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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

May 13, 2022


Research demonstrates five surprising differentiators of high-performing teams. How does your team stack up?



Welcome to episode 137 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we look at five surprising differentiators of high-performing teams.

The last few years have placed enormous pressures on teams. What leads some teams to collapse under the pressure while others thrive? Research by Ron Friedman and colleagues has uncovered five things high-performing teams do differently to other teams. Some of them may surprise you.

  1. People in high-performing teams make more phone calls. Bizarre I know. Surely we live in a time when making a phone call is outdated. But Friedman found those on high-performing teams made, on average, 10 phone calls per day versus 6 in other teams. Speaking over the phone is far more personalised and connecting than a text message or email. If you want to improve the performance of your team, stop typing that email and pick up the phone.

  2. High-performing teams have greater discipline around meetings. Meetings are perhaps more universally hated than any other aspect of our work life. While fewer meetings is generally better, Friedman found that high-performing teams had much greater expectations around meetings - both for those setting up the meeting and those attending. High-performing team meetings were more likely to require pre-work, more likely to have an agenda, and spent more time checking in with others around progress. If you want to increase the performance of your team, meetings and meeting disciplines are a great place to start.

  3. Members of high-performing teams don’t just talk about work. It may be tempting to think that these high-performing teams are 100% focused on work and efficiency, but they actually take more time to discuss non-work topics. High-performing teams create opportunities for people to connect in genuine ways. Don’t see this as a waste of time, but be intentional in connecting with others, and in connecting others together.

  4. People in high-performing teams express and receive more appreciation. We know informal recognition from leaders matters. Many surveys place this higher than salary on the list of things employees want. But in high-performing teams it’s not just top-down appreciation, but also appreciation between peers. If you want to increase team performance, model showing appreciation to people. Look through a list of those in your team and think about who you could show appreciation to more.

  5. Members of high-performing teams are more genuine and comfortable being themselves. Interestingly high-performing teams don’t just have greater demonstrations of positive emotions. They also have negative emotions on display more often. People can be celebrating successes, but also expressing frustrations. People are more real in their interactions, making it easier to know how people really feel and where you stand.

More phone calls, greater meeting discipline, non-work-related connections, more appreciation, and people being themselves at work? That sounds like a great place to work to me. Note down one thing you can try this week to move towards being a high-performing team.



Ron Friedman, October 2021. 5 Things High-Performing Teams Do Differently. Harvard Business Review.