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Four Keys to Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging

Creating a strong team culture of high performance, trust, and belonging is essential to success, although it can be incredibly challenging to do, especially these days.

When I was working on my latest book a few years ago, We’re All in This Together (which is just about to come out in paperback), I had no idea about the devastating global pandemic that would change the way we live and work in just about every way.

Now more than ever, for our teams to navigate these continual uncertain times successfully, we must come together, connect authentically, and lean on each other in an ongoing, healthy, and sustainable way.

For the past two decades, I’ve been studying, researching, speaking, and writing about the qualities of great teams. I’ve been honored to partner with organizations like Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, Gap, the NBA, the Oakland A’s, and so many others—helping them enhance the culture and performance of their teams.

In addition to these large, well-known brands, I’ve also worked with small businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofits, local school districts, and more.

And while each team and organization have their own unique challenges, goals, and dynamics, there are some universal qualities that allow teams to effectively collaborate, trust each other, and perform at the highest level—even and especially amid change, challenge, and uncertainty.

4 Keys to Creating a Team Culture of High Performance

Here are the four key traits of high performing teams that I’ve learned through my research and experience:

1. Create psychological safety

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for risk-taking. People on teams with psychological safety have a sense of confidence that their team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up or taking risks.

The team climate is characterized by an atmosphere of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves without fear of negative consequences to their self-image, status, or career.

Essentially, psychological safety is trust at a group level.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson has researched and written extensively about psychological safety over the past 20 years. “It’s not enough for organizations to simply hire talent,” she says. “If leaders want to unleash individual and collective talent, they must foster a psychologically safe climate where employees feel free to contribute ideas, share information, and report mistakes.”

A 2017 Gallup study found that only three in ten employees strongly agree with the statement that their opinions count at work. Gallup calculated that by “moving the ratio to six in ten employees, organizations could realize a 27 percent reduction in turnover, a 40 percent reduction in safety incidents, and a 12 percent increase in productivity.”

2. Focus on inclusion and belonging

An essential element of creating a safe environment that allows people to trust each other, collaborate with one another and perform at their highest level as a team, is inclusion and belonging.

There are countless studies linking inclusion to higher profits, increased engagement scores, and enhanced business results.

For example, according to a study of 140 U.S. companies by Accenture alongside the American Association of People with Disabilities, those that offered the most inclusive working environment for employees with disabilities achieved an average 28 percent higher revenue, 30 percent greater economic profit margins, and twice the net income of their industry peers between 2015 and 2018.

Inclusion means “having respect for and appreciation of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion.” It also means “actively involving everyone’s ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles to maximize business success.”

And, as important as it is for us to focus on both diversity and inclusion, the ultimate goal is to create an environment on the team and in the company where everyone feels as though they belong, regardless of who they are, the role they have, and their background.

3. Embrace sweaty-palmed conversations

Great teams embrace conflict and feedback as natural and important aspects of growth, collaboration, and success. This means they must be willing to have those awkward, uncomfortable, sweaty-palmed conversations with each other.

The problem is that because conflict and feedback can be hard, most teams aren’t very good at it.

However, when team members create an environment conducive to having healthy and productive conflict, they can connect more deeply, navigate challenges effectively, give each other feedback in a way that makes everyone better, and innovate in ways that allow them to thrive.

Research conducted by CPP Inc., publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, has shown that in the U.S., workplace conflict costs companies more than $350 billion a year. And that figure reflects just the time people spend dealing with conflict; it doesn’t include the emotional, psychological, and physical toll it takes on people personally.

Nate Regier, author of Conflict without Casualties, whom I had a chance to interview on my podcast, says, “The purpose of conflict is to create, not destroy.”

4. Care about and challenge each other

What I’ve seen, experienced, and learned about high-performing teams over the years is that they understand and have a balance of two important things at the same time: Caring About Each Other and Challenging Each Other.

Both of these are essential and must be focused on with the same level of intensity for the team and all of its members to perform at the highest level.

For a team to thrive, there must be a deep level of trust that everyone has each other’s backs, has good intentions, and is moving in the same direction together.

In a piece published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017, neuroeconomist Paul Zak writes, “Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74 percent less stress, 50 percent higher productivity, and 76 percent more engagement.”

In other words, creating a strong culture of trust, as well as an environment where people know they’re cared about and supported by their teammates, leads to significantly greater engagement and performance.

In addition to building and maintaining this level of trust and care for one another, great teams commit to challenging each other respectfully and passionately to be their absolute best, both personally and collectively.

The Importance of Embodying These Teamwork Traits Right Now

When teams understand, practice, and embody these four key traits, they can create a team culture of high performance, trust, and belonging. Doing this allows them to thrive, even and especially when facing significant uncertainty and challenges as we are these days.

This is an adapted excerpt from the book We’re All in This Together by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, March 2022 (paperback)

Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.

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