Leadership Playbook to High Performing Teams

A Leader's Playbook for Building High Performing Teams

By Mandi Morgan

The business environment is changing rapidly, exponentially even. The traditional command and control hierarchical leadership model has become essentially an artifact, a faded image on the horizon of how organizations historically managed talent to create value. Today, organizations must build a work ecosystem on high-functioning, collaborating, high-value producing teams to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage. However, to increase their capacity and agility to be high-functioning and achieve organizational objectives, teams must have a well-established, deliberately designed framework built on trust and psychological safety.

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni asserts that trust is the most significant component to building a framework for team performance. According to Lencioni, teams typically fall prey to what he terms as five natural pitfalls, which he identifies as the five dysfunctions of a team:

1). Absence of trust.

2). Fear of conflict.

3). Lack of commitment.

4). Avoidance of accountability.

5). Inattention to results.

According to Lencioni, for many, these issues may appear to occur distinctively in isolation. However, the five dysfunctions form an interrelated model grounded in a fundamental truth: Everything begins with trust. Teams that trust each other are engaged, resolve conflict productively around ideas, commit to performance, hold each other accountable more effectively, and achieve high-performing results through collaboration and combining their complementary skill-sets. Teams with high levels of trust perform at higher levels and co-create higher value for stakeholders, both within and outside the organization.

Organizations can create a work ecosystem of trust that delivers high performance by building a framework of psychological safety. Amy Edmondson, Harvard Professor and author of, “The Fearless Organization”, identifies psychological safety as an individual's perception of how others will react as a consequence of taking an interpersonal risk. It is a personal belief that the organizational and the team environment are safe and supportive of taking interpersonal risks when communicating innovative ideas, seeking peer feedback, holding each other accountable, or making a mistake. Lencioni's thoughts provide a few essential insights for team leaders to consider for creating high-performance and psychological safety in teams.

Design a team effectiveness exercise: Begin by having each team member identify what other members bring to the team and what they may need to improve upon or eliminate to contribute to team success. An additional step here may be to ask each member what they also need from the rest of the team to enable their performance fully. Moreover, ask each team member what commitments they will bring to the team to achieve objectives and co-create stakeholder value. Teams can use this exercise to create an alliance agreement that clarifies what each needs and can expect from each other.

Acknowledge that conflict is productive: It is essential for team members to feel psychologically safe about conflict without feeling personally at risk. It is helpful when dealing with conflict if the team builds behavioral commitments in their alliance agreement concerning the conflict. Ask, how will we handle conflict productively? This will give the team a point of reference to reflect on and discuss when faced with disagreement.

Maximize clarity around commitments and goals to achieve alignment, cohesion, and obtain buy-in:  At the end of a team meeting, members should review and compare their insights and understanding of the goals. Clarifying shared objectives creates team alignment and agreement on expectations, deadlines, objectives, and how the team will collectively live out their roles. Avoiding team misalignment increases psychological safety by clarifying expectations and avoiding misunderstandings.

Build structures to ensure accountability: Accountability efforts typically fail in work environments where objectives are ambiguous. Lencioni recommends keeping team goals and behavior commitments openly posted and adjusting compensation incentives away from individual performance and toward team achievements. Frequent open communication about team KPIs is critical for team clarity and performance. Combining accountability and psychological safety may seem challenging. However, teams that have created an alliance agreement and have established team norms and expectations are more capable of having tough, psychologically safe conversations concerning accountability and performance.

Psychological safety is the foundation of high-performing teams. It provides the framework teams need to co-create stakeholder value and create a sustainable competitive advantage for organizations. It improves employee engagement, innovation, creativity and reduces the pitfalls Lencioni identifies as the five common dysfunctions that often derail team performance.


Mandi Morgan is an Executive Consultant, Keynote Speaker, for Dale Carnegie of Orange
County and works with Executives pursuing transformational leadership change within their
organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn at MandiMorgan.

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