High Performing Teams: The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What Constitutes a High Performing Team?

Effective leadership often requires the ability to develop and sustain a high-performing team.  Yet what constitutes the behavior of a high-performing team remains open for interpretation.  At CPI-Twin Cities, we believe that a high-performing executive team sets organizational direction, makes strategic decisions, executes clear roles, fully leverages unique member talents, and focuses on team success versus individual agendas.  In addition, it is a group that:

  • Is fully engaged and committed.
  • Shares a common vision and team values.
  • Successfully delivers clearly defined business results.
  • Role models team collaboration to lower levels.

If this type of teamwork – both powerful and rare – allows a company to maintain the “ultimate competitive advantage” as Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team suggests, then how do C-level leaders create and support this team experience?  Let’s face it, human beings have strong survival instincts, and exposing vulnerabilities, embracing conflict, holding self and others accountable, and foregoing individual recognition for team success is not easily done – especially in an employment era where long tenure may be a thing of the past.


The Five Functions of a Team

In his model, Lencioni outlined the five functions of a great team.  These functions can be applied in a team-building process and include the following:

  1. Function #1: Building Trust – Members of great teams are confident that their peers’ intentions are good, and there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. They believe their vulnerabilities will not be used against them and can engage in discussion with complete openness.
  2. Function #2: Mastering Conflict – Teams that trust one another engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another in the spirit of discovering the truth, finding the best answers, and making great decisions.
  3. Function #3: Achieving Commitment – Teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around important decisions, even when various team members initially disagree. They are confident that all opinions and ideas have been put on the table and considered while deciding on the best course of action.
  4. Function #4: Embracing Accountability – Teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance do not hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to those decisions and standards. In addition, they do not rely on the team leader as the primary source of accountability; they go directly to their peers.
  5. Function #5: Focusing on Results – Teams that trust one another, embrace conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable set aside their individual agendas and focus on what is best for the team. They do not give in to temptations to place their own needs ahead of the collective results that define team success.

Building Trust is Important

Trust provides the foundation for effective team collaboration.  If members do not feel safe in a group, they will watch for signs of betrayal or disrespect, overreact to threats, become argumentative when they feel slighted, and take feedback too personally.  They may withdraw, or they may overcompensate by dominating the group or positioning for recognition.

Trust within a team does not happen overnight.  It requires consistency in behavior and avoidance of actions that can erode trust.  Common trust-busting behavior that we have observed among  executive-level teams include:

  • Not demonstrating respect for the unique perspectives or skills of team members.
  • Critiquing input into decision-making without letting member express themselves fully
  • Sharing information from team meetings with others that should be kept within the team.
  • Talking negatively about a team member behind his/her back instead of addressing the issue directly with that person.
  • Allowing members to dominate team meetings or pursue individual agendas.

Simple Steps Practiced Consistently

“When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.” (Joe Paterno, American Football Coach)

While team-building may not come naturally for some leaders, it is possible to develop and sustain a high performing team if simple steps can be mastered and put into practice day after day.  Lencioni’s model provides a step-by-step framework for building a highly functional team.  At CPI, we believe this is a competitive advantage worth having.

Clare Cavalier

Clare Cavalier

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