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How to Build a High-Performing Team

​In an era where every industry is facing fast-evolving competition and disruption, an organisation's survival hinges on its ability to build high-performing teams.

​The automotive industry is no exception to this reality, as it is undergoing radical change, from design and engineering to manufacturing and consumer preferences and behaviour. High-performance teams are a critical factor in business innovation and a company's ability to exceed market expectations.

A range of research has uncovered the typical traits of high-performing teams that managers can cultivate to ensure their teams are productive, engaged, and ready to set ambitious goals. Read on to find out how to get the most out of your people and what to focus on when assembling a strong team.

1. Use Effective Communication

Whether a team is working in a fully virtual space or together in the office, efficient communication is just as important for achieving major success, such as completing a keystone project, as it is for keeping daily operations running smoothly. Good communication entails clear and open channels for group and one-on-one discussions, managers who are accessible, and an even tempo of meetings and updates that keep all team members on the same page. Effective team communication enables faster decision making and builds stronger connections between individuals.

Think about how communications could be improved within your teams and what tools you could adopt to make communication flow. Setting a clear agenda for each meeting, scheduling regular status updates, and arranging a regular time for team bonding are practices that encourage more fluent communication.

2. Build a High Level of Trust

Some might assume a high level of interpersonal trust naturally follows from efficient communication, but this isn't always the case. Trust develops within team cultures that actively encourage individuals to speak up and contribute. Psychology researchers such as Amy Edmondson have described this as 'psychological safety'.

Project Aristotle, Google's study of team performance involving 180 teams across its entire business, found psychological safety topped the list of the most important qualities of high-performance teams. "In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea," Google's researchers say.

It's clearly worth considering how your organisation and team culture encourages people to be candid and share ideas with one another, and what policies and practices you could introduce to build more psychological safety and trust amongst colleagues.

3. Lead by Example

Leading by example is the ability to guide your team towards the right behaviours, inspire them to emulate a high standard of work, and embody the company's values. In other words, leaders who naturally bring out the best in their people, rather than those who rely on directives to make sure the work gets done.

Research by McKinsey found that the quality of employees' relationships with management correlates with employee satisfaction, which in turn is strongly linked to company performance – including shareholder value.

Managers who lead by example tend to act as a 'coach' rather than simply being the 'boss'. Think about how your team leaders encourage employees to learn and give them opportunities to grow.

4. Set Goals That Bring Out the Best in Everyone

A 'stretch goal' is effectively a target that goes above and beyond the result a team or individual would usually expect to accomplish, and it can be applied to all types of metrics. For example, you could aim to complete a project ahead of schedule, or design a product with better-than-expected energy efficiency.

In a study of high-performance teams comprising of 66,000 respondents, behavioural researcher Joseph Folkman found that stretch goals are a significant factor in high-performance team leadership. "Leaders who know how to set stretch goals create an internal drive in the team to accomplish the impossible. People don’t really want to come to work and do something that any other team could accomplish; they want to do something extraordinary," he says.

​If implemented sensibly, a stretch goal can inspire new levels of confidence, effort and performance in teams. However, managers should weigh up the resources they have available before they raise expectations. ​

5. Recognise and Reward Good Performance

​Finally, one of the key characteristics of a high-performing team is that every member's positive contribution is acknowledged and appreciated. High-performance teams will usually be working harder than most, so rewards and recognition are crucial for motivation.

​According to a survey of more than 1,000 US-based office workers conducted by ignite80 and Front, members of high-performing teams receive more frequent appreciation at work from their colleagues (72% more) as well their managers (79% more). And, these team members also reported expressing appreciation to their colleagues more frequently (44% more). The researchers suggest that within the best teams, appreciation doesn't flow from the top down, but is "a cultural norm that's observable in peer-to-peer interactions".

​Leaders can foster a culture of recognition by encouraging team members to recognise their peers for a good job done. As they work closely together, team members will know the true value of an employee's contributions. Also, consider offering a personalised reward that is meaningful to each individual, beyond a bonus or raise. ​


​Achieving greatness and breaking through innovation barriers isn't possible without a high-performing team that is motivated to work collaboratively and go beyond standard targets.

Open communication, trust, recognition and effective goal-setting are crucial elements of a healthy and high-performance culture.

​To build a strong team, effective managers will also know how to recognise and hire top talent, so a solid recruitment strategy is essential. To learn more about how to hire for your high-performance Engineering team, please get in touch with one of our experienced Automotive Engineering recruitment specialists. With offices in the UK and Germany, we source talent across Europe and beyond to help organisations fulfil their mission.