The Genius of High-Performing T.E.A.M.S.

Characteristics of high-performing teams5 Extraordinary Powers

The world of sports offers us the most obvious examples of high-performing teams, because we can watch them on television, connect with them on social media, and read about them on the internet and in best-selling books. But for this post, think of teams more broadly – whether it’s a high school sports team, a non-profit organization, or a local architecture firm, a team is any group of individuals who are highly interdependent and striving to achieve a common goal.

Why are some teams high-performing and others not? The skill-level of the individual team members plays a role, but much less than you might think. Based on over 25 years of observing, working with, and studying research on countless teams, undoubtedly every team possesses “the genius within” to become a high-performing team and more consistently achieve its potential. So, what are the five extraordinary powers of high-performing T.E.A.M.S.?



Trust can be thought of as placing confidence in someone. Members of high-performing teams trust they can take risks and make mistakes without judgement. Failure is essential for learning and high-performance. In Google’s quest to build high-performing teams, one of their key findings was the best teams in Google had a high degree of psychological safety, or trust. Team members felt confident they wouldn’t suffer consequences for making mistakes or offering new ideas.



In the context of high-performing teams, think of engagement as focusing attention, action, and effort in the direction the team is going. Team members bring 100% engagement to the table, because they’re committed to the team’s vision, mission, values, and goals. The key to creating a team environment that produces engagement is to make shared decisions on things like vision and goals. When team members are involved in creating the culture, they’re more committed to living it daily.



Accountability involves being responsible to fulfill your commitments. Among high-performing teams, coaches and team members hold each other accountable for their engagement and performance. Recently, I was told a story about a 5th year collegiate student-athlete who transferred into a top-ranked women’s program. Although not a starter, the coach shared how this team has the best “sister-hood” she’s ever experienced, and a large part of it is due to the new, 5th year student-athlete holding team members accountable. One important caveat about accountability is that people need to know you care and have empathy for them before you can effectively bring challenge and hold them accountable to the team’s high expectations.


Mutual Respect

Team members demonstrate mutual respect for each other and communicate in a way where every voice is heard. They value each team member’s unique perspectives and contributions. The mutual respect exhibited among high-performing teams places less importance on status, and more importance on the interaction and diverse ideas.

One example of this is told in The Culture Code and involves a competition between groups of kindergartners and business school college student whose task was to build the tallest structure possible. The catch? They could only use specified amounts of uncooked spaghetti, transparent tape, string, and one standard-size marshmallow. Crazily, the kindergartners built a taller structure than the college students in dozens of competitions. These results are hard to comprehend if you think about the intelligence, skills, and experiences of business students when compared to the abilities of kindergartners. However, when viewed from the perspective of the interactions among the team members rather than the perceived ability of the team members, everything starts to make sense. While the business students were “engaged in a process that psychologists call status management,” the kindergartners’ explored different options and found solutions by listening to and respecting every voice.



What is your “why”? Starting with the coach and then every team member, it’s essential to answer this question. As Simon Sinek shared initially in his TED Talk based on Start With Why, knowing your why ignites passion to accomplish goals and fuels resilience in the face of challenges. It’s not a stretch to imagine the importance of passion and resilience among high-performing teams. In addition to knowing their why, each team member has a clearly defined role and knows the significance of their role to overall team performance. They believe in the significance of their work for the greater good of both their team and, in many instances, community.


As you reflect on the performance of your team, take a moment and perform a short diagnostic using the T.E.A.M.S. Genius Rating.  On a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, how would you rate your team on each of the five extraordinary powers of high-performing teams?

1. Trust

1           2           3           4           5

Low                                         High


2. Engagement

1          2           3           4           5

Low                                         High


3. Accountability

1           2           3           4           5

Low                                         High


4. Mutual Respect

1           2           3           4           5

Low                                         High


5. Significance

1           2           3           4           5

Low                                         High

Based on these results, which extraordinary power will you commit to intentionally improving with your team today? As the revered college basketball coach, John Wooden, once said: “We can have no progress without change, whether it be in basketball or anything else.”