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Understanding High Performance Teams & What Makes them Tick

“No resource is more powerful in an organisation than a high performance team. What great individuals cannot accomplish on their own can be achieved by a high performance team”. Phil Bryson.

Every organisation aspires to have high performing teams, to not only drive organisational performance, but create a positive and engaging culture.

However, high performance teams don't just develop by simply throwing highly skilled people together. It is a process of strategic recruitment, then team development, education, adjustment and alignment.

To begin the process of building a high-performance team, we should understand the stages of team development. The highly regarded four stages life cycle was developed by research psychologist, Dr Bruce Tuckman. He recognised the following stages:

Forming – This is typically when team members are getting to know one another and haven’t developed a full commitment to their team. There is generally a lack of clarity around the team’s purpose and the role each individual will play within it. It is at this time that the leader might step up and set the direction, picking their time to use a more task-oriented approach.

Storming – This is an adjustment stage, as team members find and push some boundaries and they might see some conflicting working styles arise. This is a very normal part of forming a team and can be accompanied with some tension and differences of opinions. Leaders might blend in a more authoritative style of leadership during this period to provide clarity around purpose, guidelines and boundaries as the team forms.

Norming – Team members start getting used to each other’s ways of working and form an appreciation for each other’s strengths; they are getting to know each other and some trust is being built. It is likely you will see constructive feedback, respect for leadership, and commitment to the team’s goal in the norming stage. Leaders might adapt their style during this period and become relationship-oriented.

Performing – Finally the wrinkles are getting ironed out and our team is operating at their potential. This is the stage of the most efficiency. Leaders should look to provide more autonomy to the team members and blend in some ‘pace-setting’ style as the leader works as part of the team.

To support the smooth running of a high-functioning team there are a number of key aspects recruiters and hiring managers must consider before anything else. For the purpose of this article we have called them the 5 R’s.


The first stage in developing a high-performance team is the recruitment and retention of the best talent, while also developing the skills of the lower performing team members. This stage is crucial in attracting and hiring team members with complimentary traits and skills. How will members communicate with each other? Will they be considerate of others’ opinions? What is the career background and skillset? Just like a puzzle, we want to link together team members who fit together, and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Role clarity

Each team member will benefit from a clear understanding of their role within the team. This includes what their job is, why they are doing their job, and how it contributes to the team. Each member understanding how they support the team, and the organisation’s vision enhances the team’s potential. It is important that these roles don’t contradict or overlap as this can cause conflict between members.

Reward, incentive & motivation

As with any employee, knowing what motivates them is a key aspect to keep them at their peak performance. To keep the team functioning at its best, each member’s motivators must be understood. Extrinsic rewards such as financial incentives are highly attractive to some employees, however, often the deeper intrinsic motivators are what gets the most out of our team members.

Recognise communication styles

Just as individuals have different personalities, they have different communication styles. Having a poor understanding of your own and others can be the root cause of poor communication and conflict. It helps if team members know themselves well enough to understand how they communicate and what strengths and weaknesses are associated with their style. Do they prefer written briefings, verbal brainstorming to kick around ideas, more formal interactions, written follow-ups or casual check ins? What helps them learn, engage, deliver and how do they react and respond to team members who have a different working style. Identify your team’s communication styles and tailor your messages and interactions accordingly.


We recommend that team members are given the opportunity to discuss and establish team rules or preferred “ways of working” (which seems a less draconian description). Set expectations around communication, conflict resolution, team and individual evaluations, policies and recognition around performance. Taking accountability for these will help team engagement and encourage respectful manner between team members.

Working with your Team

At ICP we have worked with many teams and leaders to profile and provide insight into the team type and team styles of team-members. We find that this really helps them move to the norming and performing stage quickly and efficiently. On a practical note we can use questionnaires such as the MBTI and the DiSC to run a constructive team-building and team planning sessions to really good effect. Similarly, we also profile team-members during the recruitment process to help leaders ‘find the ingredients to make up a great recipe’ for their team.

Recruiting balanced teams, understanding personalities and communication styles is a challenge in itself. If you would like to explore our solutions for hiring with confidence, measuring an employee’s motivators, personality and communication type, and cultural fit visit our website or contact us at

If you would like to read more about our previous work on developing High Performing Teams, check out our additional articles on our website:


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