Developing High Performance Leadership Teams

"No single leader can any longer meet the demands placed on them and there is a growing recognition of the need for highly effective leadership teams."
Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership, Henley Management College

In today's complex organizational environment leadership teams need to manage many challenges: meet the expectations of multiple stakeholders, run the business while transforming the business, work through conflict and competing interests, be members of several teams in a matrix environment and manage virtual team membership.

High-performance teams are a rare commodity and don't happen by accident. Too often we see teams under perform relative to their potential. Do you recognize any of these symptoms in your team?

  • Team members who nod their head in agreement, but leave the room and do their own thing
  • Team members who are unwilling or unable to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for agreed actions and behaviour
  • Teams who create sub-optimal solutions because they are unable to have robust debate and manage the natural conflict that is part of being a team
  • Team members who over-rely on the team leader
  • Team members with unclear and mixed loyalties because they belong to more than one team

To overcome these problems and create high performance teams we need to move beyond the quick fix, traditional team building exercises that do not deliver sustainable and lasting improvement. Instead, what does work is the more holistic and systemic approach of Team Coaching.

Team Coaching

A team coach works with a team through five stages, usually over a 6-9 month period. The coach facilitates, consults and helps the team through a journey from clarifying their purpose to ultimately transferring the coaching role back to the team leader.

* Although presented as a linear process, many of these stages happen in parallel

Stage 1: Clarify the purpose of the team

In this stage we understand the expectations of key stakeholders and clarify what your team needs to achieve i.e. its purpose. We also work together to decide the type of team you need to be to deliver on your purpose and who should be a part of the team.

Stage 2: How to work as a team to achieve your team purpose

Here we diagnose the gap between how you work together right now in relation to how you need to work together to achieve your team purpose. Team coaching to bridge this gap might involve a development journey to build trust, psychometrics to understand each other's thinking styles, processes to learn how to have robust debate and facilitation to manage conflict productively.

Stage 3: Connect with and manage your stakeholders

To be effective any team needs to manage its key stakeholders. As part of team coaching some of the areas we jointly assess are: who are your key stakeholders? What is the health of those relationships? What is the consistent message that you tell your stakeholders and the rest of the business? How do you manage the critics and blockers? How do you get stakeholders to advocate on your behalf?

Stage 4: Individual coaching for team members

Some team members might benefit from individual coaching on how to improve their contribution to the team. This is likely to involve working with a different coach to maintain clear boundaries and confidentiality. It also usually includes 360-degree feedback and aligning the individual work with the work of the team.

Stage 5: Transfer the coaching role to the team leader

Throughout the team coaching we are explicit about what and how the team is learning. This allows us to continually assess the support and development needed to continue the journey towards becoming a high-performing team. It also allows us to develop the team leader to continue the work independent of the team coach.

Great sports teams have great team coaches. It's no different in business. There's no magic bullet or quick fix for developing high-performance teams. But working with the right team coach creates the opportunity to achieve the potential and competitive advantage that is sure to exist in your team.

Author biographies

Lynn Harris is a founding Partner of Harris: High Performance Coaching. She works internationally with leaders and their teams across many professions and industries. She holds a Masters Degree in Organizational Development and is the author of Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today's Organizations.

Jeff Arnold is also a founding Partner of Harris: High Performance Coaching. He has 25 years experience in consulting and coaching senior leaders and their teams. He works internationally in multiple business sectors and is an Advanced Structural Consultant.