Building and Sustaining High Performance Teams: The Art of Unleashing Potential

10th August 2021
Paul Ebbs
Associate Director & Lean Coach

The ability to create and maintain high performance teams is critical for any organisation or project in today’s complex and competitive business environment. The question “What makes a great team great?” has been a hot topic in business and academia for many years. In this episode of the WSP Anticipate podcast, Paul Ebbs, Lean Specialist with WSP Middle East is joined by Dave Umstot, Lean Coach, Author, Adjunct Professor at San Diego State University and President of Umstot Project and Facilities Solutions to discuss the critical factors required to set teams up for success.

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WSP Middle East · Building and Sustaining High Performance Teams, the Art of Unleashing Potential


The importance of high performance teams

Regardless of projects types, scope and nature, people remain the common denominator in all of them. Construction projects normally rely on skilled individuals who know very well what they do and exert every effort to optimize their relevant work procedures and techniques. However, it is the integration of these skills, procedures and individuals that matters most.

Building a high-performance team allows this integration to happen and brings people to work collaboratively to achieve a common vision. “Collaboration”, says David Utmost, “is how you get a team to perform but it does not just happen. It needs to be set up, nurtured and sustained.”

What does it mean to collaborate?

A prerequisite to collaboration is trust among team members. To establish trust, psychological safety, vulnerability and empathy are required. An environment of psychological safety is necessary for team members to be able to share their ideas and thoughts. Linked to this is the concept of vulnerability. Building a culture of vulnerability means that team members do not have to be protective or defensive when interacting with one another. This allows them to be open about their feelings and express themselves freely. Empathy also plays a critical role because it makes team members see things in the eyes of others. David says “Every person has information needs so that they can do their jobs and if you do not understand their needs, you will not be able to provide them with the right information.”

What makes a great team great?

The main characteristics of high performance teams include working to achieve a common goal, the ability to make their own decisions and the desire to get better. These three qualities can be referred to using three simple words: purpose, autonomy and mastery.

Understanding the value proposition of a project makes everyone aware of what they need to achieve. Such awareness informs the decisions that are made under project design and construction. Performance metrics help the team be aligned with their goals and informs them about their progress towards achieving the project objectives. Actively shaping the team behaviours and actions to be aligned with the high-performance culture is also important.

Leadership plays a pivotal role in driving the right behaviours and keeping the team aligned to the set objectives. However, motivation matters the most because once team members see value in what they do, they will collaborate. The role of middle management in creating the right conditions for collaboration cannot be overemphasized. Support from senior leadership is important but buy-in from superintendents, project managers and site managers is essential in bringing the team to work together effectively and efficiently.

Diversity boosts success potentials of teams. Interaction by people from different backgrounds, and with different experiences, personalities etc. helps challenge stale ways of thinking and sparks innovation. David comments: “Some of the best ideas that we have seen tend to come from people that historically are not given an opportunity to share their voice. Diversity is a big piece of that because the collective wisdom or potential of all our experiences is much greater than the sum of our individual parts. A fundamental challenge in our industry is that we do not do a good job in unleashing talents to get better project outcomes.”

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