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How do you build high-performing teams of high-productivity individuals?

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What is high-performance?  For most of us, it is measured via Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or Objectives and Key Results (OKR), and scored between one (failed to achieve) and 5 (excelled).  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to accurately capture your performance. 

As Marcus Buckingham, author of Nine Lies About Work, says:

“The goals you put in in January are probably obsolete by the third week of February, as you need to tweak and adjust for the changing circumstances of the real world. “

He notes that less than 4% of employees ever look at their KPI goals once they have been written down. However, at some point, you’ll be evaluated on them. He writes that at the end of the year you are going to have to:

“evaluate yourself against a list of abstract goals that were irrelevant a couple of weeks after you wrote them down. You’re being asked to do something meaningless and pretend it’s meaningful.”

Interpreting performance like this is nonsensical. In an agile, customer-centric business world, performance is not a property of the individual that can be planned a year in advance. It is a property of the team that emerges during team collaborative practice.

There are three components of high performance in collaborative practice. They don’t happen in a distinct order, but all must be present.

The first is camaraderie in communication.

Many companies spend a fortune searching for high IQ individuals capable of producing these game-changing ideas. However, empirical evidence suggests they do not happen in isolation but during the process of communication and social cohesion in teams. 

  • Anita Woolley William’s research on collective intelligence illustrates that high camaraderie in team communication results in the collective intelligence of the team being higher than the individual IQs of any single participant
  • Alec Pentland’s work on the power of collaborative practice illustrates that comradely teams will be up to 50% more productive than those that spend little time in collaborative environments
  • Amy Edmondson’s work on psychological safety illustrates that teams that are comfortable sharing mistakes, asking questions and sharing ideas make far fewer serious and costly errors

Simply put, a high-camaraderie team will produce more intelligent insights and have more good ideas than any high IQ individual.  Furthermore, they will turn those ideas into reality quickly and accurately.

The second is the selection of an idea.

A great idea is a potential money maker. Google suggests it can be up to 300x the value of the employee. However, few people feel comfortable sharing their ideas. Reputation, risk and feelings of inadequacy get in the way.

The third is engagement with the solution.

Eventually, collaboration ends and individual assignments begin.  The key individual outcomes of a great collaborative experience are:

  • That team members fully understand the responsibilities of and the reason for their assigned tasks
  • That team members are fully motivated to complete and excel in these tasks

This is engagement. This is the purpose. This is the power of co-creation.

Productivity – the Time to Execute

If people perform well in collaboration, then they are going to be as productive as individuals. Unlike performance, this can be measured. High-productivity is traditionally measured via speed and error-rate

  • Time taken to produce the output
  • Number of errors made when producing the output

In simple terms, the amount of time people spend in collaborative practice correlates with the level of productivity. The more time collaborating, the more quickly and accurately the final product gets finished.

The value-add of high-productivity is at least 40% of each team member’s salary. This is in addition to the possible value-add of the quality of the idea, which could be billions.

How do you collaborate well?

Collaboration is a muscle. It requires a team to exercise the above three components. Communication is the elasticity of the muscle, selection of ideas is strength and engagement with the solution is endurance. Teams that practice regularly are thus more likely to have great ideas (or avoid bad ones), will better understand how to execute them, will remain fully engaged in the process, and will turn them into reality and speed without error.


At the core of this excellence is the quality of the collaboration. 

  • Everyone’s voice needs to be heard, which is difficult in formal workplace environments or when using complex technology
  • Analogue outputs, whether drawing, building or writing, that all participants can do effortlessly
  • Knowing the sweet spot between convergence and divergence. If everyone has the same idea, it isn’t innovative. If nobody understands an idea or thinks it realistic, it is unlikely to motivate or have a market. This is the case even if it comes from the most senior person in the room

There are a number of techniques that can enable good collaboration from conferences of 2,000 people to intimate teams of 4-6.  It’s just a matter of knowing how to put them into practice.

Text by roundPegz fellow Richard Claydon and Iva Sladic Keco
Illustration by roundPegz fellow Iva Sladic Keco

roundPegza community of disruptive thinkers working with theDesk to try and help community members develop excellent work practices, deep industry knowledge and meaningful relationships in today’s complex and competitive world. 

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