Did you know that high-performing teams are exceedingly rare? Even though high-performing teams are critical to any organization’s success when employees were asked in an ignite80 survey[1] to 1) rate their team’s effectiveness, and 2) compare their team’s performance to other teams in their industry, survey results revealed high-performing teams are a rarity. Research also revealed that trust is often the crucial element needed to push a team beyond average performance to performing at its peak.

So, what if you were able to build and leverage trust and, in turn, increase the performance of your own team? Ron Friedman, social psychologist and best-selling author of several books including, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, recently penned an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled, How High-Performing Teams Build Trust. Let’s look at five key behaviors discussed in Friedman’s article and our own ADR Vantage bonus tips to help get you there!

First, high-performing teams don’t leave collaboration to chance. Rather than immediately jumping into a new task, project, or assignment, Friedman found that “high-performing teams are more than three times more likely to begin by first discussing how they will work together, paving the way for fewer misunderstandings and smoother collaboration down the road.” They recognize that discussing the “how” of getting work done may take time on the front end, and that time is well-spent because it saves time and money later.

Try these tips from ADR Vantage!

  • Carve out time in your meetings specifically to discuss the “how” you will work together. By giving this discussion a place of prominence, it conveys how important agreeing about the “how” is to every successful endeavor.
  • To collaborate more effectively as a team, understand who is available, who is interested, and who is needed. Ask or assess each team member’s current workflow to understand what new work they are available to take on and when they are at capacity. This can also be done through a shared workflow document that tracks individual team members’ progress on assignments in real time.
  • Also, before starting any new team project, take a few minutes to discuss and determine how often and when you need to communicate with one another and the best methods for communication (email, Slack channels, regular project meetings, etc.).

Second, high-performing teams proactively share information. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you know what other team members know without verifying your assumptions. It’s also easy to push off communications because we feel that taking the time to share information or project updates, or to ask questions along the way, will slow our own progress. However, high-performing teams “go out of their way to keep colleagues in the loop, creating a culture of inclusion.” In fact, “greater transparency doesn’t just foster trust — it’s also been shown to fuel creativity, performance, and profitability.”

Try these tips from ADR Vantage!

  • Consider making time for “brain dumps” and initial “brainstorming” a shared experience as you formulate your plan of action. Use a shared document to which everyone on the team has access and editing rights to kickstart the information sharing process.
  • As you work on any assignment with other team members, slow down to ask yourself “What assumptions might I be making?” and “What would be important for other members of my team to know?”
  • When you receive an email message or other type of communication that requests a response that you aren’t ready to give (or don’t yet have information ready to provide), rather than ignoring the message, instead send a quick response that lets the sender know what’s going on. For example, reply with a simple note such as, “Thanks for your email. I’m working on it and will get back to you soon.” or “Will get back to you later today”. That type of simple proactive communication can reduce misunderstandings and preempt any negative assumptions about a delayed reply.

Third, high-performing teams share and give credit to one another. “Instead of soaking up praise alone, members of high-performing teams are more likely to share recognition for their accomplishments with teammates by acknowledging or thanking those who played a role in their success. In so doing, they increase the likelihood of their colleagues feeling appreciated and promote a norm of reciprocity, both of which contribute to the experience of trust.”

Try these tips from ADR Vantage!

  • Sharing praise and recognition does not have to be elaborate or flashy. Though a little glitter from time to time is great, a simple and sincere “thank you” goes a long way.
  • Amplify team member kudos and contributions. When you want to thank or acknowledge the contributions of one team member, send a message that copies everyone on the team so that your praise is visible to others.
  • Offer recognition and thanks to your teammates even when they aren’t in the room. One of the best feelings is to find out that someone you work with speaks highly of you in front of others even when you aren’t around to hear it!

Fourth, high-performing teams see conflict as an opportunity. You might think that the best functioning teams experience very little conflict but in fact, “high-performing teams don’t experience less conflict. Where they differ is the way they interpret and respond to disagreements.”

“High-performing teams are more likely to believe that workplace disagreements lead to better decisions (as opposed to damaging relationships)”. This means they are likely to view intergroup disputes less as a roadblock to progress and more as a positive opportunity to consider alternative perspectives and anticipate potential pitfalls. When conflict is expected, and even invited, as a normal part of the process, it makes times of disagreement less distressing for team members and less likely to escalate in a negative direction.

Try These tips from ADR Vantage!

  • Focus your disagreement on the issue you’re trying to address, rather than on the individuals on the team. Hearing that an approach may have a fatal flaw you hadn’t considered is a lot different than hearing someone tell you that you are wrong or that your idea is ridiculous.
  • Before making final decisions, specifically, ask your team whose perspective might be missing, determine if anyone has a different opinion to share, and proactively seek out alternative views.
  • Try rotating turns with each team member playing the role of “devil’s advocate” or a formal contrarian – someone whose function, at times, is to question the popular opinion in the room, think of the negative impacts of a decision, or offer opposite ideas to test out and ultimately lead to better decision-making for the team.

Lastly, high-performing teams proactively address tensions. “Members of high-performing teams don’t just interpret conflict more adaptively — they’re also more prone to taking the initiative in resolving it.” They report being “significantly more interested in hearing if they upset a teammate,” and more willing to proactively reach out if “something didn’t feel right” between themself and a teammate. The message here is to take a proactive, rather than reactive, stance to address problematic team interactions and relationships. High-performing teams know that all teams have their ups and downs. However, knowing how to work through the low times is the real key to creating success in the workplace. In other words, high-performing teams “believe tension is temporary and, with a little effort, thorny relationships can be salvaged. Those views make them more likely to act in the face of the occasional relational blip.”

Try These tips from ADR Vantage!

  • When you feel a moment of discomfort, disconnection, or tension arise between you and another teammate, or you see this among other team members, speak up to check in and discuss the matter.
  • One way to begin this conversation is to start with a neutral reflection such as, “I’m having a reaction to what’s happening right now and wondering if others are feeling the same way?” or “This topic seems to be emotionally charged, can we take a moment to talk about it?”
  • Don’t forget that new team members may not be as aware as more tenured members of the secret decoding protocols for your team. Proactively onboard new teammates by specifically talking about how the team communicates and addresses disagreements.

There is no one secret sauce to creating a high-performing team; however, incorporating the tips above into your daily workplace practice is a terrific place to start!


[1] A survey of 1,000 U.S.-based workers conducted by Ron Friedman’s company ignite80. The survey results highlight common themes we’ve also seen with many of our own ADR Vantage clients.