Team High Performance: The Culture Work of The Century

Synchronized Swimmers Team Building

The Team – not the individual – is the new building block of performance in every organization across all industries.

To out-pace and out-innovate competitors who are moving ever-faster, you need self-responsible, independent, collaborative work teams who move quickly through the stages of forming, norming, and storming – and get  PERFORMING fast.


Complexity is high in today’s technology-driven world. An individual no longer holds sufficient perspective or knowledge to solve complicated problems in an economy driven by speed of change. Teams must be designed to handle virtual, global, customer-centric, fluid work processes.

Further, these days the best and brightest talent call the shots about where they work and for how long. Talented people want to be part of a team that is winning. They align their talents with a company that fosters a culture of collaboration and meaning. They will not suffer old-school management tactics, politics over performance, slackers, or lackluster work ethics.  (Common trip-up factors that de-rail team performance.)

High-performance teamwork is the cultural change of this century.

The Team Performance State.

Think sports.

It’s game day.  You know the goal. You’re prepared with a clear strategy. You’ve rehearsed the pitfalls. You’re physically and mentally ON.

In a performance state, an athlete is ready, excited, energized.

Not burned out, feeling overworked, or confused about constant change.

Athletes on a team are ready to win. They feel lucky to be on your team. They know they are a valuable contributor by their presence on the team, and because you’ve told them.

When a sports team is not winning, it is widely accepted the problem is not lack of individual talent or the technical skills of the coach. It is understood individual talent in those areas is the baseline for winning.  However, trust in leadership, the collective mental beliefs and attitudes about winning, how people on the team “gel” – becomes the factor that differentiates the good from the great. We know in sports, that team culture is more important for sustained winning and performance.

If ever there was a time to invest in the development of the team-based culture in organizations, the time is now. We are in an era in which people are increasingly disengaged, unemployment is low (meaning top talent have choice), competition moves faster, and today’s razor-thin lean structures need smart, committed employees to stay in front of customer’s expectations.

Six Essentials of Building a Team Performance Culture

  • Inspiring, Clear Goal. The team leader needs to spend time formulating a clear definition of winning. (Generally this is not the team’s job, it is the leaders’ job.) Good goals are inspiring when they meet two criteria: (1) The goal feels possible but not easy, and (2) The leader is excited about it. The “Why this is important” is clear to everyone .
  • Invested Leader who cares and can remove barriers or obstacles. The leader must show they are invested in the team’s winning, without conveying undue stress or pressure. (Which leads to shortcuts and cheating. NE Patriots style.)  If the leader is too hands-on the team never has a chance to own the result. If they are too hands-off or don’t provide structure for accountability and effective meeting practices, the team rarely achieves high performance.  Think of the coach who drills the team during practice, is constantly working the game plan on the sidelines during the game to devise winning plays. But everyone on the TEAM plays 150%.
  • Clarity of Roles. Team members may know each others’ job description, but too often little time is devoted to clarifying the team roles.  Such as meeting facilitation, issuing agendas, distributing minutes, timekeeper.  Less commonly discussed strengths and roles each person brings to the team’s trust-building and communication processes – exploring these will set a tone of non-judgment and cooperation. Spend some time defining the desired “team culture” and “team roles” in a fun manner and spirit, and it will pay off.
  • Clarity of Decision Rights. Who’s making the call on a game-changing play? For example, is a customer request worth altering the scope and timeline.  Is that piece of software worth the investment. Many times, it’s “assumed” the decision-maker is known, and yet teams spin around and around sorting it out or escalating – and no one is making the final call. Defining clear decision rights up front helps speed the team’s progress, and provides confidence to everyone.
  • Short-Term Game Plans. I am a fan of the 60-day plan as a structure for fostering quick wins and traction. 60-day goals, activities, and weekly actions. Most teams need a big picture project plan, but keying in on what they will accomplish in a shorter timeline generates focus, urgency and momentum. Long-term project plans often languish in the Land of Competing Projects.
  • Celebrate Progress, Correct Performance. Business is not a world where everyone gets a trophy. It’s important to create a culture of feedback on a team. Two subjects should be discussed (even briefly) every time the team meetings: (1) What’s working well. Wins. Well done’s. Kudos. (2) Take a look at’s. Where we’re stuck. What’s not serving the goal. (NOT talking about failures actually makes the team less confident.)  Make this two-part team conversation a habit and watch how it builds trust, innovation, and performance.

Most organizations will say they need a culture that can be accountable, embrace change, and engage people.

If you are leading such an effort, begin with the team closest to you and start there. Growth is always best begun with a seed that is tended well.

Game On!


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