The Magic of a High-Performing Team… and 3 steps you can take to create one.

About a year ago, I was hired to facilitate an executive leadership team through a strategic planning process. While there was a ton of individual talent, the team was anything but cohesive. Trust was low; conflict happened under the radar; there was little (if any) accountability; and the results were spotty.

I was met with resistance, disengagement, anger, and–on several occasions–tears.

Still, I was not discouraged. I understood that before this team could create, cascade, and execute a creative strategy, it had to be a cohesive team. So, with the team leader’s full support, we retrenched and focused on building a cohesive, high-performing team.

Today, this team is extremely pleased to be in the high-performing zone — if you saw them working together, you couldn’t help but notice the magic: high trust; productive conflict; commitment to the team and the process; accountability; and impressive results. (See Patrick Lencioni, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team).

But it didn’t happen overnight.

HOW THEY DID IT – and how you can, too.

There is nothing like the magic of a high-performing team — if you’ve ever been a part of one, you’ll know what I mean. In the world of rowing, it’s known as “Swing“…”the hard-to-define feeling when near-perfect synchronization of motion occurs in the shell, enhancing the performance and speed.”

Because I have had the opportunity to work with a number of teams that have done the work to transform from “mediocre” to high-performing, I thought I’d share an overview of how they did it — and how you can, too.

1. Assess Your Team: Are They Storming or Performing? 
Use Tuckman’s model of high-performing teams to determine which developmental stage your team is in: Forming, Storming, Norming or Performing.

Leadership Tip: While you may think you know where your team falls along this performance continuum, these assessment results are always an eye-opener.

Action Plan:

  • Ask each team member to take the assessment (10-15 minutes). Debrief the results with your team (we can help) and, together, formulate a plan that will move your team into “Performing”.
  • This website provides a simple overview of the model and the characteristics of each stage…as well as how to move from one stage to the next.

2. Make Becoming a High-Performing Team Your #1 Goal.

Leadership Tip: Every high-performing team with whom I’ve worked has this goal as their #1 goal. 

Action Plan: 

  • This is work. Becoming a cohesive, high-performing team requires relentless focus and discipline. It is not a magical process.
  • There are very specific steps the team – and you as a leader – can and must take to move toward high-performing.

3. Leadership Matters 

Leadership Tip: “There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.” These are harsh words but I believe them.

Action Plan: 

  • Thankfully, Tuckman provides concrete tips and guidance for leaders who are determined to move their team through Forming and Storming and into Norming and Performing:
  • Make no mistake about it, your team’s level of performance and commitment will reflect your own. Feel free to refer to our earlier post on “Three Sure-Fire Tips to Becoming a Better Leader”.

While there is nothing like the magic of a high-performing team, the process to get there is anything but magical. It requires dedication, discipline, and determination. The payoff is priceless.


If you would like assistance (a lot or a little) building a cohesive, high-performing team, mapping your leadership journey, or crafting a successful strategy, we can help. We offer expert facilitation for team-building workshops and Retreats, and as an authorized partner for Everything DiSC™have access to a suite of outstanding team-building assessments.

Ellyn McKay

For almost 30 years, Ellyn has assisted hundreds of women leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organizations. She founded CEO Vision in 1997 to ensure that women leaders realize the power and value of their leadership in the workplace, the economy and the world.

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