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4 Leadership Strategies to Create High Performing Teams

Four Peak Teams
 Min Read: 4  

Organizations are made up of countless individuals from different backgrounds and hired at different times. Today, the majority of work is done by teams. What are the odds that a group of strangers will work seamlessly together? The good news is that with a deep understanding of people, high-performing teams don’t have to be fantasy. Here’s how to make them a reality.

What is a High-Performing Team?

A high-performing team is more than just a group that works well together. A team at this level is so connected and aligned that they are able to consistently engage in creative and innovative work, taking appropriate risks and learning from each experience. Every person brings their full capacity, with a harmonious cadence that makes working together almost effortless.Such a group embodies psychological safety, with genuine empathy for each other that grows from their shared trust and respect. These teams consistently outperform their peers.

4 Principles to Improve Team Performance

The uber-performance of high-performing teams doesn’t just appear overnight. It develops when conditions are right, created by the combined actions of senior executives, team leaders, and team members. To maximize team performance, these overarching principles must be in place:

  1. Honor the power of face-to-face connection: While technology makes it possible for us to work with others through a video screen or phone, our brains were built for in-person interactions. Our brain reads meaning and intent in others through micro-muscular changes in the face, body language, and even pheromone signals—almost all of which is lost when we communicate via technology. In the early stages of a team’s work together, investing in physical facetime fosters crucial trust and enhances communication. Once in place, the team can better withstand the forces of distance or even conflict.
  2. Reward collaboration over productivity: Effective team leadership requires emotional and collaborative intelligence (CQ)—the ability to bring out the best in others and to help them work well together. Traditionally, team leaders are selected based on their successes as individual performers, a job which requires a very different skill set than that of a leader. Instead, look past the star performers to the people who have rapport with many different people— those who people already turn to for guidance and who create cohesion among them. These are the hidden gems in any organization who should be tapped for leadership roles.
  3. Create psychological safety: The way a group of people comes together can either activate trust or create a climate of conflict and blame. Leaders play a vital role in setting that critical path to psychological safety. Being accessible, proactively inviting input, and harvesting failures for learning opportunities are important ways leaders can create safety on their teams.
  4. Hold teams accountable as a unit: We inadvertently undermine people’s motivation to work together when they are not held accountable as a unit. Every member of the team needs to know that they are responsible, collectively, for the successes and failures of the group, sharing equally in the rewards and consequences. 

Putting it into Action

Leaders play a critical role in building the team ecosystem as they directly interact with their teams. Once the necessary conditions are created, these strategies provide a blueprint for team leaders and managers to move their teams from the stages of safety to shared purpose, then on to belonging, and ultimately, peak performance.

Stage 1: Safety First
  • Safety, or lack thereof, is what the human brain first sorts for, so it’s important to intentionally establish it at the start. Have people meet in person. Focus equally on the task or project and on building relationships. Plan to help people get to know each other in non-threatening ways. Additionally, offer both team training (the skills people need to perform well together) and opportunities for team building to help build trust. This establishes the team as a place for group development and opens the door for vulnerability and a culture of growth.
Stage 2: Building Purpose
  • Communicate and align: As the leader, you will likely be the person informing the team of the project or task. Be sure to frame it in relation to the organization’s primary purpose. If you struggle to do so, your team will struggle to see the connection as well. Work with leaders above you to craft a clear vision and project statement that you can articulate easily and consistently. Also ensure that the project is achievable and that appropriate resources are supplied.
  • Protect your people: Throughout the work process, continually advocate for your team. Your role is to set your team up to succeed. Be sure your team has what they need to accomplish what is being asked of them, whether that means clearing barriers or encouraging and advocating for your members.
Stage 3: Foster Belonging 
  • Recognize effort and progress: To ensure your team knows their efforts are appreciated, design a system for recognition that’s easy to implement, and allows for validation not just from leaders but from fellow team members as well.
  • Be reflective: Your team is a reflection of you. When they excel, they are mirroring the guidance you provided. But the same is just as true when a team is failing or struggling. Model self-reflection and accountability, and the team will follow.
  • Empower your team to resolve conflict: Conflict is an inevitable part of group development and collaborative work. Before issues arise, decide on an agreed-upon process that encourages people to resolve issues in a mature and respectful way, without needing a manager to referee interactions.
Stage 4: Making it Last 
  • Keep your team intact: Once a team has reached high performance, your work isn’t over — your job is to help them stay in this state as long as possible. Stay alert to organizational shifts that could impact your team, like possible reorganization or changes in project priorities. Speak up and advocate for them in order to maximize their time to stay in the peak-performance zone.
  • Make transitions smooth: Even when you do a great job at protecting your team, its run will eventually come to an end. When things shift, continue to lead by helping team members transition to their new status. Take the time to celebrate together, reflecting on what was accomplished and harvesting important lessons from the experience. This is an important but often forgotten practice, so make it a hallmark of your leadership.

Building high-performing teams is rewarding work. Putting the time and energy into honing your skills and using these strategies will have a transformational impact on the teams you lead and the success of your organization.


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