Researchers have long recognised that three psychological needs are essential for high-performing teams: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Image Credit: Unsplash/Antonio Janeski

What transforms a regular team into a high-performing one?

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn that when we ‘honour’ the psychological needs of employees, it results in a win for the whole organisation.

According to an October 2021 report in the US-based business news website Harvard Business Review (HBR), researchers have long recognised that three psychological needs are essential for high-performing teams: autonomy, competence and relatedness. The last, which is the desire to feel connected to others, is the trickiest to manage. It’s difficult enough finding people who are the right fit for the company – how do you get them to like each other?

A 2021 study by the US-based business consulting company ignite80, and communication software company Front, surveyed 1,106 office workers to figure out the answer, and to determine what high-performing teams do differently.

Here’s what they found:

1. They aren’t afraid to pick up the phone

According to a 2017 study by UK telecommunications regulatory authority Ofcom, telephone calls are becoming increasingly less common in the workplace. The study found that 54 per cent of consumers preferred using social messaging channels for customer engagement over legacy channels like phone and email. But this is not the case with high-performing teams. Ignite80’s study found that such team members tend to communicate more frequently, in general, and are considerably more likely to interact with colleagues via phone calls than their less successful peers. The science supports their behaviour. A 2021 study in the US-based Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the idea that phone calls are awkward and uncomfortable is a misperception – they have been found to help strengthen relationships, prevent misunderstandings, and result in more fruitful interactions.

2. They are more strategic with their meetings

Poorly run workplace meetings are notorious for draining time, costing the organisation billions of Dirhams, and creating employee dissatisfaction. High-performing teams are aware of the common pitfalls of such meetings, so they evade them by incorporating best practices for productivity. The study found that such teams are 39 per cent more likely to require pre-work from meeting participants, 26 per cent more likely to introduce an agenda, and 55 per cent more likely to begin with a check-in that keeps team members aware of one another’s progress. By ensuring efficiency and collaboration, such teams make better use of meetings, and foster more productive, engaging interactions.

3. They bond over non-work topics

Managers may frown upon conversations that digress from work, but according to a 1998 study in the Western Journal of Communication, discussing non-work topics helps employees foster authentic connections, identify shared interests and develop deeper relationships with their team mates. The best teams, then, aren’t more effective because they work all they time – they are more effective because they have connected in genuine ways, and have bonded closely, resulting in better teamwork when it’s crunch time.

4. They give and receive appreciation frequently

Recognition has been found to be a more powerful motivating force than monetary incentives, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour. When team members feel valued, appreciated and respected by people whose opinions matter to them, it motivates them and keeps them interested. The ignite80 study found high-performing teams received more frequent appreciation at work, both from colleagues and their managers.

5. They are more authentic at work

Members of high-performing teams are more likely to express positive emotions with their colleagues – they do so by complimenting, joking with each other and teasing each other. In emails, this often looks like exclamation points, emojis and GIFs. Interestingly, the ignite80 study also found that team members were comfortable enough to express negative emotions at work too – they would complain and be sarcastic with team mates just as easily as they would laugh and joke. According to a March 2018 study in the Yonsei Medical Journal, suppressing negative emotions is cognitively expensive – attempting to hide authentic feelings leaves people with less mental sharpness for actual work. Having the psychological safety to vent or express negative emotions occasionally, leads high-performing teams to yield a more positive performance at work.

What do you think of these benchmarks for high-performing teams? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at