Having worked with hundreds of executive leadership teams, I’ve been a witness to both teams that become high performing and produce breakthrough results, and others that stay mediocre at best.  

 So the question that I continue to reflect on is this: What is the difference that makes the difference? 

 From my experience, it boils down to three things: 

1. The Leader – the desire, mindset and practices of the leader itself 

2. The Foundations – what is necessary to establish a “conducive team climate” and align deeply on the “three blueprints” necessary for high performance  

3. The Rhythm – systemising a high performance team rhythm 

 In this post, I focus on #1 above – specifically the key question is this: What is the role of the leader in creating a high performing team? 

 There are 4 key aspects to this.  

 1. Get the right team on board 

Assembling the right team is the fundamental job and responsibility of the leader. Without the right team, the process of becoming a high performing team becomes so much harder. Refer to my earlier blog: The 3 mistakes to avoid in assembling the right team

 2. Create the space and time to become a team 

Becoming a team, let alone a high performing team, doesn’t happen on the back end of a single team off-site nor does it happen automatically because you have the right team on board. Instead, it is the result of significant investment of time, effort and energy over a period of time. Many leaders look for a silver bullet that doesn’t exist and/or are happy to start the journey, but don’t continue beyond the initial immersion. 

 For a team to have any chance of becoming cohesive and powerful, the leader must decide to create the necessary space and time. To act on their decision, this time must be scheduled in their diary!

 3. Get a team coach 

Getting a team coach can massively accelerate the journey towards becoming a high performing team – this is because a good team coach brings a set of insights, expertise and mindset that is typically absent and/or not fully exploited in a team, but is essential to building great teams. Specifically, this includes: 

  • Insights : What creates great teams? What gets in the way? How to overcome what gets in the way? 
  • Expertise : Laser-like diagnostics, outcome focussed facilitation and real time coaching 
  • Mindset : Belief in the potential, courage to challenge and obsession with the possibility 

 However it is equally important to be clear on what a team coach is NOT there to do: they are not there to: 

  • Replace the responsibility, accountability and authority of the leader 
  • Be an expert on the business content 
  • Be a “Know-it-all” on everything 
  • A spokesperson for the leader

 4. Go First 

I believe the leader has a massive impact in whether or not the team becomes high performing. A small shift in the leader’s behaviour can improve things dramatically within a team. 

 As such, the leader must go first in setting the right tone. They must be courageous to reflect on their own mindset and behaviour, and be willing to adapt and change. 

 A leader needs to continually reflect and act on questions such as: 

  • What is the unique role that only I can play that will help us to become a greater team?
  • If the team is not where I need it to be, how am I part of the problem? What shifts do I need to make? 
  • How can I set up the right conditions for successful teaming? 

 A final point: establishing a cohesive team is a key responsibility of the leader. And this process should not be outsourced to anyone – whilst a team coach can help, the buck ultimately stops with the leader.