Great companies have high performance teams. How are such teams assembled? What are the common traits of these top caliber teams?

Think of your team as an Olympic team. Olympic athletes are at the top of their game. Olympians think and know they can win. They do everything within their power and control to set themselves up for success. This does not mean that Olympians win every time, but they leave nothing on the table each time they compete.

The best teams operate like Olympians. The best leaders operate like coaches of an Olympic team. They surround themselves with Olympic athletes who consistently give 100% effort, want to win, and believe that they can and will win.

There is quite a bit of research on common traits for Olympians. These behaviors are similar traits needed for high performers throughout business as well as sports.

High performing Olympians:

1) Are Risk Takers

Olympians expect adversity. Olympic athletes are willing to step outside their comfort zone, to forge into new ground. Olympic athletes are not afraid of failure. In fact, they welcome failure. They realize we learn and grow more from our failures than our successes. Strong performers have the courage to take risks and push their boundaries. This leads to growth, development and higher performance. Nadia Comaneci, Gold Medal Gymnast explained, “I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.”

2) Control Their Thoughts and Emotions

Olympians understand the power of thoughts and emotions. They focus on being positive and optimistic. Olympians view their glass as half-full rather than half-empty. They motivate themselves by thinking what is possible, not by focusing on hurdles and obstacles. Olympians know they can control only their own thoughts, reactions, and feelings, not what others think or do. They focus on what is within their own control and do not worry about the rest. Venus Williams, tennis champion and Olympian, explains how controlling your thoughts are vital, “Tennis is mostly mental. You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”

3) Have Purpose and Vision

Olympians have purpose and vision. They have a clear mental image of what they want and where they plan to go. Olympic athletes visualize what it will feel like to break that finish ribbon or touch the wall first. They imagine the winning moment involving all senses – see who will be there, feel the energy, hear the crowd. Olympians have been training their entire lives for this very moment. They feel strongly about what they are doing and why. They know their purpose, and this motivates them every day. Muhammad Ali, Olympic Gold Medal boxer, stated this well, “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”

4) Surround Themselves with Other Olympians

Olympians surround themselves with strong teammates. Olympic teams are filled with A-players. Everyone on the team is at the top of their game. People do better when surrounded by others who are incredible at what they do. This elevates each individual as well as the entire team. Olympians don’t strive to be the big fish in a small pond. They want to compete with and against the best of the best. They want to join teams where every person is top talent and a challenger. This makes everyone more likely to improve and win. Teams win together, with and because of each member on the team. Michael Jordan, Basketball Hall of Famer and Olympian talks about the importance of teamwork, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

5) Believe

There is one trait that is consistent with top Olympic athletes: Belief. Olympians believe in their heart of hearts that winning is possible. They know exactly what needs to be done to win, and they focus on achieving every milestone to get there. To win the Gold, Olympians set new records and push the limits of what others think is possible. To achieve big, one must think and believe big. Florence Griffith-Joyner, Gold medalist in track and field stressed the importance of belief, “I believe in the impossible because no one else does.”

You want to be on a high performing team that operates like Olympians? Think and act like an Olympian. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and take risks. Control your thoughts, as you are what you think. Find purpose in what you do and visualize your own success. Remember, the team matters. Surround yourself with other champions. Lastly and most importantly, think big, and you will achieve big.


  • Kelly Breslin Wright

    Board Director at Fastly, Lucid, Amperity, and Even. Instructor, UW Foster. Former EVP Sales, Tableau.

    Kelly is a Board Director at Fastly (NYSE : FSLY), Lucid, Amperity, and Even. She teaches Go-To-Market Strategy at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. She also advises companies and is active in multiple organizations focused on promoting women on corporate boards. Kelly recently retired from her operational role at Tableau Software after 12 years. She joined Tableau as the company's tenth employee and first salesperson and helped grow Tableau into a multi-billion dollar public company as a key member of the executive team. She grew Tableau's worldwide sales and field operations from zero to $850m in revenue and managed over half of the global team as the company grew to 3400 employees. Kelly speaks and writes regularly on topics including sales, culture, high performance teams, operational excellence, diversity, scaling, and women in leadership.