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How to create high performing teams

28 August, 2018

We often meet clients facing challenges related to team performance. Organizations are becoming increasingly complex as they are adapting to a changing world at an unprecedented pace. The complexity of many organizations, often with multiple matrix structures and increased specialization, emphasizes the need for teamwork in temporary constellations cross functions, as well as teams collaborating over a long time. 

We want to inspire and share with you how Ascend build and establish high performing teams, both at Ascend and with clients. Our approach is built on academic research* as well as our own experience and knowledge.  

High performing teams at Ascend

We build high performing teams because we want to drive change and reach results. On an individual level we want to find motivation, competence and know-how. On a group level we need to ensure that the individual capabilities in the team can be successfully combined. In order to achieve this we have identified three crucial team characteristics: Trust, Context and Responsiveness.

1. Trust

Sharing knowledge and experience in a team is key when delivering together. However, this always comes at a risk for the individual: the risk of revealing weakness, the risk of not being heard, the risk of losing leverage. Therefore, the need for trust is a must. But how do we build trust?

  • We put ourselves out there – we take risks, show vulnerability, express our needs to the team
  • We show generosity and respect – we share our knowledge and networks with our teammates, and we embrace diversity and listen to what others have to say
  • We become successful by making our colleagues successful
  • Trust is absolutely fundamental in creating a high performing team


2. Context

To ensure focus and pace throughout a project, everyone in the team needs to understand in which context he or she is operating. This can be done with some key structural elements in place, such as a clear team purpose, individual goals, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and prerequisites/delimitations. A common pitfall is that we assume that the purpose and goal is crystal clear, but often everyone in the team has his or her own interpretation. To ensure that all team members have a shared view of context in which they operate we must validate, validate, validate.

3. Responsiveness

How do we create a dynamic climate that encourages people to build on ideas and challenge each other? We should:

  • Foster a climate where it is encouraged to question each other’s ideas and challenge one another – by exploring new ideas and angles we remain open for creativity and new influences
  • Listen to one another to the extent that we build on each other’s ideas rather than holding on to what we believe is the right answer
  • Strive to learn and develop by giving each other feedback and reflect upon our achievements as well as our failure

How to get there?

The challenge of creating high performing teams is to fully understand the above characteristics and to make it happen. At Ascend we have built a toolbox for strengthening our team building skills and we train and accelerate learning by simulating teamwork situations and reflecting together continuously.

We love to talk about this and to share our insights. Please, do not hesitate to get in touch if you want to discuss in more detail!

* Interesting reading tips in this area that have inspired us:

Harvard Business School – Building a psychologically safe workplace, Amy Edmondson 2014

Google - Project Aristotle (good summary in NY Times)

Stockholm School of Economics – Kollektiv intelligens & kunskapsintegration, Runsten & Werr 2016

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