Building a High Performing Team – It’s More Than The Warm and Fuzzies

As Patrick Lencioni (author of team management books), states, “teamwork is a strategic choice.”  In fact, a high performing team can be the difference that makes the difference in terms of realizing your sales, profits, market share, customer satisfaction and engagement targets.

Frequently I hear my clients acknowledge the importance of team development, yet in the face of competing priorities; the other priorities most often take precedence.  Team development falls to the wayside when it is not earmarked as a strategic advantage to organizational success.

Team members need time to get to know one another – truly get to know each other – so they can establish trust, allowing them to work through challenges and opportunities.  Without trust, the likelihood of building a high performing team is low.

Trust is the foundation

A lack of trust among team members has negative impacts on both the team and organizational performance. I have observed the following behaviours when there is low trust in a team:

  • story-making
  • gossip
  • politicking
  • putting themselves above others
  • documenting everything (to CYA)
  • avoiding difficult conversations and conflict, or
  • treating everything as a conflict/battle – needing to be right
  • turning a blind eye to sub-standard behaviour/output from other team members
  • bullying

Building trust requires the right (safe) space and structure for authentic conversations to occur and for the ‘real’ issues to emerge.  Ultimately, what solidifies people’s trust in others comes from:

  • congruency between what a team member said they would do and doing it, i.e., walking the talk
  • deepening one’s own understanding (empathy) about other team members’ perspective(s)

Why it’s So Hard

When I ask individuals to reflect upon what being part of a high performing team is like, they have no difficulty finding an example; everyone has been part of a great team!

Why then, when most of us know the elements to a high performing team, are there many teams struggling?

Several factors contribute to this.  Here are a few examples I believe thwart the development of a high performing team.

Lack of ownership

  • Leaders often delegate team development to HR or a consultant and want them to ‘fix it’ without truly owning this as their strategic initiative.  It’s perfectly acceptable for the leader to leverage the skills from HR or an external consultant, but they must continuously message and model the behaviours that align with a high performing team, and ensure the conditions are set for success.
  • Team members see their leader as the one to ‘own’ the team development and often don’t take equal ownership to build a high performing team. (i.e., language used includes ‘your team’ instead of ‘our team’).

Losing team focus once positive gains are realized

  • Team development takes time.  When positive traction is made with the team, leaders and team members often shift the team development to the back burner and prioritize differently.  Like any sports team working drills and practicing regularly, all teams require this type of discipline to be ahead of the game.

Confusion of YOUR team

  • Leaders need to build both the teams they lead, as well as the team they are a member of (i.e. Leadership Team).  This can sometimes create confusion in determining which your ‘priority’ team is.  According to Lencioni, the team you are a member of (versus the one you lead) is your team #1.

Missing opportunities to bridge gaps in team development

  • Every team goes through natural stages of development from forming to storming to norming and performing.  When there are changes to team members, the team leader or the team members must bring new individuals into the fold, create the integration and linkages and ensure they are clear regarding purpose and roles.

Not providing timely and specific feedback

  • A high performing team means that each team member holds one another accountable to the behaviours they committed to and the outcomes they’ve agreed to.   Rather than taking the time to reinforce positive behaviours or provide feedback for improvement, leaders and team members often turn the other cheek.  Feedback mechanisms are critical to ensuring responsiveness and adaptation – making teams more competitive and agile in the marketplace.

I don’t have the time to….”

  • While leaders will often espouse the importance of ‘team development’, and may even commit to an offsite event or a team assessment, the ongoing sustainability of a high performing team (what I call the hard stuff), often gets missed and the team’s performance stagnates or declines.

Not dealing with the ‘real’ stuff

  • Being vulnerable and building trust means sharing authentically and admitting to what you aren’t good at or a commitment you didn’t meet. In this case, the team dialogue can be tense and uncomfortable. However, it is a critical component to building a high performing and trusting team.  When our egos are not in check, and team members don’t feel safe, they likely won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other and say what they really think and feel.  This is a performance killer.  The leader’s role is pivotal in building the environment to allow for courageous and straight dialogue, and often must be the one to model first.


What Part Can You Play in Building a High Performing Team?

If leading (or part of) a team that is not high performing, begin by:

  1. Committing to team development as a strategic priority for your organization.  State it, document it, and share it. Reserve (and preserve) this team time for a year; hold these times as sacred.
  2. Articulating a clear vision, team purpose and role clarity to ensure focus and alignment of effort.
  3. Working with an experienced consultant to build a high performing team.  S/he can be your coach and your team’s coach.  As a member (and leader) of this team your focus has to be on you and your team.  Building trust and bringing your authenticity is critical. Having a seasoned facilitator design the structures and facilitate conversations for your team allows you to hone in on your part.
  4. Agreeing on team principles and values to create shared ownership amongst the team members and establish the charter to guide behaviours.
  5. Establishing team commitments to work through difficult conversations and emerging issues.
  6. Ensuring role clarity and necessary processes and tools are in place for each team member.
  7. Walking the talk – behaving according to your team principles and provide feedback to each other when displaying the expected team behaviours and calling each other on it when behaviours are not aligned with the team commitments.

Team development is much more than the warm and fuzzies people often associate with it.  It makes good sense to prioritize this as a strategic focus and to honour this commitment.

For more information on how to build a high performing team, check out Patrick Lencioni’s work on teams ( or email Erica Groschler at TPS Consulting at

2 Responses

  1. This is an excellent article. As well as my professional role as an independent consultant in leadership and people development, I am also a church warden and within our church our current focus is on building leadership capability within small groups.

    1. Thank you Lesley – I’m glad you liked it and more to come on topics regarding leadership. Please feel free to subscribe to receive my blogs monthly. Warmly, Erica


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