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Thriving Teams

Thriving Teams

How effectively is your team interacting? Is it a group of high-performing individuals? Are team members looking after their ‘own patch’?

A high-performing team focuses on its common purpose and goals. Team members work together through strong relationships and shared accountability to deliver exceptional business results.  

The Thriving Teams Model is based on extensive experience creating effective teams, empirical research, evolving good practice, and thought leadership on high-performing teams. This is the model I use when I work with leadership teams, and it is covered in detail in my book, Thriving Leaders: Learn the Skills to Lead Confidently.

There are three fundamental components of a thriving team: 

  • Purpose: why the team exists. 

    • Team purpose

    • Meaningful work

  • Relationships: how the team works together.

    • Psychological safety

    • Trust

  • Accountability: what the team will achieve and by when. 

    • Clear direction

    • Hold each other accountable

The intersection between these components is equally as important. They are:  

  • Connection.

    • Team processes

    • Togetherness

  • Challenge and Support. 

    • Healthy debate

    • Learning

  • Alignment.

    • Team

    • Stakeholders

Thriving Teams


Purpose relates to an intention, a long-term goal and a reason for being. The purpose is why you exist. It should be meaningful, aspirational and motivating. In the Thriving Teams Model, Purpose intersects with Alignment and Connection. This ensures the team has clarity and is aligned on its purpose. When the team connects, it is meaningful and purposeful.

Team purpose

A clear team purpose binds the team to a common ‘why’. Almost all literature on high-performing teams describes the need for a collective purpose. The purpose defines team culture and describes why it exists. It links personal values, meaningful work and collective purpose.

Work with your team to articulate a team purpose statement. It should be one sentence that describes why your team exists. It should be inspiring. It should connect the team. A clear team purpose is key to a thriving team.

Meaningful work

There aren’t many people who come to work to do a bad job. Most people take pride in what they do. The more an individual can connect to the work and the value that their work provides, the more rewarding their work will be. As leaders, we need to make the connection to the impact of their work. This can be easier for people who work in areas where their impact is obvious, for example, health and environment. For less obvious fields, think about what motivates an individual. What drives them? What are their values? This will make it easier to make the connection.


Relationships are critical to thriving teams. Relationships are how we interact and behave with each other. Nearly every study on team effectiveness highlights the importance of the quality of relationships. This doesn’t mean you need to be mates or even like each other but there does need to be psychological safety, trust and a sense of belonging and inclusion for a team to thrive.

Thriving teams demonstrate care and compassion for one another as individuals and as a team. This is why Relationships intersects with Connection and Challenge and Support in the Thriving Teams Model.

Psychological safety

Amy Edmondson describes psychological safety as, ‘ … individuals’ perceptions about the consequences of interpersonal risks in their work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line such as by asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake or proposing a new idea’ (Conley, 2018). Team members won’t be punished or humiliated when speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. In several of Edmondson’s studies, she found that teams with high levels of psychological safety could speak openly, address difficult issues and manage conflict effectively. Psychologically safe teams learn from mistakes. Fear is not a barrier, so they take more risks, appreciate the diversity of thought and are more innovative.


Patrick Lencioni says the foundational pillar of any high-performing team is trust (2019). As leaders, we need to demonstrate vulnerability and build trust and genuine relationships with our team. This doesn't mean sharing your deepest, darkest secrets, it's about showing your human and empathetic side. If team members don’t trust one another, fear becomes a driver of communication, and they become hesitant about being honest and open with each other and unwilling to take responsibility for fear of making mistakes. When you are part of a great team, each member trusts everyone on an emotional level; they are comfortable showing vulnerability and sharing mistakes or weaknesses.


Accountability is delivering on commitment, using initiative to follow through and taking responsibility for an outcome. Accountability intersects with Alignment and Challenge and Support in the Thriving Teams Model. Accountability within a team is ‘what’ you will achieve and by ‘when’.

Clear direction and expectations

A strategy is a big picture, it’s a long-term view of what you want to achieve as a team. This clarity of direction alleviates ambiguity and confusion about where you are headed. Once you are clear on the strategy, you can determine how to operationalise the strategy by setting goals to get there. You will have long- and short-term goals. It is important to be clear about what success looks like if you achieve those goals. Be open and share your expectations with your team. Ambiguity can lead to underperformance and slow decision-making. When expectations aren’t clear, it is more difficult to hold people accountable.

Hold each other accountable

Thriving teams hold one another accountable without the need to be driven by the leader. Lencioni shares that, ‘accountability can be achieved when the team members demonstrate a commitment to agreed standards of performance and decisions’. Teams will share accountability voluntarily and ensure other team members stick to those decisions and standards. This frees leaders from being the sole provider of accountability and team members can rely on each other to monitor each other's performance. It is difficult to hold individuals accountable for their part of a decision or agreement if they have not contributed to the decision-making process, do not have buy-in or lack clarity on the desired outcomes.


Connection is about having meaningful and purposeful reasons to connect and having simple team processes and ways of working. It also creates opportunities for non-work-related conversations to build relationships and team cohesion.

Team processes

Thriving teams have meaningful and purposeful connections. They create opportunities for the team to come together and discuss what is important. They collaborate with purpose. They have meaningful content to share, make decisions on, problem-solve and collaborate.


Togetherness is the quality time you spend together as a team. It is also how you spend time when you are not physically together, for example, virtual interactions and phone calls. Relationships are built when we are together, but we don’t always have the luxury of spending time face to face. High-performing teams communicate regularly even if they are not together.

Challenge and Support

Thriving teams have challenging debates. They can manage conflict healthily. They challenge with a supportive intention that drives robust ideas and team growth. Thriving teams also support each other. They ask for help when they are struggling and don’t feel they will be reprimanded or judged for doing so. Thriving team members have each other's backs.

Healthy debate

Psychological safety and trust need to be in place for teams to challenge each other constructively and have passionate debates around issues and decisions that are key to the team's success. Members of a high-performing team will challenge, question and disagree with the intent of finding the best decision for the team.


Support can come in many shapes and sizes. Thriving teams need to know that their teammates will follow through on commitments. When there are trusting relationships, team members feel comfortable sharing if they are not meeting deadlines, if they do not have the capability and need the complementary skill set of the team. Being able to rely on one another for support brings strength to the team.

Teams learn just as individuals do.


Alignment of goals enables strategy. Alignment is the commitment to the way forward for the organisation or team. It requires clarity on expectations and understanding the direction of the organisation for the team and with internal and external stakeholders.


In thriving teams, team members can disagree and have diverse viewpoints—this promotes creativity and innovation. Alignment does not mean agreement. It means there is a commitment to the way forward where the team needs to be aligned and have a united front. There are no side conversations, meetings after meetings or comments against the direction. 


Organisations are complex adaptive systems. Everything is interconnected. The team does not work in isolation. Some of the external pressures include parallel work, processes, matrix models, and relationships between teams and with internal and external stakeholders. Considering the impact of external factors, pressures and influences are important when understanding a high-performing team.

Thriving teams have a clear team purpose and strong relationships through psychological safety and trust. They are accountable to each other and aligned on the direction. They connect in a meaningful way, and challenge and support each other.

If you’d like to understand more about how I work with leadership teams to be high-performing please get in touch. Or if you’d like to order a copy of my book you can order here.




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