The 3 Critical Differences Between a High-Performing Team and a Group of People

In today’s workplace, many leaders don’t know the difference between a high-performing team and a group of individuals who happen to be working together. Often, leaders assume that teamwork is happening simply because individuals are working in the same space or for the same company.

Yet, in reality, they are overseeing a collection of individuals with disparate goals and mismatched expectations. True teamwork, the kind that propels organizations to thrive, hinges on three key differentiators: alignment, mutual growth, and a profound sense of belonging and safety.

Pursuing a Common Goal with Efficiency

The first hallmark of a high-performing team is clarity and synergy around a common goal. It’s not merely about sharing a goal on paper; it’s about the collective understanding and commitment to achieving it. The team works with a belief that they are more productive and effective when they are working together towards this shared objective. They are committed to 1 + 1 always equaling more than 2.

A group of individuals may work side by side, but their efforts are often disjointed, with each person focusing on only their individual workload and job description. This results in 1 + 1 equaling 2 at the very most. In some unfortunate cases, thanks to all sorts of issues like drama and conflicts, 1 + 1 can even end up being less than 2. It’s like a math problem gone terribly wrong!

Elevating Each Other to Excellence

In a high-performing team, members not only contribute their skills, they also desire to help their teammates grow and become stronger. It’s like a relay race where every runner knows that the team’s success hinges on the performance of the weakest link. When one person grows stronger, it’s not just a personal victory—it’s a win for the entire team. In this way, each individual’s growth is like adding horsepower to the team’s engine, propelling everyone toward success. As a result, members are invested in each other’s success, fostering an environment where everyone continually evolves, reaching new heights together.

In contrast, in a group, individuals focus on themselves and don’t actively look for opportunities to challenge, support and bring out the best in those around them.

The Heartbeat of Team Cohesion

The third essential element that distinguishes high-performing teams from groups is a tangible sense of belonging and safety. There’s a healthy energy that resonates from knowing members are supported, valued, and accepted for who they are. They feel secure in sharing their ideas, opinions, and concerns, creating a space where their authentic selves can shine. A high-performing team embraces diversity and ensures that each member’s voice is heard and respected, creating an environment where everyone feels safe to bring their full selves to work.

On the contrary, in a group, the atmosphere lacks the safety to speak freely, and members feel hesitant to voice their thoughts, fearing criticism or rejection.

Are you in a high-performing team or a group?

While numerous leaders may assume they’re steering a team, it’s crucial to assess whether they’re truly at the helm of high-performing teams or simply overseeing a collection of individuals. The three critical distinctions – alignment around a common goal, mutual growth, and a sense of belonging and safety – serve as the litmus test for genuine teamwork.

To foster a culture of high-performance, leaders must actively nurture these aspects within their teams. Encourage a shared vision, promote continuous growth, and create an environment where every team member knows they belong and are valued. Only then can you transform a group of individuals into a high-performing team that excels, innovates, and achieves remarkable success together.




The High-Performance Team Assessment. This insightful exercise engages your team in a series of questions to evaluate their alignment, mutual growth, and sense of belonging and safety.

Step 1: Set the Stage
  1. Schedule a dedicated team meeting or workshop for this activity, and have team members read the article to prepare.
  2. Explain to the team that the purpose is to evaluate their current state of teamwork and identify areas for improvement.
  3. Emphasize the importance of open and honest communication during the exercise.

Step 2: Alignment Around Common Goals

Begin by discussing alignment around common goals:

  1. Ask team members to individually write down the team’s current primary goal or mission.
  2. Collect and review the responses.
  3. Based on the similarities and differences in responses, facilitate a discussion to ensure everyone has the same understanding of the team’s goals.

Step 3: Mutual Growth and Improvement

Move on to assessing mutual growth and improvement:

  1. Encourage team members to share examples of how they have challenged and supported each other to become better at what they do.
  2. Discuss specific instances where team members have helped each other grow.
  3. Ask how the team can further foster this environment of mutual growth.

Step 4: Belonging and Safety

Finally, address the sense of belonging and safety within the team:

  1. Discuss specific situations where team members have felt safe to express themselves or when they felt a sense of belonging.
  2. Inquire if there are any barriers or challenges that hinder the team from creating a safe and inclusive environment.
  3. Encourage suggestions on how to enhance the team’s sense of belonging and safety.

This High-Performance Team Assessment is a practical and engaging way for leaders and teams to reflect on their current state and take concrete steps toward becoming a high-performing team that aligns around common goals, supports mutual growth, and fosters a sense of belonging and safety. It encourages open communication, self-awareness, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Tim Arnold

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