Leaders & High Performing Teams

High-performing teams are a rare commodity, yet the Toronto Raptors Team recently captured the hearts and minds of Canadians. There is no better example of a high-performing team, even if it took 24 years.  Everyone wants to be part of a high-performing team. It’s powerful when personal talent and passion combine with like-minded individuals to achieve more than what is possible alone.

We define a team as “two or more people, dependent on each other to accomplish a goal”.


Yet according to a 2017 report from Gallup, only 30% of the workforce is engaged and inspired at work which leaves the door wide  open for work teams to be achieving more.

How does your team measure up?

Are you part of the engaged and inspired or is your team muddling along with the rest of North America?


In the last two decades, developing and leading high-performing teams has become increasingly complex:

  • multi-generational employees with conflicting values struggle to collaborate despite differences
  • technology has complicated not simplified communication that is essential to team performance
  • traditional work teams (sharing common workspace) have been replaced by virtual teams (team members working from remote locations)
  • team leaders are often overworked and struggling in their own roles with little time to stand back and reflect on the entire team system

The impact of a global economy requires teams to quickly get up to speed in order to bring goods and services to market ahead of their competition. Teams no longer have the luxury of taking months or years (certainly not 24 years)  to become high-performing.


Leaders can quickly diagnose team effectiveness by assessing performance (measurable output of the team) and engagement (how team members feel while achieving team goals. A team must be excelling on both dimensions to be considered high-performing.  People work for leaders – not companies therefore leaders shoulder the burden of managing performance and engagement because they are in the best position to affect change.

A leader can diagnose team effectiveness by exploring three simple questions.

  1. PERFORMANCE: Is the team achieving or exceeding its goals?
  2. ENGAGEMENT: Are team members energized and excited to be working together?
  3. MOMENTUM: Are team performance and engagement staying the same, improving or deteriorating.

If the answer is no to questions one or two, the team isn’t firing on all cylinders. If performance or engagement momentum is deteriorating the team is headed for crisis (if it isn’t already there). Therefore, when a team is struggling the leader must be able to respond quickly with a solution(s) to get the team back on track.  


Teams are complicated. The average team has 9 team members. That equals a minimum of 36 one on one collision points for confusion, disagreement and infighting among the team (the number increases dramatically when sub-groups and coalitions begin to form).  When a team has regressed or become toxic, team members need a combination of support and direction from their leader to prevent further erosion and turn the situation around.

The range of supportive and directive solutions is wide-ranging. Here are just a few examples:

  • clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • defining or updating team norms
  • articulating the team’s shared purpose and values
  • exploring team member styles and preferences
  • conflict resolution training
  • establishing common communication processes
  • 360 feedback (individual and team)

Intentionally absent from the list is an outdoor team building adventure. Sure team members enjoy an outing but its mostly because they get to step away from the misery of their work and enjoy a free lunch. In our experience, the traditional “team building” experience rarely leads to long term sustainable improvement. They often fail because the underlying team issues aren’t resolved.


People leave managers, not companies. Managers feel the pressure to “fix the problem” before it attracts the attention of senior leadership (even though senior leaders are busy fixing their own team problems).

Most leaders are trying to create a high-performing team, they just don’t know where to begin. Many ride it out, hoping to inherit a high-performance team in their next career move. That rarely works – if the leader is unskilled at team dynamics the team they inherit can quickly begin to regress.

Team leaders of the future must be skilled at diagnosing the root causes of lacklustre performance and/or engagement and feel confident in applying impactful solutions.

Leaders are busy. Human Resource support may be in short supply and may lack skill in team dynamics. They may be unable to help diagnose team needs or help leaders build effective plans.  Today’s leader must take responsibility for their team performance and engagement; relying less on internal and external resources that are too scarce, ineffective or costly. A skill inventory should include:

  • Diagnosis skills to quickly identify when a team is in trouble
  • Understanding the four stages of team development
  • Understanding the different needs of team members at each development stage
  • All the tools and processes required to charter a newly formed team
  • Understanding and access to learning programs that will help navigate team dynamics

Organizations can support leaders by providing access to learning, team coaches and other resources. They can make effective team leadership a core competency and require that senior leaders demonstrate and model effective team leadership.


Creating high-performance work teams will continue to be an obstacle for organizations as the complexity of work increases and evolves at a rapid pace.  Leaders at all levels shoulder the burden to improve team performance and engagement but they need assistance so they don’t expend time, energy and resources on solutions that fail to improve performance and/or engagement.

What would be different in your company if goals were exceeded AND you were part of the 30% club that boasted highly engaged team members?

Brian Martin is a certified coach and has over 20 years of experience leading high-performance teams. He specializes in helping others develop their teams within the public, private and not for profit sectors.
His company, Made to Measure Performance & Engagement Solutions is a coaching and consulting firm that helps companies think and act outside the box while optimizing people, profit and processes.