The Key to Building High-Impact Teams

Individuals work differently alone versus in groups. Here’s how to make them the most effective.
high impact teams

According to new research from Bersin by Deloitte, the best organizations are redefining their talent practices to be centered on teams, instead of around hierarchies. Leading companies are 4.5 times more likely to practice effective teamwork and collaboration when they dedicate a larger share of resources to building and supporting teams that drive business performance.

But what does a high-performing team look like, exactly, and how can leaders design great teams?

It’s far too easy for teams to become ineffective. In 1913, the French agricultural engineering professor Max Ringelmann first discovered “social loafing.” He noticed students competing in a rope pulling contest exerted less force as individuals as each team grew larger. In other words, when people work in groups, they don’t put in as much individual effort.

Too often, teams fall into a groupthink trap. Decisions are frequently made by the same, most vocal person. Teams repeatedly drift toward a particular idea, and they fail to recognize contradictory information or better solutions.

The key to avoiding these pitfalls lies in communication. High-impact teams must have deep, rather than shallow, conversations. Too often when people talk about work, they use high-level abstractions like “be creative” or “do your best.” But effective team conversations are far more specific. Always be clear on what the defined goals, norms and roles are within the team.

If you want a team member to be more open and engaged, do not tell them simply to “speak up.” Instead, consider posing these questions: do we know our purpose? Are we being bold? Are we being specific? Have we answered the question, “what’s in it for me?” Have we answered the question, “what’s in it for the organization?”

Creating high-impact teams is about finding the right balance between me and we.

It’s important to remember that whenever people come together, a culture is formed. It’s what humans do. Creating and maintaining that culture must be intentional and thoughtful.

Howard Schultz, former CEO and executive chairman of Starbucks, often refers to his successful chain of coffee shops as a “third place.” Starbucks, he likes to think, is a place beyond home and work where people can think, talk and collaborate. The former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno’s “third place” was a restaurant where, as a young comedian, he frequently gathered with other struggling entertainers for lunch every day. It was there, making his friends laugh, that he discovered his brand of comedy.

Designing great teams requires creating the atmosphere of a so-called third place. It’s about forming a culture where people can share ideas and communicate freely — and help each other improve bit by bit each day.

Alan Todd and Dr. Mario Moussa are the creators of a digital learning course on CorpU called “Breakthrough Results Through Committed Teams: A Process and Toolbox to Help Average Teams Become Top Performers.” Dr. Mario Moussa teaches at Duke CE and the University of Pennsylvania and is the co-author of “Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance.” To comment, email