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  • Writer's pictureRobert A. Dougan, M.A.

How To Build High Performance Teams

Have you ever gone through a team building exercise where everyone gets together to do a team activity with hopes of learning more about each other? Those kinds of activities can be fun and may even help in understanding the team or increasing their performance – but there are other approaches that can have a more long-term impact on team effectiveness.

If you are looking for long-lasting results, Rule #1 is to start by helping each team member understand him or herself better!

To integrate effectively, it is essential that each person has a solid grasp of their own strengths or how those strengths might contribute, adapt, learn, and function within the team.

Before we discuss how to build teams that win, we need to start with some foundation to provide a framework for how to make teams succeed.


The most effective team sessions with any organization always begin with focusing on knowing oneself first – being self-aware of individual and team strengths and knowing what they do well!

Self-awareness brings three major benefits:

1. The easiest way to improve performance is to do what you do well more often.

2. People who learn “what I do well” can develop a more complete sense of their strengths and their contributions to the team performance.

3. People who are consciously competent view incompetence or weakness as a growth opportunity; people who unconsciously competent view it as a problem and treat it as such.

Based on our scientific research, understanding strengths is the prime foundation for improving self-confidence. However, full development requires team members to know their opportunities for growth as well.

It is important for each team member to focus on what they do well most of the time, while still dedicating some of their energy to growth. For example, the optimal ratio is: 80% – 90% of their time on strengths and 10% – 20% on growth opportunities.

This formula means each person is functioning at almost full capacity on a daily basis, reinforcing what they do well and allowing them to do it more often. Come to think of it, I don’t know any top performing people who solely focused their energy what they don’t do well! To the contrary, this formula is one of the key reasons they are always at the top of their game.

In short: if you want to maximize performance, spend most of your time on your strengths; if you want to minimize performance, spend most of your time on your weaknesses.

To leverage this insight during team building, reinforce strengths and help people understand how they might complement a team as well as function with high levels of self-confidence. Imagine a team who all knew their individual strengths and exercised them regularly. This would increase overall team performance.

With that said, the next step in team building is to recognize the commonality and synergies within the team (Team Analysis)


What Do Team Members Have in Common?

First determine which team members have similar strengths, or, commonalities. Finding the commonality within the team helps to bridge the first level of trust where team members share an understanding of each other’s preferences and behavior. Knowing that colleagues share common ground and strengths enhances the team relationship.

What Are Their Differences?

When teams appreciate their own unique strengths and commonalities, differences are no longer a point of conflict. Instead, team members with different strengths can be viewed as synergistic. If one team member is weaker in one area and another is stronger, they provide complementary skills that benefit the team.

I’ve always used the expression in team building of “going into a relationship with your head up”. This means it is important to understand the strengths of other people that are different from your own. A stronger, more effective team respects the traits and strengths everyone brings to the table.

Performance & Effectiveness!

The only way to win as a team is to execute on strengths. When you’re playing the game to win, the team needs to maximize their chances by leveraging their strengths and synergies. Team members can’t focus on their problems or growth opportunities while they’re executing or they will become consciously incompetent and lower performance.

Just like in sports, the team needs to work on their weaknesses or growth opportunities during practice. When it’s time to play for real, the team must pull together and execute on their strengths.


You can improve team performance in two ways with psychometric (i.e., personality) assessment:

1. Identify the strengths and growth opportunities of your current individuals and teams.

2. Recruit and select new candidates who complement the existing team with both shared and synergistic strengths.

3. If you want to build an effective team, take a step back and start by better understanding yourself. Help each team member understand their strengths and weaknesses. With this firm foundation, the team can begin to function at a higher level.

This is the way to build long-lasting, effective teams that win!

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