Is your team more than the sum of its parts?


It never ceases to amaze me how the capabilities and skills of each team member are often an incredibly poor reflection of team performance. In sport, this has been famously demonstrated by the ‘Galácticos policy’ at Real Madrid Football Club in the early 2000s, which aimed to recruit superstars from the world of football at the current time, including David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo. Despite initial success, this policy was widely perceived to be a failure.1 In business, it has perhaps been even more famously revealed by the downfall of Enron, whose extensive talent attraction policies failed to save them from their toxic culture.2

When viewed in light of psychological research, both of these findings should not be surprising. Various studies have highlighted that although individuals’ skills and capabilities are important, team performance is far from a simple sum of each team member’s abilities.3

This suggests that whilst talented employees may facilitate high performance, they aren’t guaranteed to. It is important to attract and retain talented employees, but it’s also incredibly important that they come together to form a high performing team. Research from areas as diverse as business, sport, aviation, medicine and the military has taught us that high performing teams require the following five components.


1.  Shared understanding

Team members need to have shared understanding and objectives so that they can collaborate effectively towards their goals. This understanding should not only include what is happening within the team, but also what is occurring externally, to allow team members to collectively act in the most appropriate manner.

2.  Emotional stability

Team members will have to do more than simply ‘get along’ to foster high performance. They need to share mutual trust, believe that teamwork is the best way to achieve objectives, and engage in constructive conflict to push for greater levels of performance.

3.  Efficient processes

High performing teams tend to consistently produce the most effective outcomes with the greatest efficiency. Achieving this requires effective communication strategies to ensure that knowledge is shared among team members on an ongoing basis. What’s more, through their high levels of situational awareness, high performing teams can skillfully sequence, coordinate and orchestrate their activities.

4. Effective leadership

It goes without saying that the best teams have some of the best leaders. That said, teams don’t necessarily need a single leader, as sometimes the best teams have leadership roles that flex according to expertise. However, whoever the leader is, high levels of vision, challenge and support are vital to high and sustainable performance.

5. Psychological edge

In sport, it’s often said that the best teams are those which are able to ‘grind out’ difficult, narrow victories over their competitors. These are the teams with high levels of psychological edge. In particular, teams with high psychological edge have team members who can support one another when facing challenges, stress or setbacks. These teams are also better able to control their momentum, both capitalising on situations where they’re ‘on a roll’ and quickly locating and changing the source when team performance is in a downward spiral.  



In this blog, I’ve only touched on five factors that distinguish high performing teams from solely functioning ones. Nonetheless, these core components make clear that a band of high performing individuals really isn’t enough for great team performance. So, having reached the Champions League semi-final this week, Real Madrid’s future success in this competition definitely hinges upon their team being more than the sum of its parts. 




1  Balague, G. (2015, May 14). Spain's critics question Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' philosophy. Retrieved from

2  Gladwell, M. (2002). The talent myth: Are smart people overrated? The New Yorker. Retrieved from

3  Tziner, A. & Eden, D. (1985). Effects of crew composition on crew performance: Does the whole equal the sum of its parts? Journal of Applied Psychology, 70(1), 85-93.

How would you rate this content?

Like this content? Read our blog on creating a successful environment

Read blog here