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Mar 2, 2022

Faces framed and puffy; eyes glazed and unfocused; kids (and cats) in the background; dirty T-shirts seemingly the new corporate casual. This pretty much describes most leadership team meetings I have witnessed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

But now – as the federal government predicts growth and real recovery – one really has to ask whether leadership teams are ready to emerge from the ‘we-survived-the-pandemic’ mode to a one that’s really positioned for growth.

The problem is that high performance teams don’t just spring up by magic. Teams are distinct from business groups or departments. Unlike individual employees – who are only accountable to their manager, supervisor or team leader – teams require mutual accountability between members for the results that the team produces. It’s a ‘we all win, or we all lose’ mentality. Everyone is accountable for outcomes and mutual accountability means team members are related to each other around performance. Group output is needed. Team performance is a different to just adding up individual performances.

To become a high performance team though, team performance develops in stages.

I see four of them – and here’s how one leadership team I recently worked with went through them:

Stage OneExcitement:

This is where change looks exciting. In the particular company I’m thinking of, the actual personnel of the team hadn’t changed for three years, except in one important respect: the human resources manager surprisingly left. Meanwhile some significant roles had been switched between team members. So, while (in name), the team had existed for a few years, given the changes, it was like a new team. Unsurprisingly there was excitement in the group. In the beginning, the team was focused and moved ahead solving the issues before them. In the early stages of such a team the following exists: a feeling that challenges can be fun. There is only minor anxiety about how to meet these challenges.

Stage Two – Storms:

A few weeks later rumblings began. I began to hear complaints about Sally, the new HR manager, and the team. There were issues between the new HR manager and the production manager. Then other issues arose between her and the office manager. She had originally stated she had been vaccinated; then revealed she had not. The CEO then called me. It’s a “Houston we’ve got a problem” conversation. Stage Two of team development had landed: storms. To repeat a traditional description, the poop hit the fan. Here, this team suddenly went from the excitement of stage one and plunged itself into the challenges of stage two – where the team was being threatened by the sense that work was not fun and that there was something wrong. Fingers were pointed. There was uncertainty. No one took responsibility, and instead there were several individuals who were complaining and were upset.

Stage 3 – Performing and getting behind the game:

Moving from the ‘storming stage’ to the third, ‘performing’ stage is a critical step in any team’s development. Just like in personal relationships, hard times will either weaken a relationship or make it stronger. In stage three a team must demonstrate it can deal with adversity and conflict if it is to improve its performance. In this stage of performing, the group needs to re-align, get focused and recover from the storming that previously possessed the team. The focus of the leadership team needs to move from worrying about problems to playing the game and solving its problems. For the team I’m thinking about, it meant going from complaining about the HR manager (who was eventually let go), to being engaged in hiring the new one and laying new track.

Stage 4 – The high performing stage:

The hallmark of stage four is that the team performs beyond expectations. Now, members are feeling good about standards and are meeting or even exceeding them. There is real consistency in performance. There is shared leadership, and the group is not dependent on the formal leader. It’s where leadership changes (such as the HR managing going), can add value and make the biggest difference. This happens easily and with grace. There is trust and open and honest communication.

So what phase are your teams in now?

The big question, of course, is this: where are you and your leadership team as you emerge from the pandemic? Are you in stage one: excitement, stage two: storming, stage three: getting behind the game or stage four: high performing and kicking butt?

As we emerge from the pandemic and get our feet under us, we all need to be cognizant of the strategies we are using for developing team performance.