team performance

When it comes to constructing a team of people who work well together to create winning outcomes, knowing “how to” and understanding “how to” are two very different phenomena. 

The strong and astute organizational leader is one who is committed to optimizing their resources and maximizing their return on their investment. Given the people expense is often the largest investment in any enterprise, creating this kind of culture is simply smart business. As a leader, empowering your workforce to unleash their strengths, and encouraging people to collaborate and innovate, leverages people’s ability to act as a team and produce results. 

In work cultures where people focus on only their piece of the puzzle, it leads to silo mentality and ultimately breeds ineffectiveness and inefficiency. A high-performance team cannot exist in an environment where competition and one-upmanship prevail. When people on the team focus on each other’s limitations and detriments—and why things cannot be done—they all too often miss opportunities to make the organization better. Additionally, teamwork is adversely impacted when the people on the team feel the need to focus on fighting and jockeying for authority or power. This need to be “better than” decreases collaboration and limits innovation. It is a recipe for stagnation and conflict—neither which drive long-term results. 

As leaders, it requires rewiring our minds and our teams to repair an absence of trust; however, before you can rewire, you first need to be aware and responsible for the absence of trust in the first place. 

Whether you are seeking to create a high-performance work team or a high-performance culture, there are seven steps for creating an environment where high performance and teamwork can thrive. 


People must understand the why behind what they are doing. Once the purpose for the team is crystalized and talking points are clearly outlined, it is the initiator of the team’s role to connect the dots for people to see how they connect to it. Communicating an inspiring vision for the people on the team and mapping what success looks like when it is achieved is a foundational element for congealing a group of people together and getting them geared up to work together in unison. 


The team’s leader does not have to be the person who invents the possibility and purpose for the team; it does need to be a person who accepts the responsibility for shepherding and guiding the team to success. The leader’s job is to be present—to be there for the team. The best leaders select the right people, inspire them towards a vision, and back out of the way during the planning stage—unless they are specifically asked for guidance. 


People need to know what is expected from them and from the team. People need to know and understand where the boundaries are regarding decision-making, autonomy, and performance. Giving people the rules of the game before they agree to play it allows for people to opt-in or opt-out of the team and the game. Advanced clarity of expectations also reduces unnecessary problems, reduces ambiguity and confusion, and serves to mitigate poor performance and unwanted turnover on the team. 


Whether you are building an enterprise or a team of people to accomplish a project, it is crucial that you select the right people for the right roles, for the right reasons. When people are engaged, they have a strong desire to bring value—to be a contributor. The best team dynamics happen when there is a variety of people who bring their uniqueness to the team. Beyond competencies and skills, it’s important to consider unique traits that each team member brings to the table and how those unique traits can be leveraged for optimal creativity and innovation. 


Level-setting allows each member of the team a new opportunity to begin again. During a level set, team members explore their limiting beliefs and barriers to working with others in a productive and effective manner, and do the necessary work to unpack those factors that get in the way. The team as a whole is challenged to work together in experiential learning in ways they never considered. 


The best approach for a leader during planning is to be a source for inspiration, questions, and guidance. Leaders who step too far in to planning create teams that are dependent on the leader and lack creativity. If the leader notices a problem with the plan, rather than pointing it out, it is much more empowering to ask questions that provoke the team members to activate their critical thinking skills to answer and think potential challenges through. 


When people are aware of the milestone meetings and rely on regular feedback, it reduces uncertainty and unnecessary stress. Laying out the stages of organizational effectiveness, beginning with what it means to be operating in formulation and concentration, and then defining criteria for low, moderate, and high momentum, gives the team an opportunity to self regulate, correct, and celebrate as they see fit. 

Utilizing a customized version of the agile methodology is an excellent means to keep progress on track and support the team in attaining momentum with their project, program, or goal. Daily stand-ups, bi-weekly declarations, and intention setting, as well as bi-monthly retrospectives, give teams a structure they can rely upon and gives the team healthy guardrails to work independently and remain responsibility to each other and the organization as a whole.


While knowing and understanding are two very different distinctions, doing is the link that shifts knowing to understanding. For the impatient leader, doing may be a challenge because progress is most often only experienced incrementally. Building a high-performance team is not about exponential breakthroughs, if they happen—great; however, if sustainability is your goal, impatience is your enemy. Teams respond best to a system that allows them to learn, move forward, fall, learn from mistakes, move forward again, and sustain progress over time. When high concentration and effort are celebrated, and low momentum is acknowledged and genuinely appreciated, teams build confidence and fortitude to stay the course. 

About the author:

Magi Graziano, as seen on NBC, is the CEO of KeenAlignment, a speaker, employee recruitment and engagement expert and author of The Wealth of Talent. With more than 20 years’ experience as a top producer in the Recruitment and Search industry, she empowers and enables leaders to bring transformational thinking to the day-to-day operation. For more information, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, December 2018
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