From TJ magazine: I’m ok, you’re ok – are WE ok?

Owen Cook offers 10 tips to help you create, sustain and inspire a high-performance, winning team.

Most work initiatives tend to be either company-wide or focused on the individual. But when it comes to productivity, how well we operate within a team is key.

What are the ‘silent killers’ affecting the productivity of teams across the UK? What is the role of team development on the productivity and wellbeing conundrums in the corporate world? How can we develop at a team level to achieve a ripple effect on productivity through our organisations?

Team-working is a well-oiled notion in the corporate world. Let’s be honest, an entire industry has sprouted up around team-building. But we’re always cautious to plunge in with a standalone team-building intervention until we’re sure that it’s not a short-term sticking plaster for wider issues around team culture and communication.

When we think about elite teams outside of the workplace – sports teams, for example – a huge proportion of their development is focused on how they play together.

What goes on at the team level within organisations is absolutely critical to feeding into a wider organisational culture.

Yet, when we move into the workplace, the idea that we’re so much stronger when we’re playing to each other’s strengths, aligned in a mission, is usually understood but underinvested in, and compartmentalised as a when-we-have-time item.

We talk a lot about silent killers when it comes to team performance because many of the things that slow down our productivity in a team go unnoticed; creeping up on us, or lying in wait in our weekly team meeting.

Even worse, they, like a clogged artery, build up over time and, when we finally realise the impact they’re having on us and how ineffectively we’re working together, the cure is long and painful (and definitely not fixed by a day knee-deep in mud).

When it comes to teams in particular, performance and wellbeing are inextricably linked. If you have a team culture of ‘people second’ (and an exhausted team as a result), then performance isn’t sustainable or, at best, comes at a human cost. There’s often a more obvious imbalance between performance and wellbeing in the microclimate of a team.


It’s particularly easy to spot this discord at a team level. You might, for example, see a group that appears to invest in its collective wellbeing but the minute the pressure’s on, team days, lunch breaks, continuous improvement feedback, socialising and so on goes out the window.

It creates an unhealthy cycle where all the previously well-intentioned work is undone and trust is eroded. What goes on at the team level within organisations is absolutely critical to feeding into a wider organisational culture. Think of it like the magic in the middle between individual performance and organisational success.

So, what’s the key to creating, sustaining and inspiring a high-performance, winning team? Try these 10 tips and you’ll be well on the way.

  1. A high-performance team is not ‘always on’. The best teams are experts at active regeneration to come back fighting. A 24-hour connected culture for teams, especially if they are spread across the world, means it can be hard to disconnect. This very quickly becomes a productivity drain. Teams need to find ways of working across lifestyles, time zones and personal preferences that are respectful, non-judgmental and conducive. It’s all about finding ways to ensure that every individual can be their best self in a team.
  2. Getting to know you (really). High-performing teams know each other, drive each other and care for each other. They understand what the people around them are facing, what they’re carrying into the workplace, and what’s on their plate when they are there. They pull together and help each other when things get tough. This is where the team-building comes in, but it’s not just about doing something fun every once in a while. This is about ongoing communication and approaching the people around you with emotional intelligence
  3. A value approach to teams. It’s too easy in a team to think the person taking breaks, finishing on time, interspersing their day with conversations rather than just being at their desk, is skiving. But if each time they return from a break they are able to work faster and harder; if each time they arrive in the morning they bring a positive, can-do attitude which boosts the team; and if each time they return to a task after a conversation it’s with new ideas and inspiration, what’s not to value about that? An adult team approach to individual value is a must.
  4. An attitude of continuous improvement. That work-around that your team is using on a piece of software they don’t fully understand? If it takes two extra minutes each time, and they use the software twice an hour, that’s more than half an hour wasted every day. In a team of 10 people over a week, that would equate to 25 hours. If you switch that focus from something task/software based to something more people based, like how you give feedback or manage performance, just think of the time that might be disappearing through lack of development. Live, breathe and celebrate continuous improvement.

To read all 10 tips get a free three-month digital subscription to TJ here.


About the author

Owen Cook is head of programmes for The Culture Builders, including the recently launched Bank of Me



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