Key Elements of High Performing Teams

Blog Post Enterprise-Wide Transformation

I have had the privilege over the past 30 years of working with professional and collegiate sports teams to discover operationally what comprises the mindset and behaviors of High Performing Teams distinct from just winning teams and applying those distinctions to business leaders.

Gary Cokins wrote an article in Strategy Management in 2014 and he said: “Clearly, the finest companies in the world are the ones where leadership, management and staff share an unrelenting passion to be the best.  How do leaders foster this passion for winning?  Certainly, getting the right people on the team, setting a common goal and enabling success differentiate the best from the rest.  However, there is an intangible in the equation, the importance of which should not be ignored. It’s called chemistry”.

High-performing teams are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success. It’s part of the human condition to want to be part of something special and contribute to making it so. That commitment generates the chemistry needed to significantly outperform all other like teams. It is a powerful possibility and an excellent model for all real and potential teams.

On the road to being a High Performing Team we also need to understand what we would call superstitions, about what makes a High Performing Team. A superstition is something commonly held to be true.

Here are some views common to the world of sports that we would call superstitions that can derail our efforts.

BETTER PLAYERS: Every team is stocked with professionals. This includes ownership, management, coaches and players. There is plenty of SKILL and TALENT. What’s often missing is the ABILITY to access the skill and talent, as a team, in the face of all circumstances. A team is ten times as strong as a group of individuals.

TEAM IS TOO YOUNG OR TOO OLD: An example is people wanted Gordy Howe, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Nolan Ryan when they were in their forties for their talent, yes, but more so for their Presence, i.e. their Leadership.

THE COACH NEEDS TO HAVE PLAYED IN THE “NHL” OR COACHED FOR YEARS IN THE “NHL”: The coach is as successful as the team he/she has to coach. If he/she, the players and the organization are aligned on the principles of the organization, the team can be a High Performing Team every time they are “on the ice”. Red Auerbach, Boston Celtic Hall of Famer never made a basket in the NBA. Chemistry starts with ownership.

WE NEED TO “GET TOUGH”: We don’t need to get tough or soft or some other particular way of being. We need to take responsibility for our teammates success and well-being. We need to be resilient in the face of adversity and “bounce back” together. We need to respect every member of the team.

A Championship culture is a possibility when there is an intention to create an environment that has everyone thrive. Edmonton had that with Wayne Gretsky because he was interested in everyone thriving. He couldn’t cause that to happen with the Kings until there was a shift in being a team. We always can use more leadership and not just from the “STAR”!

Once you understand the superstitions, than you organize your team to embrace and integrate the key commitments of High Performing Teams.

• Responsibility / Accountability: Players choose to be on the team and operate on the team at choice. Players operate from and with a perspective of individual responsibility. Players are clear who is accountable for what and empower those lines of communication.
• Commitment: There is a stated commitment to a big goal – a game worth playing. Each individual is committed to the team’s goals.
There is a commitment both to the team and to each individual winning.
• Unreasonableness: Team members complain only to someone who can do something about it. Team members ensure that their conversations with each other move the team’s commitment forward. Team members are open to say “yes” to requests and there is always full permission to counter-offer or respectfully decline.
• Relatedness: There is relationship of trust among the team and the coaches that make it safe to take risks. Personal concerns or conflicts get resolved inside the team. The coach respects and is committed to the players. Team members speak positively of their teammates and the team in public. Anything can be expressed within the privacy of the team.
• Coaching: Team members are open to coaching – from the coach and from each other. Team members empower the coaches speaking.
• Integrity / Impeccability: How the team operates day-to-day is consistent with the team’s vision/goals and fundamental commitments. Quality is never sacrificed for short-term gains.
• Completion: Team members stand for being whole and complete with each other. All upsets are “cleared” within 48 hours. All communications are responded to within 48 hours (voice mail, e-mail, memo’s, etc.).
When an organization becomes a High Performing Team, there is a united spirit and a can-do morale that is invigorating and inspiring. Then the mission of the executives is to skillfully direct the coordinated action of leadership, coaching and management such that people are inspired in their work and their organization and experience being a stakeholder in the viability, success and reputation of the enterprise; indeed they become responsible for the future itself.