People often ask, “How do we get better as an organization?” One of the keys is getting great at building high performing teams. yet many senior leaders struggle when it comes to creating, leading, and enabling high-performing teams. To make a good team great, there are a few fundamentals to follow:

1) Set Rules of the Road. When I work with teams to help maximize their effectiveness, one of the first steps is developing a team charter. A charter defines why the team exists and serves as a touchstone for decision making and day-to-day behavior. It helps answer questions like: “What do we expect of one another?” and “How are we going to work together to accomplish this goal?” A team charter is created collectively, therefore it encourages buy-in and support from every member of the team – and it’s an excellent accountability tool because it creates clarity

2) Create Clear Goals and Alignment. Have you ever considered what keeps most teams from achieving their goals? It’s typically not a lack of vision or talent – instead it’s a lack of alignment. Performance requires the alignment of business strategy, culture, and leadership practices. Make sure everyone on the team is on the same page — not just saying the right words, but deeply committed to shared goals and aligned on what’s required to achieve them. Compliance will not get you to a high performing team.

3) Encourage Teamwork. Start with finding the right talent, then get them in the right seats. But talent isn’t enough. As basketball legend Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.” And chemistry matters. Finding chemistry is probably the toughest part of building great teams because some people just work well together – they’ve got shared values, shared trust, and get along great. When chemistry is missing, you can have two super talented team members that just grind on one another from a personality or a values standpoint. When that happens all the energy is put into managing relationships rather than driving results, zapping the team’s performance.

4) Inspire Development. Feedback and a developmental mindset are essential to great teams. If you’re unable to effectively receive and give feedback, and you’re not developing one another as teammates, you’re not going to be able to successfully accomplish your shared goals. If feedback isn’t safe to give and get, little else will be safe to share within the team.

5) Navigate Healthy Conflict. In addition to a developmental mindset, teams must nurture healthy conflict. High-performing teams discuss and debate issues and ultimately come to an agreement – while ensuring those that disagreed feel heard and still commit. Conflicting opinions are dilemmas to grapple with rather than fights to win or thoughts to suppress. High-performing teams capture the best of different perspectives and manage conflict in a way that is catalytic – harnessing passion and energy to move the team forward.

One final thought is don’t assume you have alignment – instead continually drive it. A really helpful activity to drive alignment is to take your team through a SWOT analysis of the business or the project. A simple SWOT analysis isn’t necessarily going to result in cutting edge strategy development or mind-boggling insights, but it will give everybody a chance to hear one another and to think deeply about the organization’s opportunities. And at the end of it, they’re going to be more aligned and perform at a higher level.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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