What Does It Take to Build a High Performance Team?

I am going to guide you through the eight elements in building a High Performance Executive Team. If you can embody these characteristics in your team, you will be in the top 5 percentile of all executive teams! You will truly stand out from the rest of the pack, both in your company and your industry.

Firstly, I would like to tell you the story of Kevin G. a Vice-President at Roche Pharmaceuticals, and a client of mine. Kevin had just inherited an executive team that was in disarray. The team was underperforming. There were issues with finger pointing, and a lack of team cohesion. I worked closely with Kevin on the principles of building a high performance team and showed him how it can be done. Kevin was brave enough to execute the program without external facilitation, and my role was to coach him through the process. Kevin focused on instilling a vision to rally his team. He then got clarity on what the team values, and how they were to interact; in other words, to what code of conduct will they hold themselves accountable. Throughout the process Kevin involved all of his team members intensely, thereby achieving complete ownership and buy in. Kevin began to see some quick wins, and within a year his team was on its way to high performance. In fact it has become the best performing team for several years running. There is a strong sense of pride and camaraderie, and the energy in the team is palatable. All Kevin did was to apply the eight keys to a great team. You can too.

Before you start the journey in team development, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions, to ensure you are ready for it.

1) Are you willing to shift your own attitude towards putting the team first? As a leadership team leader or member, its more than just showing up; you will need to fundamentally change your approach and attitude. This is because team members feel it when you are committed to them, and conversely, they know when you are not! Here is the good news; being open and willing to take on the new attitude is the most important step. When you start the team transformation process, you will also be taken along for the ride and the experiences you have during the journey will encourage you.

2) Are you committed to the journey, not just to off-sites and interventions? This is fundamental, and one of my missions is to create awareness that we are not talking about team building, we are talking about team transformation. When I speak about building High Performance Executive Teams, many people think it’s about team building and having fun activities and experiences that will build the team spirit. For any of you having attended team building activities and programs, ask yourself “when we returned to the office, did we go back to the same old habits?” If you are committed to the journey, realize that it’s a multiyear effort. Sure, you will get enormous benefits after the first interventions. But the journey to high performance of great team is an continuous one, which in fact never ends.

3) Are you clear that team success implies personal success as well? If you have a chance to be on a great team, or lead a great team, jump on it. It will be an unforgettable experience and will teach you lessons that you can always apply. A key lesson is that being a member or leader of a great team can do wonders for your own success and career. You will realize the benefit of a group of committed people who are rooting for you and are invested in your success. Over my corporate career, there were a few executives who enjoyed the reputation of being ‘great team builders’. Those leaders tended to have the edge in getting ahead. All organizations love leaders who know how to build great teams. There is a premium placed on those who have the track record and expertise. The word travels fast vertically and horizontally throughout the organization. 4) Are you willing to let others shine, lead and be in the limelight or do youfeel the need to always be in control? As a team leader you are expected to lead the team to success. You are not expected to have all the answers, make all the decisions or lead all the meetings. When I do team interventions often I ask the team leader to sit back as one of the participants for a number of modules. It’s amazing how this can unleash creativity, fun and participation. In order to do this the team leader needs to be willing to let go of control at times and trust in the process and other team players.

5) How is your openness / transparency and ability to receive feedback? This is where being a great team in an organization tends to be different than being a great sports team. Team leaders in sports team often need to exhibit strong command and control, and be seen as the unquestioned authority. That is because sports performance is in the moment, with a limited time window, and decisions often need to be made on the spot. In a corporate organization, usually time windows are longer; projects and programs can involve many stakeholders over a series of interactions. Moreover, the corporate team leader needs feedback in order to grow and self-correct. In PepsiCo, I remember when a new global leader came on board, he told us “I’m new in the position, and I need your help to let me know if I become too overbearing”. I was shocked at his candour, but impressed by his vulnerability. Immediately we all felt closer to him. You want your people to feel free to let you know how you are doing on ANY aspect of leadership / management. 6) Do you have the facilitation skills to lead the team through the process or do you need help? Be honest. As the leader of the team, are you also a good facilitator? Are you willing and able to lead the team through the various steps to develop a High Performance Team? Or you feel more confortable to step back and allow someone else to take parts of that job? The facilitator also needs to be seen as impartial and objective. You might consider asking other people to facilitate parts of the program. This may be someone internal to your organization, such as HR, or a team member. Or it may be an external facilitator who is adept at leading teams through difficult issues, knowing when to apply the right levers and ramp up or down the energy as required. The fact is that many team leaders have never learned how to manage executive teams. One of my clients at BNP Paribas, is a brilliant executive but a rookie as a team leader. He quickly realized that he didn’t need to do all the facilitation and decided he needed some professional support. It paid off as he could sit back and relax and go along for the ride.

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