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10 Ways to Create High Performing Teams


“That’s one small step for a human, one giant leap for humankind,” a statement that has echoed through more than five decades of history. A quote that with a gender-neutral update, still remains as impactful today as when it was first spoken. And it’s all thanks to the individuals who braved the vast unknown of space, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

But while they were the courageous faces we saw on our screens, the triumph of the Apollo 11 mission was equally owed to the hundreds of high-performing teams – the unsung heroes – back on Earth. The engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technicians, and countless others worked tirelessly behind the scenes, turning dreams into equations, equations into plans, and plans into one of the most significant achievements in human history.

It’s these high-performing teams that businesses strive to create and foster. Teams that, like the Apollo 11 ground crew, can effectively collaborate, leverage their strengths, adapt to ever-changing circumstances, and work persistently towards a common goal.

So, how can your organisations build such teams? Below are the characteristics of a high-performing team and ten actionable tips for creating them.

The characteristics of high-performing teams

A group of people doesn’t always equate to a team of people. A group of individuals working on a project is not enough to call them a team. A team possesses specific characteristics that enable them to work together effectively and achieve exceptional results. 

Let’s break down these characteristics and understand their importance.

Shared vision and goals

A shared vision and common goals guide every high-performing team. Just as the Apollo 11 team’s shared vision was to land a human on the moon and return them safely, teams in organisations must have a clear, shared understanding of what they’re trying to achieve.

Clear roles and responsibilities

Each member should have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. This clarity enables them to contribute their unique skills and knowledge effectively. For example, during the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins each had specific roles and responsibilities–commander, command module pilot and lunar module pilot–allowing them to work seamlessly together. 

Various studies have shown that role ambiguity can lead to stress, inefficiency, and frustration, and ranks as one of the leading causes of burnout in the workplace.

On the other hand, a well-defined sense of purpose can have transformative effects. When each member understands specific tasks and functions in the team, it eliminates confusion, minimises overlapping and reduces the risk of essential duties falling through the cracks. Additionally, when team members know their unique contribution to the team’s goals, it fosters a sense of ownership and accountability.

Open communication

This is the lifeblood of a high-performing team. Team members must feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment. This culture of openness encourages creativity and innovation and aids in problem-solving.

Trust and respect

Team members who trust each other’s abilities and respect each other’s contributions are more willing to take risks and make big decisions, confident that their team will support them. In today’s evolving workplace, characterised by an increasing prevalence of hybrid and remote work setups, promoting trust and respect is more important than ever. However, physical distance and a lack of face-to-face interactions can pose unique challenges to maintaining transparency within a team. 

High level of engagement

Team members who are genuinely engaged embody a deep commitment to their work, are enthusiastic about their tasks and invest wholeheartedly in the team’s collective success. Their connection to their work extends beyond mere responsibility; they assume personal ownership of their duties.

Ability to handle conflicts constructively

No team is complete without a conflict. High-performing teams distinguish themselves by their ability to handle conflicts constructively. They view disagreements as opportunities for growth and learning rather than as obstacles.

Top tips for building high-performing teams

  1. Define roles and responsibilities clearly

    To ensure clarity, start with well-crafted job descriptions that outline duties, required skills, and competencies. These serve as reference points for team members and leaders and provide a shared understanding of expectations.

    Regular team meetings clarify roles for specific projects and allow team members to understand how their work interweaves with others’, promoting effective collaboration.

    One-on-one discussions with leaders can provide personalised clarity and offer an opportunity to delve into the specifics of an individual’s role, address challenges and explore growth and development opportunities.

    Finally, remember that roles and responsibilities may evolve as the team’s goals, projects or dynamics change. Regular reviews and updates will ensure that everyone’s work aligns with the team’s needs and objectives.

  2. Align team objectives with company vision

    Team objectives should align with the organisation’s vision, to instil a heightened sense of purpose and motivation. In essence, each team forms a vital component of the corporate machine, and their tasks and goals are interconnected pieces contributing to the success of the whole business.

    This alignment enhances motivation as team members understand the significance of their tasks. They see their work as a meaningful step towards achieving a personally and professionally resonant goal.

    Take the time to explain the ‘why’. Unveil the larger narrative their roles weave into–like thread in a tapestry, each colour vital, each pattern significant. Let them see how their contributions blend into the vibrant, multi-hued masterpiece that is your company’s vision.

  3. Promote openness and transparency

    Start by setting an example. As an effective team leader, your actions and communication style set the tone for your team. Be open about your thoughts, decisions, and the reasons behind them. This not only helps to build trust but also encourages team members to do the same.

    Then establish clear and consistent communication channels for sharing ideas, feedback, and concerns. This might involve regular team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, or digital platforms designed to facilitate communication. Keep your team informed about changes, updates, or decisions.

  4. Ensure everyone has a voice

    In diverse teams, power dynamics, communication styles, and personalities can hinder open expression. As a leader, fostering psychological safety is essential. When team members feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to openly express their thoughts, engage in productive discussions, and contribute their unique perspectives. This leads to enhanced collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving within the team.

    To cultivate psychological safety, encourage open dialogue, active listening, and empathy among team members. Emphasise that mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities and not as sources of blame or punishment.

    Establish a culture where diverse viewpoints are respected and valued. As a leader, you should appreciate all ideas and inputs, regardless of their eventual implementation. It promotes continued participation and encourages a culture of respect and inclusivity.

  5. Have ongoing training and development

    Continuous learning develops skills, shows commitment to growth, and boosts engagement. Identify skill gaps through performance reviews, feedback, or metrics analysis. Each team member has unique strengths and weaknesses, so tailor your training programs accordingly. Personalised training ensures that individuals get the support they need to develop their skills effectively.

    Remember, not everyone learns in the same way, so providing different learning opportunities like workshops, online courses, mentoring, or hands-on experiences, is beneficial. And if possible, facilitate opportunities for team members to learn from each other. This could be through structured initiatives like mentoring programs or more informal methods like team discussions or presentations.

  6. Encourage cooperative behaviours

    Cooperation is a cornerstone for any successful team. When team members pool their resources, share knowledge, and work together towards a common goal, it not only enhances efficiency and problem-solving, it strengthens the team’s unity. Yet fostering cooperative behaviours doesn’t happen by chance; it requires intentional effort and leadership, beginning with setting goals. Make it clear that the team’s success relies on each member’s contribution.

    Create a collaborative culture through team-building activities, shared rituals, and celebrating successes. Lead by example, demonstrating cooperative behaviours like sharing resources, involving others in decision-making, and appreciating contributions.

    Promote open communication, encouraging team members to freely express thoughts, ideas, and concerns. This fosters idea exchange and mutual understanding, which is essential for cooperation.

  7. Inspire risk-taking and learning from failures

    Innovation and growth result from taking risks and venturing into uncharted territory. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to inspire risk-taking and cultivate a culture where learning from failures is seen not as a setback but as a stepping stone towards success.

    Creating such a culture starts with celebrating risk-taking. You must cultivate an environment where taking calculated risks is appreciated and recognised, irrespective of the outcome.

    Reframe failure as a learning opportunity, focusing on constructive analysis rather than setbacks.

    Support and encouragement are also crucial for inspiring risk-taking and learning from failures. As a leader, your role is to stand by your team when they take risks and face failures.

    Integrate risk-taking into team goals and evaluation processes. Set objectives that encourage innovative thinking and recognise risk-taking efforts during performance appraisals.

  8. Developing conflict resolution skills

    Managing a team of high-performers means conflicts are inevitable. They arise from differences in perspectives, ideas, and approaches. While conflict can fuel creativity it should be managed to prevent disharmony and reduced productivity.

    If you’ve already created a culture of open communication, that’s a good start. Encourage team members to voice their thoughts, feelings, and concerns openly but respectfully. The earlier an issue is raised, the easier it is to address and resolve.

    Conflict resolution aims to navigate conflicts constructively. It reduces tension, increases efficiency, strengthens relationships, and fosters empathy within the team.

  9. Push for creativity

    Creativity is the engine that drives innovation, enables effective problem-solving, and promotes growth within a team. As a leader, you foster and nurture this creativity by promoting curiosity, diverse ideas, and challenging the status quo. 

    Another integral part of fostering creativity is promoting the cross-pollination of ideas and encouraging questioning of existing processes. Initiatives like job rotations or cross-departmental projects can provide new perspectives and stimulate innovative thinking.

    Finally, encourage work-life balance for a creative mindset; rested and content teams are more likely to generate creative ideas.

  10. Acknowledge and celebrate achievements

    Acknowledgement of successes, whether large or small, contributes significantly to team morale. When team members feel appreciated, they are more likely to exceed expectations, contributing to a more productive and successful team.

    But recognition preferences vary among individuals. While some team members might appreciate public acknowledgement, others might prefer a quiet word of praise. Tailoring your recognition approach to individual preferences can make it more meaningful and impactful.

Interested in finding out more?

Read Insync executive chairman, Nicholas Barnett’s book: 7 Business Habits That Drive High Performance. It is based on ground-breaking research involving the views of over 100,000 employees from around 200 companies and identifies 7 crucial habits that differentiate high performance organisations from low performance organisations.

Contact us today

Find out how Insync can help you create high performing teams in your workplace.

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