What does a high performing team look like? Two important elements make up a high performing team. They are high individual performers and healthy relationships. Below is a circle graph that represents high performing teams. The circle is divided into four quadrants with a vertical line down the middle for high individual performer and low individual performer. The horizontal line across the middle of the circle is unhealthy relationships and healthy relationships. Let’s use this circle graph to talk about the elements of high-performing teams. 

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High Individual Performers and Healthy Relationships 

Here in the circle, the vertical line measures high individual performance at the top and low individual performance at the bottom, and the horizontal line from left to right measures unhealthy relationships and healthy relationships. The middle of the circle where the vertical individual performance and the horizontal unhealthy and healthy relationships lines cross is the apex of a high performing team. The vertical line above or below that center point indicates increasing or decreasing degrees of individual performance effectiveness. The horizontal line to the left or to the right of that center point indicates decreasing or increasing degrees of healthy relationships.  

Now that you have the basic framework of the graph, take a minute and put your initials in the quadrant where you see yourself in the circle. Once you’ve done that, imagine the team you’re thinking about. It could be your family, your work team, or a sports team. Then put the initials of those team members on the graph in whichever quadrant you see them in. 

If everyone in your team is in the quadrant for high individual performer and healthy relationships, these people are high performers with healthy relationships and would be in the inner core and core of your team because they are committed to each other and are not only able to get the job done but committed to getting it done. You have the right people in the right roles. It is a good, solid team. Some may still need further training to improve their performance, but they’re still a solid team.  

The Trust Continuum 

Given these two elements of performance and relationships, a problem with building high performing teams is what we call the trust continuum. We all live somewhere on the line of the trust continuum. On the left end of the continuum are people who have very low or no trust until we give them a reason to trust us. On the other end of the continuum on the right end of the line, we have people who have high or even maybe 100 percent trust until we give them a reason not to.   

If we lay the line of the trust continuum across the circle of high performing teams, you’ll see that you can’t get into the quadrant of healthy relationships and high individual performance until some level of trust is built. If you have low trust, you have low performance and low relationships. If you have high trust, you at least have high relationships and if we’ve done a good job in teaching, training, and equipping and putting the right people in the right place, we also have high individual performance.  

Healthy Relationships and Low Individual Performers 

Now let’s shift our focus to another part of the graph. Here you have the right people, but they are in the wrong role. If you have people in the quadrant with healthy relationships, but with low individual performance, they need job training. If they are in a role that they can’t do, that’s not their fault. But if you have them in a role they can perform and because they are probably people who are wanting to lean in to the organization, we call them lean-inners who are wanting to be a part of the team because of their strong relationships. They need for you to send them to some training to help teach, train, and equip them so they can move into the quadrant with healthy relationships and high individual performers.  

High Individual Performers and Unhealthy Relationships  

If you have people in the top left quadrant of high individual performers and unhealthy relationships, you have the wrong people in the right role, and they need relationship training. It might be anger management or some teaching, training, and equipping to help them move into the quadrant with high individual performance and healthy relationships. Depending on how unhealthy the relationships are, people in this quadrant could be lean-inners or those we call lean-outers. They could be people who are leaning in to the organization or who are leaning out. In either case, you as the leader would want to help them lean in so they become an active part of the team. If that does not appear possible, you would need to help them lean on out and move them off the team.  

Unhealthy Relationships and Low Individual Performers 

As we look at that last lower left quadrant, if you have people in that quadrant with unhealthy relationships and low individual performance, you need to deal with those people very quickly. They are the wrong person in the wrong role. They are clearly lean-outers who need to be leaned on out of the organization. If you know who those lean-outers are, it’s a lot easier to deal with them early on rather than waiting and allowing them to affect the team with their unhealthy relationships and their low individual performance. Once you have determined these people are really lean-outers, dealing with them quickly prevents them from poisoning the team and possibly drawing in other team members who are potential lean-inners or even those lean-outers whom you might be able to help lean on in.  

Building a High Performing Team 

High performing teams don’t just happen by accident. As transformational leaders, we need to look first at ourselves and then at our teams and team members intentionally and determine where each one falls in the circle of the high performing team and in which quadrant they fit. Then we also need to provide the necessary teaching, training, and equipping for those who need to improve their performance and relationships. While the teaching, training, and equipping will be different for each of those quadrants and needs, the performance and relationship building will impact your team in positive and productive ways.

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.