Elements for a High-Performing Team: Why Getting Along Isn’t Enough

By assessing each of these seven elements in the teams you support, you can provide them with an accurate picture of their strengths and growth opportunities.

Too often, workgroups are automatically labeled “teams.” Even a workgroup whose members get along well together may not be a team—let alone an exceptional one. An exceptional team is one in which members pull together, fully tap their combined skills, and respectfully challenge one another, creating a synergy that consistently results in high performance. Simply focusing on developing comradery isn’t enough.

Most often, teams whose leaders look for team development support recognize that they are not working together as effectively as they might. It is not unusual, however, to meet a team that is underperforming but whose members think everything must be fine with the team because they all get along well together. They are confident the cause of their underperformance must lie elsewhere. 

In one instance, members frequently referred to themselves as “one big, happy family.” As they participated in a development process, the comments changed to, “We all get along, but …” and they recognized their usual reluctance to raise issues or “rock the boat” had been limiting them. While the comradery was positive, it also was holding them back because they weren’t following the essentials of exceptional teamwork, the “7 Elements of a High-Performance Team.” Once they committed to demonstrating these critical practices, their performance showed dramatic improvement and their relationships grew beyond superficial comradery to a richer connection that fueled the team.

By assessing each of the seven elements in the teams you support, you can provide them with an accurate picture of their strengths and growth opportunities. 

The 7 Elements of a High-Performance Team

1. Cohesiveness

The simplest definition of cohesiveness is working together toward a common goal. To achieve cohesion, members must have a clear and common definition of what constitutes success, as well as agreement on values, roles, and priorities. When a team lacks cohesion, they make poor decisions and waste time, energy, and resources. 

Tip: Here is a quick test of a team’s level of cohesiveness. Ask each member to list the team’s top 3 priorities for achieving a key goal or target. If priorities are not aligned, it may be an indication members are not all pulling together in the same direction.

2. Team Climate

Although it’s often considered a “soft” issue, team climate is actually the foundation of a healthy, high-performing team. A healthy team climate is one in which members feel psychologically safe in their environment; they feel free to be themselves, to speak up, ask questions, and productively challenge the status quo. Signs that indicate a team’s climate is unhealthy include a high degree of unproductive conflict, a lack of trust in or respect for one another, low energy or morale, and a hesitation to be honest and open. 

Tip: Coach the leaders you support to be authentic. Encourage them to demonstrate and build trust as a leader by trusting their team and to show transparency by sharing information, as well as their own knowledge.

3. Change Compatibility 

A team that can demonstrate change compatibility is one that not only is receptive to change, but also can implement change effectively, even if they don’t agree with it. 

Tip: Challenge teams you work with to examine their change compatibility by exploring a particular change. Ask, “What does your team need to do to make this change work?” and “What do you need from one another to be your best selves throughout the change process?”

4. Shared Leadership 

When shared leadership exists, members are self-directed and make their own decisions regarding their role. Leaders seek input from team members, and team members seek input from one another. 

Tip: Invite the team and leader to reflect on the decisions that are solely made by the leader and identify those decisions that could be shifted to the team or to a shared decision-making process.

5. Group Work Skills

Group work skills refers to the team’s ability to effectively facilitate and participate in meetings and problem solve, make decisions, and reach consensus as a group. Though much of their value often is overlooked, team meetings are a great opportunity to improve performance. Meetings are where team members come together to share ideas, learn from one another, challenge the status quo, make decisions, and ensure team alignment. Unproductive meetings can lead to wasted time, miscommunications, poor decision-making, and frustrated team members—which can directly affect the team’s performance.

Tip: Ask team members what can be done differently to make meetings more productive. Identify at least three changes the team will commit to.

6. Innovative Thinking

When a team demonstrates innovative thinking, members are on constant alert for better ways to do things and productively challenge the current situation when old ways hinder progress. 

Tip: Challenge teams to regularly ask, “What can we do differently to achieve better results?” When this question is posed frequently, finding better ways of doing things becomes a habit. 

7. Team Members’ Contribution

Team members’ contribution is the degree to which individual team members take initiative and manage their own performance. A fully contributing team member appreciates and supports his or her colleagues, focuses on what’s best for the team and the customer, takes responsibility for his or her interpersonal relations and communication, takes initiative to solve issues on his or her own, helps his or her teammates, and looks for opportunities to learn and keep others informed. 

Tip: If a team member’s contribution is weak, it’s often due to low engagement, low morale, or a lack of clear expectations. Explore these possibilities with the leader and team members to identify the starting point to strengthen this element. 

In the end, developing a high-performance team doesn’t have to be an onerous task. The “7 Elements” not only provides knowledge that can be a catalyst for immediate forward movement, but also provides a blueprint for ongoing development.

If the whole team commits to strengthening these seven elements, they’ll not only get along well together, they’ll achieve together, too. 

For more than 20 years, Nicole Bendaly has been researching and training teams to weed out apathy and amplify the best in themselves. As a published author, dynamic speaker, co-creator of the Team Fitness Tool, and president of K&Co., she has established herself as a respected thought leader in team development and organizational behavior. K&Co. has been helping organizations and teams make big changes for more than 30 years. K&Co. works with organizations to fix what isn’t working and amplify the things that are. its mission is to challenge the status quo, inspire better teams, and shift the working world in a direction that actually works.

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