“Families that play together, stay together”, so goes the time-worn proverb.

And, it turns out, a variation of sorts is also true of teams at work:

Teams that stay together, excel together.

Two studies tell the story.

A NASA study found that fatigued crews who had a history of working together made about half as many errors as crews composed of rested pilots who had not flown together before. So a team that knows and trusts one another is twice as effective even if it’s worked longer and harder than a newly formed team. That’s quite remarkable.

Another study showed that the Wallabies enjoyed their highest success rate as an international sports team when a core of five players or more had played together for at least four years. Why? Because the players had spent enough time together competing in high pressure situations to trust each others’ decisions and back each others’ strengths.

In other words, just as experience is important to individual performance – shared experience is equally as important when it comes to team performance. So what does all this mean for teams that aspire to elite performance at work ?

Four things to keep top of mind:

  1. Great teams take time to develop. And the more complex the work is, the greater the time required to achieve peak performance. In our line of business, I’ve found that fund managers need their core team to have worked (and relaxed) together for about five years, before they are even capable of elite performance.
  2. The real currency of elite team performance is trust, not time. Trust in each others’ abilities, values and intentions. Time is necessary but not sufficient. Time needs to combine with talent, pressure and strong leadership to generate the necessary trust between team members.
  3. High turnover is lethal to elite team performance. Some turnover in staff is inevitable, even desirable. People relocate, travel and feel the urge to try something new. Some are not suited to the job and need to be redirected to another career. Still, the aim of any healthy corporate culture is to achieve a high level of stability in its core team. This means turnover of less than one in five (20%) in any given year.
  4. Leadership matters because it accelerates trust. A great team culture reduces unwanted staff turnover, promotes information sharing between team members and cultivates a “safe to fail” environment.

So, the next time you need to choose a key supplier, ask yourself the question: has this team spent enough time working together under pressure with the right leadership ? If so, back them with all you’ve got, they won’t let you down.