal lives.

Offer personalised coaching.​

Some people aren’t as responsive to a particular approach as the rest of the team. In these instances, you need to meet them where they’re at. Start with what they know and are comfortable with, and capitalise on their intelligence, strengths, and competencies.

Have regular one-on-one meetings.​

Distinct from more formalised coaching, one-on-one sessions establish a space in which to suss out challenges, analyse successes, and generally find out how each team member is doing on a personal level.

If you can determine where individual team members are struggling and why then you can get to the heart of someone’s personal efficacy and encourage it. This can be a game changer. Once we have our personal needs met, we are better equipped to contribute to the collective. But before we get there, we need something that lights a fire within us.

Cultivate Care

Why should your team care about your business goals? Why do you care?

People care about goals that are personally meaningful to them. The big question here is ​how do you make people care?​ It starts with defining a worthwhile, team-generated purpose that personally resonates with each individual.

Top-down approaches are necessary for succeeding at particular tasks, but you can’t make people care about something that doesn’t hold personal meaning. This is particularly true of a more “mature” team. Let’s look at the work of Erikson to shed some light on purpose and meaning.

Renowned psychoanalyst Erik Erikson defined tasks relevant to each stage of human psychosocial development. Each one presents a conflict that we must reconcile to move onwards and upwards in life.

40 to 65 represents the virtue of care, with a conflict between generativity and stagnation

Virtue of care

According to his theory, the phase of life from 40 to 65 represents the virtue of care, with a conflict between generativity and stagnation. ​Generativity​ is cultivated through activities that support making our mark on the world.

Being productive in our work, contributing to something worthwhile, and creating positive change are ways in which we develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture. ​Stagnation​ occurs without the opportunity to generate something of meaning or when our efforts are thwarted.

In a professional context, there is a crossover between individual and collective ideals. Empowered people positively influence a strong team. A collective will to generate high-quality work requires the commitment and participation of individual players.

A goal to develop a new technology, for example, depends on separate tasks and responsibilities funneling into a shared outcome: defining and documenting the product and requirements, designing the framework, producing the prototypes, evaluating, programming, debugging… the list goes on.

Collective ambition

As you’ve probably realised, this is a chicken-or-egg scenario. The collective ambition also feeds back into individual motivation. There is a sense of personal pride in the contributions we’ve made to something larger than we could accomplish independently.

Progress towards a worthwhile goal demands job engagement, which leads to better work performance, greater joy in the commitment, and a sense of satisfaction and pleasure with work.

So, how to boost team morale and incite a shared commitment to business goals? Now that we have the foundation let’s turn our attention to team culture. What influences a positive work culture and a more productive environment?

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Caption: Are you creating a team culture

Optimise Team Culture

In what ways does your team fail to connect? How do you fail to connect with the team you manage?

In addition to sick days, many team leaders struggle to encourage more productive communication and conflict resolution. Individual differences and cultural clashing are barriers to effective communication everywhere in the world, especially in the workplace.

We don’t always get to choose our colleagues, much the same way we don’t choose our families, so we have to learn to make space in the sandbox, so to speak. How do we do that without throwing sand in eachothers’ eyes?

The Katzenback & Smith Team Effectiveness Model features commitment, skills, and accountability as some of the main elements of maximising ​team performance​ (4). Commitment involves dedication to and engagement with work, alignment with your mission, clear goals, and a shared team approach to processes and challenges.

Skill denotes resourcefulness, the ability to problem-solve, and the contribution of valuable work. Accountability means taking responsibility for each part of creation and delivery.

Create connectivity.​

No team performs well without commitment, skill, and accountability. Optimising ​team performance​ requires regular opportunities to collaborate, both formally and informally, within a positive environment. Similar to having informal one-on-ones with individual staff, team members need opportunities to connect with each other on a personal level.

That may mean investing in activities that don’t feel productive so people can bond over common interests and develop trust in one another.

Reward & unlock outstanding performance.​

We like recognition. Praise and rewards for a job well done always go a long way towards boosting individual and team morale. Establishing a rewards system that acknowledges hard work not only motivates people, it also reflects an appreciation for their efforts, leading to a deeper commitment to produce great outcomes.

Give your staff plenty of opportunities to take risks. Empower them with the freedom to make executive decisions when appropriate, having faith in their ability to represent and lead the team with their unique talents.

External Approaches To Optimising ​Team Performance

Once you’ve nailed the heart and soul of your team, you need clear, practical strategies that guide action. These form the blueprint for team functioning and solid ​team performance​.

They map out a set of tactics, led by a common vision and mission that each member can return to at any time for clarity of purpose. ​A vision statement reflects future goals; it’s an answer to where you are going and why. A mission statement clarifies how you’re going to get there​.

Even if you already have a vision statement on paper, reviewing it regularly allows you to adapt it as necessary and involve the ideas of each member of your team. A clear vision statement is ambitious but realistic, inspires enthusiasm, and clearly articulates the team’s identity and purpose.

Develop a mission statement that can be actualised.​

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (5), self-actualisation isn’t possible without a solid foundation that supports increasingly complex development. We can apply this framework to a professional context with the goal of building a successful enterprise, but it demands clear, practical language that everyone can understand and relate to.

A mission statement, which we can also call a one-liner, identifies your purpose and makes your values crystal clear. It provides the foundation for goal-setting and creating key performance indicators that objectively measure individual and team progress towards goals.

Co-create goals & KPIs.​

Key performance indicators are a breakdown of specific goals, instrumental in guiding process-based teams and producing real quantifiable results.

They’re the milestones and measurement of​ team performance​, and they provide objective feedback of individual performance towards a goal. Co-constructing KPIs, rather than feeding them through a top-down approach, creates a deeper sense of meaning for everyone involved because it elicits and values each person’s ideas about and contributions to team functioning.

Involving everyone in this process lends greater understanding and appreciation of workload and steps to completion.

Caption: Lead your team to greatness

A Solid Team Starts With You…

Developing a motivated, high-performing team challenges us to assess our own modes of behaving and relating to our work and the people we work with. How do we reflect the values we espouse? What efforts do we make to apply ourselves wholly to any task that requires attention? Where do we fall short of what is needed to manage a successful team?

Whether you’re a management consultant or business owner, your task is to inspire, educate, model, and encourage outstanding commitment. To create meaning and purpose with the people who are the bones of the enterprise requires recognising each part of the team with interest, curiosity, and compassion. It means cultivating a culture of care and co-constructing purpose, processes, and procedures towards desired outcomes.

We’ll leave you with a few questions that will help elucidate where your team is at, right now, all of these elements considered. If you explored the critical questions posed throughout this article, you probably have a good sense of it already.

Invest five minutes in the following​ team performance assessment​ quiz to determine where your team’s strengths lie, right now, and where some encouragement is needed.


  1. Team effectiveness
  2. A leadership fable
  3. Understand teams
  4. Katzenbach and Smith
  5. Maslow’s hierarchy