High Performance Teams - Fact or Fantasy

Crew of a high performing team sailing a yacht
Posted on: Wednesday 01, March 2017
Category: Leadership Development

Is a high-performance team a thing?  Are they fact or fantasy? Read on to find out more about how your team can break-through.

Let's begin with some kind of working definition for high-performance teams. The term refers to teams, businesses, or groups that focus on their goals, achieve superior business results and outperform all other similar teams and expectations. (Wikipedia) But do they really exist?

What do the experts say?

Well to kick off, a Global Learning and Development Director (and a friend of mine) prefers to develop functional teams. She defines these in managerial terms such as ability and skills, clear roles, duties and reporting lines, delivering against clear KPI's and strategy and have proper communication processes.

In this way, she affirms that for 20% effort she gets an 80% return. Whereas, she states, in her business less than 20% of her teams may require further development to get to high performance. So, she then turns to experts (like me for example) to fulfill high-performance team development programmes when needed.

Leadership limelights and notable authors point us to learn softer skills to a achieve high performance. Patrick Lencioni, for example, holds that teams mature by working through their dysfunctions first. Personally, I am a great believer that soft skills drive high performance (see video blog at the end).

Richard Barrett and other authors like Frederic Laloux advocate a values-driven approach. They argue that teams need to move away from default fear, survival, and ego-driven needs towards growth values instead, such as to find meaning and purpose, make a difference and strive to make the world better.

Daniel Goleman coined the phrase Emotional Intelligence as a critical way for teams to learn how to perform at their best. (His brilliant work is an extension of the soft skills argument already given).

Bob Chapman, CEO, and author believes that leaders can create workplaces in which everybody connected with that enterprise thrives and that everybody matters - I like his approach.

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, says ' [high-performance teams and] growth-minded leaders, start with a belief in human potential and development — both their own and other people’s. Instead of using the company as a vehicle for their greatness, they use it as an engine of growth—for themselves, the employees, and the company as a whole.'

Evidence suggests that companies that use these sorts of approaches are on the right lines to developing high performance and they flourish the most (see book list later).

Practical experience

On a practical note, in the past, I have been lucky enough to have lead what I (and others) deemed to be a high-performance team. I still look back on that time with deep joy and affection. 

These were the success factors that made us into a high-performance team:

(Graphic - My Observed Success Factors of Leading a High-Performance Team)

For us, our high-performance team just seemed to happen, and years later, we all still have fond memories of that time. However, on reflection, some crucial factors had a profound influence. For example: 

  • We had the right mix of people, attitudes, ability, and managerial functions. 
  • Also at the time, we worked for a thriving, stable and well-resourced and funded FTSE 100 company in an economy that flourished - it was in the dotcom era
  • We also believed in each other and growing and developing through the experience of being involved in something important and of purpose. That was significant too.
  • Furthermore, we had all benefited from first class in-house soft skills programmes that matured us. That was, in my opinion, the key for us to unlock high performance as a team.

Today, in my development work with leaders, and teams I have noticed that to build a great team is more than functional business processes, KPI's and metrics. While they are of course vital for a functioning business, they are not the be-all-and-end-all for high performance. (Note that few of those are present in the above success factors). I believe that great teams transcend these things. Even if individual team members are highly skilled or talented, that does not mean they will make an effective team together. Those are different skills.

So, what's the secret to building high-performance teams? 

Well, to make a real difference, you have to work together to create an excellent high-performance team - you have to want it first.

I argue that the success factors previously mentioned can be cloned and taught to any functional team.

It’s not about some extrinsic magic formula that you apply from the outside in, however. Nor is it about a team full of the cleverest people. You cannot become a high-performance team that way. It does mean you must have the right purpose, people, skills, input, direction, management processes and environment. Yes, but they are not the key that unlocks this puzzle. Moreover, it is about people growth from the inside-out. That means personal development around soft skills and emotional intelligence. But, it also means working at shedding a fixed mindset and instead encouraging a growth mindset (see my latest book below). However, ability and experience need to exist too (but, that's just a given).

The good news is it is possible to learn these types of intrinsic soft skills. That's important!

Don’t be mistaken; this is not a namby-pamby or fluffy process, however. Not at all! To develop people and teams from the inside-out requires a willingness to mature and grow as individuals and as a team. That takes courage, time and some effort to nurture these.

To become a high-performance team needs dedication and willingness to take time out to develop. But, to get there, you will need to:

  • commit to growth as a team
  • develop a growth mindset as a team and shedding fixed mindset attitudes
  • being humble and vulnerable with one another - let go of ego
  • learn how to collaborate, cohere and boost your emotional intelligence
  • work towards big goals.

The other benefit of high-performance teamwork means that you can then get on and run a successful business. Therefore, you will not have to waste so much time on countless people issues.

A suggested approach

I have worked with teams at all levels for well over a decade now, and this model depicts how I help develop leaders and managers (or any functional team) to become a high-performance team: 

(Developing High Performance Teams by Andrew Jenkins)

First, it begins with the essential teamwork skills to learn how to build trust, harness conflict and to collaborate. When teams develop these skills, they start to contribute together to make an effective impact.

Second, as already mentioned, you will need to grow as individuals and as a team too. Feedback skills to call out each other are powerful change agents. In this way team members let go of potentially limiting behaviours and become accountable to each other. A positive frame of reference, a growth mindset and purposeful language are also crucial for high performance.

Third, agree on team (growth) values, healthy habits, and behaviours to create a great team spirit. A Team Charter, for instance, helps teams to commit to the fundamentals and reminds them how to collaborate effectively. Also, teams that plan together in creative ways to grow, provides purpose and direction to the business and is a critical leadership task. Besides, big goals keep teams motivated.

If you'd like more information on using the above model and developing high performance teams then, please check out and purchase my book (see links below). Alternatively, contact me directly for a personalised signed copy.

How soft skills drive high performance - YouTube link


[1,271 Words.]

Updated version republished on 14th March 2018. Originally published in 01 March 2017

My services

Senior management coaching

I am a skilled leadership and team facilitator and development consultant. Please contact me today to discuss how you and your organisation can benefit from developing your team in emotional intelligence development or high performance team programmes. Call 07795 182 860 or email andrew@pdx-consulting.com to arrange an informal discussion.

Sneak peek at my latest book

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See my website for more information on developing successful teams or for developing a team charter

(My first book - helps you create personal change and how to overcome your conditioning to reach your true authentic self.)

Download my detailed FREE questionnaire too. It measures where you are on an authenticity scale. It includes tips on advancing towards your authentic self. 

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Leadership - Who is Pulling Your Strings -Leadership development blog from Andrew Jenkins Leadership Development Consultant and Coach

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