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High-Performing Teams don't just happen.

There are six stages they will go through.

There are several team performance models. My preferred one, inspired by Drexler and Siebert, includes six stages and the building blocks of how teams develop to be high-performing.

If you know the six stages and the associated behaviors that occur in each, it reveals:

(1) the stage the team is currently in,

(2) if a team is moving to the next phase,

(3) if the team is struggling.

Once you are aware, you can guide/mentor/coach and build them to reach high- performance.

Let's start with the first three stages, where teams are developing.

Stage 1 - Orientation:

Why am I here? When team members know the answer, they understand their role, the skills needed, and why they were specifically selected. When team members ask this question, they don't understand the purpose of the work or their role on the team. The latter can occur when team members are "voluntold" (leaders telling them they are volunteering) to be on the team.

Below are typical behaviors you would observe when a team (team members) struggles in this phase.

  • Questions continue about why they are there and what they are doing. They outwardly reflect impatience and fear.
  • They feel they should be doing or working on something else they believe is more important to them for achieving career goals.

Stage 2 - Trust:

Do I trust you, and who are you? Trust is essential. If there is no or little trust between team members or leaders, team members can't move on to the next stage. Trust is earned by what they do and how they show up. When there is trust, you see the mutual respect they have for each other's perspective they bring to the work. Team members do what they say they will. It is evident when trust is not there. If they don't trust, they can't do what's required to get them into high performing.

Below are typical behaviors you would observe when a team (team members) struggles in this phase.

  • Team members show up trying to talk over other team members.
  • Other team members are not present, listen, and prioritize other meetings over this work.
  • They don't contribute to conversations for fear of being wrong and confronted.
  • The team can't seem to have discussions where different perspectives are needed, as team members are concerned about giving their input and how it's received.

Stage 3 - Goal:

What is the goal, the desired outcome? What are the success metrics to tell them they achieved the goal? Everyone must be aligned. They know the target goal and outcome and have established success measures to track weekly progress. Surprisingly many teams can't answer that simple question. They all have different views on the team as to the goal and outcome of their work.

Below are typical behaviors you would observe when a team (team members) struggles in this phase.

  • There is constant disagreement on the goal or outcome and unable to find a resolution.
  • It crops up when some team members want to move forward.
  • There is skepticism about what team members are trying to do.
  • Team members are losing focus, are distracted by other things, and can't find a direction.

Here are the three stages the teams move into performing before hitting High-Performing.

Stage 4 - Commitment:

Are we committed to each other and the outcome? There is a stark difference between getting commitment versus consensus. With a Team commitment, effective decision-making happens. Team members know how each contributes to the work and supports each other. If team members push to move forward before commitment, they will loosely reach a team consensus. A team moves on, yet the team members don't fully agree with the direction.

Below are typical behaviors you would observe when a team (team members) struggles in this phase.

  • Those team members who did not fully agree and did not feel heard will fade back and not participate.
  • There will be arguments and tension as the team tries to press on.
  • There will be distractions and resistance.
  • Team members will look for outside opinions, typically with leadership or a coach, asking what they should do.

Stage 5 - Implementation:

What are we doing, who is doing what, and when? This stage is when the team starts to move into performing. The team has discipline, structure, and alignment. This clarity comes from the earlier foundational building blocks of understanding their role, the trust the team has built, the goal and outcome, and their commitment to each other as a Team. The team is completely aligned. They have a clearly defined process, priorities, and approach regarding execution.

Below are typical behaviors you would observe when a team (team members) struggles in this phase.

  • They are missing deadlines.
  • There is conflict on how they should move forward and how to execute specific tasks.
  • They are a steady stream of confusion about what they are doing, who is doing what, and when.

Stage 6 - High Performance:

It's what you want for every team, where they become a well-oiled machine. They are driving results, achieving the outcomes, and where others' within the organization take notice because they continue to surpass expectations. It can also be a difficult place for the team to maintain. It's where you want to monitor and observe that the team has what it needs to remain here.

Below are typical behaviors you would observe when a team (team members) struggles in this phase.

  • They start to get overloaded with work.
  • They take on more than they can reasonably handle with their current resources.
  • They are working so hard so quickly there are signs of burnout, and they can't keep and maintain this pace.
  • The team is starting to fight and argue more than usual, and it's a cover for a root cause that's brewing.

Here are a couple of other thoughts when it comes to high-performing teams.

At any point, some trigger can occur (Leadership Meeting, Board Meeting, Reorganization, etc.), where it didn't go as they expected, or they received some news that causes them to have to regroup in a way they didn't see coming. It can kick them back to square one. Even if they were high-performing, they are back in the Orientation stage, again asking why they are here.

Also, when new team members join a team, it disrupts the team rhythm. The team is in High-Performing, and you have a new team member in the Orientation phase. Be aware and take care of how you will successfully embed them into the team, allowing them to move through the stages. If they can't, you will quickly see the behaviors where they struggle.

What stage is your team in?