High-Performance Team

How to build a High-Performance Team

A lot has been written about this topic. I would like to keep it simple.  

For me a high-performance team is:

  • A team that is truly cohesive, aligned and trusting.
  • Everyone has each other’s back and people feel they are in it together.
  • Team members address and discuss any topic, no matter how sensitive or difficult – in an open, honest, authentic, courageous, effective and respectful way.
  • People give feedback, coaching and hold each other to account.
  • Everyone is comfortable taking a stand and being explicit about what they are committing to.
  • And lastly – there is no tolerance for gossip, blame, and negative conversations.

So, how do you develop a High-Performance team?

Here is a simple and powerful four-step approach for starting the process:

Step One – Choose high-performance:

First, you have to make sure your team members genuinely choose to become a high-performance team. Becoming a powerful team is no small task. It is a challenging roller coaster ride with some high points and many low points along the way. It requires a huge commitment. You can’t assume that people want it enough that they will do whatever it takes. Also, if you are the leader or manager of a team, you can’t mandate it.

At the middle manager level, you don’t need to have every manager fully committed to high performance. You need enough of the managers; a critical mass. However, at the senior-most leadership team, nothing less than a genuine commitment by 100% of the team will be enough.

Once you have determined that all your team members are genuinely on board and committed to doing whatever it takes to go the whole way in order to become a high-performance team you can begin the forming work.

Step Two – Take stock of your starting point:

In order to reach the next level you have to first take an honest look at your starting point; your current reality – especially the areas where you and your team members have the biggest high-performance deficits and gaps.

It’s not enough to just be honest about the gaps. You have to own them too. Even if you didn’t start or cause them; even if they began a long time before you came on board.

Team members that keep blaming others or circumstances for their lack of team effectiveness will not be able to become a high-performance team. Why? Because one of the key characteristics of a high-performance team is its members’ ability to always take responsibility.

By owning I do not mean that your team members have to beat themselves up or feel guilty. You have to be able to see your circumstances at least from the standpoint that you and your team members had something to do with your lack of high performance.  Perhaps you caused it. Perhaps you tolerated it. Perhaps you were blind to it. But, you had some role in it, especially if it has been there for a while.

It would be much more powerful if your team members can look beyond and take full responsibility for their misbehaviors. For example, instances where people didn’t communicate or collaborate; they looked out for their own agendas, or they sold out and didn’t act with courage.

Step Three – Create a bold strategy worthy of high-performance:

A team can only become a championship team if its members are aiming to win a championship, and they have to rise to the occasion in order to win it.

So, in order to become a high-performance team, your team has to create a bold vision and strategy; one that would require you all to interact and operate at a significantly higher level than you ever have.

Obviously, your vision has to be desirable. But, it also has to represent a stretch end-result that, even though your team members may not yet fully know how to achieve, you all believe it is achievable.  Make sure you also design and outline the plans for executing and delivering on your plan.

If you do a good job in this step, everyone should feel excited about the aspirational future they created.

Step Four – Align on ground rules for working as a high-performance team:

Once the external game is set up you should spend some time on your team’s internal game. You and your team should align on simple and powerful ground rules for how you will work together as a high-performance team.

You should think about things like:

  1. Addressing issues directly and quickly and not letting issues fester
  2. Speaking with one voice
  3. Recognizing each other’s efforts and achievements

Team principles and ground rules are a great way to cement commitment and begin to turn commitment into action. Keeping the ground rules simple, clear and plain language – not PPT language – will make them more powerful.

In this step, you should also discuss anything else your team members may need in order to feel equipped to stay the course, no matter what, and deal with the inevitable ups and downs of your future journey.

I have helped many teams reach high-performance, and to be honest, taking this game on is demanding and challenging. However, if you stay the course, it is actually very energizing and rewarding. In fact, people often remember these bold initiatives as the highlight of their career.


Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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