5 Factors for High Performing Teams

In my last newsletter I shared results from a global study done by Google that revealed the key component to unlocking success for our teams and enabling them to be high performing (it was Psychological Safety). If you missed the last newsletter please click here to read.

In this newsletter I want to explore the other four most important factors to get right if you want your team to be high performing.

Google’s Project Aristotle found that who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.

Their extensive research found that Psychological Safety in teams was the most important factor leading to high performing teams. Harvard researcher, Professor Amy Emondson defines psychological safety as, “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. The team climate is characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”.

It makes sense. The more free people feel to be themselves at work without being judged means they also feel safe to take interpersonal risks around their team mates. They can admit a mistake, ask a question or offer a new idea. They feel able, even obligated, to be candid. They know that these behaviours are the “norms” of their team and are encouraged. They know that they won’t be belittled or punished or viewed as being ignorant, incompetent, negative or disruptive.

The benefits of speaking up and having open communication means that problems, mistakes and improvement opportunities can be quickly identified. Knowledge and ideas can be shared leading to more innovation and higher performance. Google found that people in teams with high psychological safety brought in more revenue, were rated as effective twice as often by executives, were more likely to take on new roles and were more likely to stay with Google.

What is your team like? Do you feel comfortable speaking up without being judged? If not, what are the costs to the team and your customers or stakeholders of having a culture of staying silent?

Project Aristotle also identified four more factors that were imperative to its successful teams and ranked them in order of importance (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Five Key Dynamics of Effective Teams (

Google came up with a survey for teams to complete to assess how they are going on these five key indicators. Some of the questions they asked included:

1. Psychological safety: “If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.”

2. Dependability: “When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.”

3. Structure and clarity: “Our team has an effective decision-making process.”

4. Meaning of work: “The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.”

5. Impact of work: “I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organisation's goals.”

How clear are you on these questions? If you’re a team leader – how do you think your team members would answer?

Much of the work I do with teams is around establishing good team norms and finding ways to improve how the team works together. My process for doing this is below:

The first step involves having conversations to Diagnose and increase the transparency of current team behaviours and team norms. We then explore and have Discovery conversations about what are the desired behaviours that enable people to perform at their best in the team. Often there is a gap between current team norms and desired team norms so we Define what behaviours we might need introduce to the team or which ones we might need to do more or less of to bridge that gap.

We then discuss and double check with individual team members about how the new team norms sit with them. It’s really important that there is buy in from each team member and that they understand what is expected of them. This is where an environment of psychological safety is key – do people feel OK about speaking up to ask questions or voice a concern for example?

The next two steps in my process to establish team norms are key and are often where well-intentioned people fall down. It’s in the implementation phase. Ideally in our work together we would Determine how these team norms are embedded in the team so that the team comes up with solutions that will work for them. We would also Decide how to keep the team, and each other, accountable. This is where individual leadership of team members comes into play and also the team leader’s role. After the work with me is finished, it’s over to the team. This is where coaching and further investment in regular check-ins with the team to support them to embed new habits can be useful.

It’s really easy when things get busy to fall back into old habits. However hopefully the research done by Google has helped to show why doing this work on how we work together in teams is so vital. This is not fluffy, feel-good, bleeding hearts stuff. It is backed up by rigorous research. I also find the term “soft skills” when describing how we unlock people and teams to be high-performing, to be super-misleading. It takes knowledge, effort, commitment, courage and focus to develop great team cultures.

If you did an audit of your current team norms, what would they be? How well do they correlate to your ideal team norms? What would be the difference to your team and your customers and stakeholders if you were able to make some improvement? What is the cost if you don’t?