Designing a High Performing Team

Immediately after publishing last week’s article on building an environment that gives you superpowers, I knew I had to dive deeper into our work environment specifically.

Even after we’ve chosen a company that aligns with our interests and values, there’s still work to be done.

A great company culture does not guarantee a consistently great team culture.

Every single person is capable of bad, average, and amazing work. It comes down to what your environment is bringing out of you. Getting intentional about your career means getting intentional about developing a high performing team that will get you there.

So how do we build a high performing team?

It’s not about who is on the team.

What matters is how the team members interact, how they structure their work, and how they view their contributions.

With a little help from Google’s research on what makes their teams effective, I’ve been able to contextualize my own experiences and boil them down to three "muscles" that teams should be strengthening daily.

How team members interact

Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

Based on Google’s research, a feeling of safety is the undisputed winner in achieving a high performing team.

Safety is strongest in a positive environment where team members have empathy for one another, have enough self-awareness to know how they affect others, and project hope and optimism. It’s the lack of fear that you’ll be judged, scolded, or fired any time you open your mouth.

It grows strongest when leaders encourage healthy debates and having their ideas challenged. But without a growth mindset, these idealized "healthy debates" are nothing more than ego battles. It’s why wanting to build a team that gives healthy feedback won’t happen unless each person does the inner work to become great at receiving feedback.

There’s no earth shattering secret to building a positive culture. Like going to the gym, the magic lies in our consistency: being aware of body language and facial expressions; expressing gratitude for contributions from the team; building rapport with each team member; inviting others to challenge your perspective; being inclusive and approachable; and sharing our vulnerabilities.

All traits of mentally strong individuals.

This idea hits home for me because it acknowledges the importance of personal development in the business landscape. It’s not a fluffy nice-to-have for those meditating in a cave somewhere. It actually drives financial results.

Each one of us carries a mixed bag of insecurities and limiting beliefs, but overcoming them should be just as important as hitting our KPI targets. High performing teams must own their own development. It’s why recognizing and celebrating small wins in teammates is so important. We're encouraged to stretch beyond our comfort zones.

Let's aim to build positive teams. And double down on positivity during challenging times.

How team members structure their work

Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear? Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?

The beauty of working in really small teams is that dependability is naturally high. Each person is hand-picked to fill a certain gap, and as a result, their accountability is clearly defined.

But on larger teams, the diffusion of responsibility means that more effort is needed to create clarity. Otherwise, you might start spinning in circles and losing steam.

Collaboration without clarity is chaos.

It’s why teams rally so hard when there’s a fire to fight, but lose steam in everyday tasks. Or why attending an offsite is so recharging—we get refuelled with our communal purpose, team priorities, and individual responsibilities.

Imagine if every day at work felt as bright and exciting as the day after an offsite?!

Becoming a team that’s committed to clarity means relentlessly repeating the team purpose in every meeting, every project kickoff, and every important meeting. Work towards a place where everyone on the team can clearly answer, “If we’re wildly successful, how will the world be different?”

And then, “How is the work you’re doing now directly contributing to that success?”

High performers set monthly and quarterly priorities for themselves. It allows them to celebrate their small wins along the journey, and course-correct when they’ve veered off track. But grouping together high performers doesn't guarantee that the team will always function at its highest potential.

Let's get intentional about over-communicating on a team-wide level our “What” (purpose), our “How” (priorities), and our “Who” (individual responsibilities).

How team members view their contributions

Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us? Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

A team lead once asked me, “What do you need to learn in this role to help you prepare for your next job?”

It was my first day on his team.

While it caught me off guard that day (why are we so afraid to talk about our long-term goals?!), it has profoundly shifted how I've approached every role since.

It’s not about having an exit strategy, it’s about getting intentional with how you will grow each day. It gives you excitement to pursue challenges that you may have otherwise shied away from.

And most importantly, it puts you in a growth mindset. The more you experiment, the more you make mistakes, the more you add to your repertoire—is one more thing you can add to your toolkit for the next step in your life and career.

If you find yourself resisting change, take a look at why you’re grasping to the status quo.

Let's get personal. How can we help each other fulfill our bigger life goals?

Every team can dream big dreams, but high performing teams will achieve great things.

I've seen this happen best when there's safety in taking risks and challenging opinions, there's clarity in daily work, and there's meaning behind each individual's contributions on the team.

Is your team flexing these three muscles daily?

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