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Creating a High Performing Team

CCLBlog Cultural Excellence Creating a High Performing Team

Creating a High Performing Team

Creating The Right Team Mix 

What does it take to create a high performing team or rather what are the characteristics of a high performing team…? I’m minded to remember the scene in Dead Poets Society ( where Robin Williams tells his students that he is going to give them the formula for writing great poetry and of they all open up their notebooks ready to write that down he then lets them know that of course there isn’t a formula and that is the message of the scene. Poetry is an art not a science and the same can be said for high performing teams…if there was a formula then everyone would be making one and it would be easy!


CCL believes that whilst there is no magic formula to building high performing teams there are 6 component parts that must be there for this to happen. These are trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, clarity on what constitutes team success and the individual.


As part of our case Study series ( we have asked a number of Senior Leaders in The Military, Business and Elite Sports stars about what their view is on what it takes to build a high performing team. As you can imagine there are a wide range of views but there is a consistent trend that building trust is paramount. We also recently undertook a survey on LinkedIn to ask whether trust takes time to build and a massive 81% thought it did. This is a good discussion point because the longer the team takes to trust each other the longer it will take to become high performing! Obviously, everything is context related so teams can perform in certain situations e.g. something that is life threatening or needs working together quickly to solve a problem but in those circumstances I would say that performance is often a one off and unlikely to be sustainable and certainly difficult to replicate consistently. 


According to our case studies there are a number of key points that emerge and two recently really resonated when I have built a number of high performing teams over the years. It’s primarily about relationships and trust but in one of our case studies the idea that the team should include top performers which drive excellence and have higher expectations. The reason this resonated was that the best piece of advice I received as a leader was that you should surround yourself, in your team, with people better than you. 


Often the leader’s ego can prevent this as leaders often want teams that have people either as their “mates” or have the same ethos and outlook as themselves. Not what I would say are the ingredients for a high performing team.


I also ask the question about do you need to be a team, surely just a group of high performing individuals or technical experts should be good enough? If everyone knows their role then that is a team? I would say that’s a group not a team and whilst this can work in many situations, I would always advocate a team approach as once you have committed and are accountable to the overall team then the clarity of goal is next…ie why do we need to exist as a team. I’m not sure what this means mate! Maybe i’m reading it wrong…


One of the most often asked questions we get is…does the leader need to make the key decisions because they are the leader…?


Well, accountability in our view is one of those areas that helps build a high performing team and in another poll we undertook 42% indicated they would commit to a decision when the leader made it and 58% indicated they would commit to a decision if it was by majority vote. This picks up both the accountability of the team vs the leader and commitment to a decision as a team.


As a team, decisions are often context specific, for example if the situation requires the decision to be made by the team without the leader present then with an empowered style of leadership (another blog!) this is fine but often teams can defer a decision for the leader to make because “it’s their job” (See comments below). This is not the attribute of a high performing team and whilst some of the characteristics of a team may still be there they will not be high performing in my view…Maybe something here about the decision may be at the level of the leader…spending of 5m pound as an example…you mention “its their job”, maybe they won’t make the decision because it has to be the leader who makes it and that goes beyond “it’s their job”, they are just scared to…as a HPT they can give the options to the leader but as accountability sits with him/her they need to make it once everything is heard and understood? Great insight for debate this! Maybe we are on the same lines here but i‘m reading it differently?


Conflict or healthy conflict is another area often misunderstood, it can be seen sometimes as detrimental to team effectiveness but when it comes to a high performing team, team members need a safe place to challenge each other to improve, this is an area where our recent poll also had some very interesting feedback. 63% indicated that conflict hinders team effectiveness, but our case study contributors indicated challenging each other helps the team develop and improve, 47% indicated that conflict was healthy and can only happen when trust is built. Our case study examples indicated that trust is the glue that binds the team.


So are the 6 functions for building a high performing team required in equal amounts. Research we have undertaken actually does not show that and trust is consistently the one area that everyone seems to relate as the critical factor. All 6 areas are required but maybe in different amounts depending on the team, context and the goal of that team. 


You can see and listen to a short example from our case studies on High Performing Teams at the link

Martin Bull


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