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Three qualitative skills critical to building a high-performing team

Bryan Powell, Senior Director, Practice Management, highlights three qualitative skills that are critical to an advisory team’s ability to reach its full potential.

Bryan Powell, PCC, CPBA, CPMA

Bryan Powell, PCC, CPBA, CPMA

Senior Director, Practice Management

Mar 12, 2024
7 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Qualitative skills such as compassion, consistency, character, and competence are just as important in building a high-performing team as more concrete abilities and strengths.
  • Trust, accountability, and conflict are three foundational, interconnected areas that teams should focus on to reach their full potential.
  • Building trust allows teams to engage in productive conflict, which in turn gives team members permission to hold each other accountable in a positive way. This helps foster conversations focused on recognizing achievements as well as identifying opportunities for growth.

One of the things I enjoy about my role as a coach and consultant for financial professionals is travelling around the country to speak at conferences. These events give me the opportunity to speak with groups of leaders about how they can set a positive tone for their team members in areas that are sometimes difficult to discuss.

Recently, I was traveling throughout Florida, which seems to be prime conference season in February given the warm, sunny weather. During my speaking engagements, I asked the groups in attendance to consider how they’re exploring and enhancing the complementary skills among their team members.

When most people hear the word “skills,” they tend to think of concrete, measurable abilities and strengths, such as communication or analytic skills. But qualitative skills – such as compassion, consistency, character, and competence – are just as critical to a team’s ability to reach its full potential. These qualitative skills, however, are not only inherently difficult to measure, but they can also stir emotions such as anxiety or frustration.

To help ease the potential discomfort around the topic, I’d like to highlight three qualitative skills that I feel are critical to success and discuss how you can work to enhance them within your team.


Many leaders take trust for granted given their title or status within the team. As a coach, it’s critical that I earn the trust of team members I work with so they will say the things they need to say, and not just what they think everyone wants to hear.

When I relay this to leaders there’s usually an “ah-ha” moment as the realization sinks in that trust is never a given – it’s something that takes time, effort, and focus. Furthermore, building trust isn’t a check-the-box exercise, but rather something that requires ongoing practice. This may include building action plans around areas such as compassion and consistency to increase the level of trust among team members.

The payoff, however, is invaluable. Building a culture of trust empowers all members of the team to speak up and contribute their unique perspectives to help advance the firm’s growth. Trust also allows teams to work through challenges the firm may face. In fact, it’s those difficult times when trust is most critical, because even if the confidence of the team is shaken, members still need to feel confident in their ability to speak openly and honestly.

As an intangible concept, trust can be difficult to measure. To help teams assess where they stand, I’ve developed an exercise I conduct with teams where I ask members to assign a “trust score” between one to five, with one being a strong attribute on their team and five being one of their biggest opportunities for improvement. At your next team meeting, consider using this exercise and asking members the following questions:

– Where do you feel we fall on a score from 1-5 in terms of trust?

– How can we enhance our trust between all of us on a consistent basis?

– What are some specific instances where we built and lost trust between us?


This is another area that creates quite a stir when I bring it up at conferences or in coaching sessions. Most teams shy away from the topic of conflict because they view it as wholly negative – a perspective that is usually caused by a lack of trust within the team.

Teams that have established a high level of trust, however, know that they can challenge each other without judgment and understand the value of productive conflict.

At the heart of productive conflict is the idea that if people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in. As Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, said, “When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer.”

Developing a culture within the team that encourages members to engage in productive conflict allows members to collaborate, innovate, and pursue success at the highest level. When individuals put aside their personal judgment, their diverse experience and skills can allow the team to reach its full potential. Without trust, however, your team can get stuck, feel transactional, and lack ownership, thereby hindering the progress of the organization.

Here are some questions to discuss at your next team meeting around the important skill of productive conflict:

– How can we participate in productive conflict as a team moving forward?

– What rules of engagement do we need as a team so that we leave our judgement at the door and practice curiosity?

– How should we communicate when we feel that conflict discussions have turned negative to get us back on track?


The mere mention of the word “accountability” tends to spark fear and anxiety when I bring it up with teams. Most people have been conditioned to view the concept as negative, so even though I present accountability as a positive skill that helps build team cohesion, it’s not surprising that it tends to make team members anxious.

And I can relate. My father was in the military and spoke regularly throughout my childhood how it was his role to “hold me accountable.” While I appreciate his intent, I believe a more effective approach is to encourage others to hold themselves accountable, rather than take that burden on yourself.

As leaders and team members, we need to do a better job of framing accountability as a positive driver for growth. The topic of accountability tends to arise when we are not hitting our goals, but often gets swept under the rug so as not to disrupt the harmony on the team. On the other hand, when we create an environment where we can hold each other accountable without fear of judgment, it allows us to understand how we may need to pivot to reach our goals as a team.

Here are a few questions to address with your team to help reframe accountability as a positive concept:

– What does accountability mean to us as a team?

– How can we discuss accountability in terms of supporting each other to reach our goals?

– How can we leave our judgment behind when we talk about accountability?

When I meet with teams, I always stress that my recommendations are not meant to imply there is something broken that needs to be fixed. Rather, my goal is to provide guidance on how teams can elevate their performance to reach their full potential.

The three qualitative skills I’ve discussed here are foundational, interconnected pieces of pursuing that next level. Building trust allows your team to engage in productive conflict, which in turn gives team members permission to hold each other accountable in a positive way. This helps foster conversations focused on recognizing achievements as well as identifying opportunities for growth.

All too often, teams are missing one or two of these pieces due to past experiences or learned behaviors. If your team is going to reach new heights, I believe it starts with focusing on these three qualitative skills so you can get curious together about how they can be expressed and developed consistently.

Think about how team members can “contract” together to engage in areas such as productive conflict and accountability. Then, consider how you are building trust as a team in areas such as compassion, consistency, character, and competence.

If you need assistance engaging with your team in these discussions, please reach out to me or your local Janus Henderson Director so we can support your success as you work to elevate your team to its true potential.

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