Relationships in High Performing Teams

by | Feb 28, 2018

Do you want to know quickly if a team is high performing? Then look at their relationships with one another. My husband works in sports, and he likes to term this idea “dressing room culture”. What is happening in the dressing room? How do they treat each other? What are they saying?

When I have studied any high performing team or culture, the basis of the relationships within the team have been critical to how they perform. I like to observe what’s happening between the team members. I ask questions in my head like do they truly do things for each other and the bettering of the group purpose? Or are they motivated by other things? Do they trust and respect each other to be honest and hold each other accountable when they are not performing or does it get left?

I was recently involved with a workshop on this very topic and I loved this framework because of its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s a great measuring stick (but not a complete measure) to what level of performance that team plays at.

So I introduce the Relationship Pyramid. The pyramid that very quickly identifies where each relationship sits.



This is the first level. Where you walk past each other on the way to the lift and acknowledge the other person. It’s called the grunt/nod level because but grunting or nodding are common ways to connect at this level. Besides acknowledgement, there isn’t really any in depth connection happening at this level.

Stuff and Things

This is the level where you speak to one another, recognise each other and feel comfortable to discuss general matters like, “What did you do on the weekend?” or “Did you watch the game last night?” Conversation is light and allows you to build rapport quickly and tends to stay on the lighter side of topics. Nothing too deep and meaningful happens at this level.


This is the level where you and the other person can talk about others to one another. Not just in a gossip-like way, but in a way that talks through your observations, reflections and thoughts. This is still considered a fairly safe level of interaction because the topic of conversation is not you or the other person. This is where the majority of work relationships stay.



Now we are leveling in the risky. But these two are the breakthrough levels of relationships in a high performing team. Where one feels comfortable enough to share how they feel — the highs and lows and risk how the other reacts to it. This is where things can get deep and meaningful but it does not necessarily mean it is two way at this stage. The great opportunity here is to encourage it to be two way, which leads to the last level in relationship building.

Genuine Conversation

Good, bad, indifferent. This is the level of conversation where anything goes. Where challenging each other is not met with defence, but acceptance. This is the last level of depth in a relationship because each person feels safe to be vulnerable. There is enough trust between them because any feedback, challenges or thoughts are for the purpose of bettering things.

So if you looked at your own team, at what level do you play at with each relationship? Are there ones that are a genuine conversation stages and ones at stuff and things? What can you do to get all your relationships to the same level.

If you’re a leader in your business, I encourage you to consider how you can create environments and conversations which allow you and your team to interact on the self and genuine conversation level. Watch what it does to inspire, motivate and encourage performance.

On all things talent, culture and outsourcing, connect with me on Linked In

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