3 Characteristics Of High Performing Teams

February 23rd, 2021 | 5 minute read

In this post we are going to to look at three characteristics of high performing teams, using some key models from Urban Meyer’s well known book “Above The Line”.

To really get teams to perform at the highest level is a challenge, and like everything, it doesn’t happen all at once – you have to work at it and the whole team has to have an unyielding passion to get better every day – it all begins with above the line behaviour.

What Are The Three Characteristics of High Performing Teams?

Above The Line Behaviour

There are two very different types of behaviour when it comes to characteristics of high performing teams – above the line and below the line.

Above The Line Behaviour is intentional, goal focussed and team focussed (with individual ego removed)

Below The Line Behaviour is reactive, non goal focussed and ego driven

The performance of a team rises or falls based on behaviour – high performing behaviour is intentional, purposeful and team focused. But it’s often easier to be impulsive, reactive and let your ego take over – this is below the line thinking and behaviour. Below the line is dangerous as it is often comfortable, convenient and the path of least resistance. It is often directed by impulse or old habits where you react without thinking – this behaviour can be people’s default response.

Above the line behaviour is the foundation of success in anything you do. This must be taught and developed and involves a choice every day to get, and stay, above the line.

It is useful to think about what constitutes above the line behaviour in your business? And what examples you have seen of below the line?

The key is to really embed the above the line behaviour in a way that becomes non negotiable – through your processes, how you reward and recognise, how you train and coach, etc.

No Blaming, Complaining or Getting Defensive

A useful indication of a team, or individual, operating below the line, is when one, or all, of these three things happen: blaming, complaining and defensiveness. When operating from any of these three modes, you and your team will struggle to solve problems, achieve your goals or improve the relationships around you. Ultimately it is impossible to be a high performer when these things are happening. 

Although this is broken into three parts – it actually has one key theme – you have the opportunity to own what’s going on in your life, whether it’s your decisions, your attitude or your work ethic. The only reason why things are currently going the way they are in your life is because of one person – you. 

When you operate from a place of true ownership you can overcome the B, C and D modes that sabotage both your personal development, and the development of your team. To elevate you need to move into creator in the empowerment dynamic, and act as both the coach and challenger to your team to help them also elevate. 


  • You can’t blame anyone or anything for failing. 
  • You can’t blame anyone or anything for your mistakes or your team’s mistakes. 
  • You can’t blame anyone or anything for your performance in life in general. 


  • You can’t complain about your problems. 
  • You can’t complain about the challenges you are encountering. 
  • You can’t complain about your opportunities or your teammates around you. 


  • You can’t lash out and defend your position. 
  • You can’t defend your poor behaviour or poor treatment of people. 
  • You have to own it.

Normally, a bi-product of any of these three things is the drama triangle, and if any are happening in your business it is likely you have drama and internal politics at play.

Utilising The R Factor

The R factor is a very simple, but very impactful equation:

E (event) + R (response) = O (outcome)

This equation teaches something very important about the way life works. We don’t control the events, or directly control the outcome – but we always have control over how we choose to respond – this is the R factor. 

Everyday you meet R factor decisions – you choose the actions you will or will not take to get what you really want out of life – you choose how to interact with people, whether to persevere or give up, which direction to go in, etc. 

Your response is the factor that determines your quality of life. 

Your response is most important when the event is most difficult – the more challenging the event and the more difficult the outcome – the more Above the Line you need to be. You will face situations that require you to elevate. 

The simplest way to consistently sense check whether you are responding in an above the line way is to think – is my response to this event going to take me closer or further away from the desired result? 

How To Determine How Far Away You Are From High Performance

Understanding the characteristics of high performing teams is one thing, but to begin to elevate performance of your team you first need to know where you are starting from. A useful model for determining this is something else Meyer explores, and that we use a version of in our work with clients:

The 10 | 80 | 10 Rule

Think of your team in three groups – the first are the top 10 percenters – people who give all they have, all of the time, who are self disciplined and have a relentless pursuit of improvement – these are the elite – the most powerful component of any business. 

Next are the 80 percenters – they are the majority – people who go to work, do a good job and are relatively reliable – they are, for the most part, trustworthy and hardworking but they don’t have the drive, ambition and vision that the top 10 percenters do. 

The final 10 percenters are uninterested or defiant – they are often just coasting, not caring about reaching their potential . 

The leadership challenge is to move as many of the 80 percenters into the top as you can – if you can expand this into 15 or 20 percent it will mark a measurable increase in the performance of your team. 

Focus your time on developing your top 10 percenters, coaching as many of the 80 percenters into the top as possible, and managing out, or up, the bottom 10 – average simply isn’t an option. 

How To Build High Performance With Your Team:

We have produced a little checklist to put this learning into practice in your business:

  1. Map out your team – who are your top 10 percenters? Who are your middle 80%? And who are your bottom 10%?
  2. For your top 10 percenters – what are you doing to actively retain this group, they should be the people that you want to go above and beyond to keep.
  3. For your middle 80% – what do they need to do to get into the top 10% – have you defined a clear development pathway?
  4. For your bottom 10% – are they on a performance management plan or an exit strategy?
  5. Define what above the line and below the line looks like for you. Find a way to make this visible, understood by all and measurable.
  6. How much blaming, complaining and getting defensive do you have? Explore the drama triangle to understand how much of this exists in your business and how to get out of it. 
  7. Look at the R factor equation – how could you teach this with others in your team so that you have more purposeful responses to events in your business, and less irrational reactions?

For more insight into the training we do with teams, or to understand more about our high performance coaching, drop us a line.


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