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High Performing Teams and TRUST

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

The 6 Key Characteristics of Successful Teams

Psychological Safety, or in another word . . . TRUST

Why some teams come together to perform well, and some don't

What is the secret to high performing teams?

I guess this is the question most teams and organisations ask themselves on an ongoing basis as they search for the answers and solutions that make a team work well together and produce effective high performing teams and outstanding results.

Google's 'Aristotle Project'

The best companies are made up of great teams. Even a company full of individual top performers won't succeed if those individuals don't have the ability to work well together.

This was why Google set off on a journey to understand what makes great teams, in what is considered to be one of the largest studies exploring why some teams works well and others don't.

Google studied their best teams in hopes of pinpointing what made them great. The study was named the “Aristotle Project’, a tribute to the greek philosopher and his famous quote:

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."


The study judged teams' "effectiveness" based on evaluations from executives, senior leaders, team leaders, and team members, as well as assessing performance.

To define "effectiveness," the team decided on assessment criteria that measured both qualitative and quantitative data. They analyzed dozens of teams and interviewed hundreds of executives, team leads and team members. The researchers then evaluated team effectiveness in four different ways:

  1. Executive evaluation of the team

  2. Team leader evaluation of the team

  3. Team member evaluation of the team

  4. Performance against targets

The most important factor that was shared by the most effective teams was "Psychological safety," or in other words . . . trust. Trust among teammates was the key characteristic that mattered most within the top performing teams.

Google published its findings into the public domain to share the results, along with the following insightful statement:

“What really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together”.

Simply put, psychological safety refers to an individual's perception of taking a risk, and the response his or her teammates will have to taking that risk.

Google describes it this way:

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.

In other words, great teams thrive on trust.

This may appear to be a simple concept, but building trust between team members is no easy task. A team consisting of only a few people brings with it many different behavioural patterns and preferences, varied working ways and communication styles, differences in personal values and motivations and so on.

impacT Team Model

The impacT team model outlines and explores 6 of the key characteristics, including trust, that have been proven to be essential for teams to thrive.

The first five characteristics are important factors to help build trust, increase confidence, raise awareness, give direction etc, but they are also more difficult to put in place without trust. The model should therefore be approached holistically, in that all 6 characteristics are important and required to maximise potential and performance - with THE MOST important factor being TRUST.

The 6 key characteristics are:

  1. Identity

  2. Mindset

  3. Purpose

  4. Alignment

  5. Communication

  6. TRUST

So let's explore some key elements for each characteristic to understand why they are important and how you can improve each one:


  • Having good self awareness and sense of self

  • Understand personal values

  • Understand team and organisational values

  • Team members have healthy self-esteem

  • Strong team identity outside the team itself


  • A growth mindset within the team

  • A positive and optimistic attitude by the team members

  • Stress and emotions are managed well

  • Behaviours are aligned to the team and organisational values

  • There is a continuous improvement spirit towards solving problems

  • Team members help each other


  • Alignment to the vision of the organisation

  • A clear 'WHY' the team does what it does

  • Team understands its role

  • Collective team engagement to the desired outcomes


  • Shared objectives (both short and longer-term)

  • Shared responsibility to achieve the team goals

  • The team goals and objectives can be measured

  • Objectives, targets, actions and rates of achievement are reviewed regularly


  • Team meetings are structured and effective

  • The team members appreciate varying styles of communication preferences within the group

  • Regular and consistent communication within the team and externally to others to update progress

  • Team members show empathy for one another when communicating

  • When it is time for someone to talk . . . listen!


  • Team members enjoy being part of the team

  • Deal with conflict or disagreements respectfully and fairly, then move on

  • The team appreciates the negative impact of cliques

  • It is a safe environment

  • I know my team mates have got my back

Building Trust

Here are some key pointers that can help you build trust in your teams:

  • Listening

  • Show Empathy

  • Be authentic

  • Set a good example

  • Be helpful

  • Be humble

  • Transparency

  • Give recognition

So then to explore each of these in more detail:

Listen first

To build trust, you must respect how others think and feel. That's why it's important to listen first.

When you regularly and skillfully listen to others, you stay in touch with their reality, get to know their world and show you value their experience.

Active listening involves asking questions, along with concentrated effort to understand your partner's answers – without temptation to judge. Careful listening helps you identify each individual team member's strengths, weaknesses, and style of communication.

Additionally, you send the message that what's important to them is important to you.


Show empathy

Beyond listening, try your best to understand your fellow team members and their perspectives.

Try putting yourself in their shoes and share their feelings and emotions in that given situation.

Even if you would not necessarily respond in a certain way similar try and appreciate how they do actually feel and draw on when you did feel like that, upset, stressed or annoyed, for maybe something else.

And empathy, not to be confused with sympathy, as this is something else all together!


Be authentic

Authenticity creates trust. We're drawn to those who "keep it real," who realise that they aren't perfect.

They are willing to show those imperfections because they know everyone else has them, too.

Authenticity doesn't mean sharing everything about you, to everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.

It also means being congruent, being consistent with your values, principles and behaviours.


Set a good example

Words can build trust only if they are backed up by actions and behaviours.

That's why it's so important to practice what you preach and set a good example. You can preach respect and integrity all you want but it won't mean anything if people in the team see you behaving contradictory to this.

Be conscious of the effect or impact your behaviour will have on others, either positively or negatively.

Being consistent with your positive behaviours will only help to embed the feelings that you are genuine and that are for 'real', which in turn will influence others' behaviour in a good way and help to build trust.


Be helpful

One of the quickest ways to gain someone's trust is to help that person.

We are all drawn to people who offer to help us – when we feel it is genuine anyway.

It is very easy to feel and spot when someone is not being genuine, although most people will give the benefit of doubt when someone else is trying to help. However, if and when it is seen to not be so genuine or there are hidden motives, it is very likely that any trust will be broken and never to be regained.

Trust takes time to build – by helping people, particularly when they need it will certainly speeds up the trust they feel in you. Continue to help and the trust will grow stronger and stronger and sure enough he help will be returned in due course.


Disagree and commit

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, to "disagree and commit" doesn't mean "thinking your team is wrong and missing the point," which will prevent you from offering true support. Rather, it's a genuine, sincere commitment to go the team's way, even if you disagree.

Of course, before you reach that stage, you should be able to explain your position, and the team should reasonably weigh your concerns.

But if you decide to disagree and commit, you're all in. No sabotaging the project – directly or indirectly. By trusting your team's gut, you give them room to experiment and grow - and your people gain confidence.


Be humble

Being humble doesn't mean that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles.

Rather, it means recognising that you don't know everything.

It means you're willing to learn from others and recognize an ongoing need for self-improvement. It also means being able to say “sorry” when you need to and should do.

It is about not putting your own importance above others.


Be transparent

Not being informed, feeling out of the inner circle or outside of cliques can cause big problems to morale and general team atmosphere.

Even worse is if you think there are secrets being kept from you. This will just feed paranoia and lack of trust.

Communicate clearly and fairly and appreciate people will have different styles of and preferences for how they like to be communicated.

Make sure the overall vision or purpose is clearly communicated and that there is transparency across everyone’s goals, targets, core objectives and responsibilities.


Give recognition

When you give recognition and praise others, for their work and efforts, you satisfy a basic human need.

We all enjoy being recognised to and feeling valued for our work, to varying degrees. When we are appreciated for our efforts, we are naturally motivated and inclined to do more.

However, the recognition must be genuine as we as human beings are very adept at intuitively noticing and felling if it is not actually genuine. It is worse to give it in fake than not to give it at all.

Make the recognition very specific too, such as; what you appreciate, and why. This will help to show how genuine it is.

Giving honest, thoughtful recognition and praise will help to build the confidence of the team members and it encourages them to bring out and make the most of their talent as they will be motivated to achieve more for the team and themselves.

How to foster Psychological Safety on your teams
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Download our worksheet on how to foster psychological safety on your teams.

The following resources were used to support this article and identify the 6 key characteristics of the impacT high performing team model.

  • Harvard Business School (various research, studies, papers)

  • Google Research ‘Aristotle Project’

  • Frederick Herzberg ‘The Hygiene Motivation Theory’

  • Maslow ‘Hierarchy of Needs’

  • Macleod Report 2009 – commissioned by UK Government ‘Engage for Success’ movement

  • Patrick Lencioni ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’

  • Stephen E. Kohn and Vincent D. O'Connell ‘6 Habits of Highly Effective Teams’

  • Bruce Tuckman ‘Stages of Team Development’

  • Popular Authors including; Simon Sinek, Matthew Syed, Tony Robbins, Marshall Goldsmith, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Goleman, Jim Collins, Kevin Kruse The following resources were used to support this article and identify the 6 key characteristics of the impacT high performing team model.

Visit our website here for more free resources

Article by Trevor Norman

Trevor is a leadership coach and cognitive behavioural therapist and specialises in organisational behavioural analytics and team dynamics

179 views2 comments


Some great pointers and references…’s all about TRUST!


Really good read👍

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