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  • Writer's pictureThriving Teams Institute

What is a Thriving Team?

We often get asked, “What is a thriving team, and why does it matter?” It is a great question. We will go into detail below, but think about it this way – improved efficiency, employee experience, productivity, and performance follow thriving. If your teams thrive at work, that is a competitive business advantage, which means better business outcomes for your organization. The improved employee experience benefits your organization by accelerating team learning, improving performance, keeping turnover costs lower, and serving to attract talent, which supports talent acquisition and recruiting managers in their roles. Thriving is an outcome; employee experience is how your teams and organization will get there.


First, let’s look at what we mean by a thriving team. Thriving is a complex concept but from a high level can be broken into tow main components: team learning and energy from human connection that works together in a synergistic fashion to make the whole team greater than the sum of its parts.

Based on our experience and research, we describe a thriving team as a securely and socially connected team energized by the state of becoming as the team learns, pushes, and gains momentum toward the vision they are pursuing. Team members know they are supported by their organization and feel psychological security and safety despite the uncertainty of the environment in which they operate.

They compassionately challenge each other to push their limits. Businesses and other organizations that value their people and see them as a competitive advantage seek our services because they want to develop high performing teams and choose to invest in developing their teams to thrive.

Thriving Teams acronym on a rock climbing picture
Thriving Teams Accomplish Hard Things

Why is thriving important?

Organizations need teams, as team-based work is the primary vehicle for getting things done and achieving innovative breakthroughs in today's rapidly changing work and business environment. And generally speaking, team-based work is the means to integrate expertise and perspectives that may result in more effective team learning routines, greater performance, agility, and creativity.

As change accelerates, an organization’s teams need the energy to learn and develop to help the organization remain competitive. New ways are required to develop people, teams, and organizations to learn and stay connected while unleashing the energy for sustained performance.

Moving past employee engagement and focusing on thriving as part of the employee experience is one answer. A thriving team and workforce are not just engaged but a step past engagement. An engaged employee is great, but a thriving employee is operating at the next level. It comes down to energy and learning. A team member and team can be engaged but still be struggling, for example, dealing with symptoms of burnout. Engaged teams give their organizations all their energy but do not necessarily get energy back and recharge. The battery is drained but not recharged.

Thriving teams, on the other hand, give the team and organization their energy but also receive energy from their work on the team as they learn, get energized, and apply what they learned to the problem they are working on. A thriving team renews its own energy. The team that is thriving is actively designing and creating your organization's future. If you want to win the fight for the future, focusing on team development will get you ahead of the game in a turbulent and rapidly changing world that regularly sees new shocks and disruptions. For the organization to do well and sustain that level of performance, its teams must be well.

What is team learning, and how is team energy created on a thriving team?

The importance of team performance has become increasingly more critical, specifically in the ability of a workgroup or team to both learn and perform, adapt to change, innovate rapidly, stay energized, and create well-being for it’s members.

Team-based learning requires a psychologically secure environment where team members feel psychologically safe to share ideas, challenge fellow team members, and experiment, knowing that it could fail. Dr. Amy Edmondson, who researches Team Psychological Safety describes the concept as the beliefs of team members that the consequences of the interpersonal risks of asking for assistance, asking questions, sharing ideas, giving feedback, and making mistakes will not be met with retribution.

However, psychological safety alone is not enough to improve team performance. Teams are systems and need to be led from that perspective. There has to be a spark, a catalyst. Psychologically safe teams can create learning climates where new ideas are shared and expanded. And when the team fails, they learn and pivot, iterating toward a better solution.

The team and employee experience of the positive, energized feeling of being alive is generated from being connected to fellow team members through team-based learning and achieving positive business results, which are an outcome of the team applying what it has learned in the context of their work. As we mentioned before, think of thriving as a renewable human energy source – as long as the team continues to generate energy through team learning and human connection, they can sustain performance.

Why should we strive to thrive?

Here are four ways that Thriving Teams will add value to your organization:

  1. Thriving Teams are secure enough to take intelligent risks, learn, and iterate as they push toward achieving the vision of the business.

  2. Thriving Teams positively embrace the highly dynamic and competitive environment where stability can be viewed as a threat, and constant change is the normal state of business.

  3. Thriving Teams have conflict, but it is productive and leads to better outcomes. Thriving Teams do not have enduring unhealthy conflicts that impact the team as performance and productivity go into a death spiral.

  4. Thriving Teams consistently achieve the goals they set for themselves as they learn and move forward together.

Businesses strive to hire the best and brightest talent to work on their teams. But intelligent people by themselves do not give a company a competitive advantage. Interactions create the team dynamics that build Thriving Teams® and organizations. How they work and learn on teams and how the business invests in their development will provide an organization a competitive edge.

Our research shows that organizations that choose to develop this competitive edge at the core of their strategy will have teams that are always going, always learning, and always ready. When teams are thriving, they are doing more than just surviving and will reduce human resource costs such as absence rate and turnover. In contrast, the return on investment in human capital will increase.

Are you ready to design and build this competitive advantage for your team and organization?

Thriving improves the employee experience. Creating environments where teams can thrive provides organizations advantages in employee experience, engagement, retention, productivity, performance, innovation, and others.

You can learn more about our team development courses here.


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