• Building High Performance Teams
  • Reducing Conflict and Increasing Ability to Work Together Constructively
  • Talent Audits (Assessment of team members' or team's strengths and areas for development)
  • Team Planning and Alignment Around the Plan


Building High Performance Teams

Example of building a high performance team -Worked with manufacturing company that was undergoing significant growth. Although there were no serious problems and the organization was successful, the plant leadership was faced with the need to up their game, to increase output substantially while maintaining quality and safety. This would require moving beyond their comfort zone. The and I worked together to plan two off-site meetings focused on creating a high performance team. I interviewed the VP of Manufacturing, the Senior VP of HR and the heads of the two facilities to understand what they saw as the challenges facing the manufacturing division. I developed tentative agendas that were refined after more discussions. The off-sites involved a mix of four types of activities:

- Knowledge building - (such as mini-lectures on topics such as "what constitutes a high performance team" and "managing change")
- Developing action strategies (such as group exercises in which participants identified areas of potential improvement and specific action plans to enhance performance in those areas)
- Activities to gain insight into their own leadership styles and those of others (using psychological tests and feedback)
- Social activities (such as special meals, recreational activities such as bowling, games with a purpose - showing needs to communicate, etc.
Feedback from participants was very positive with many comments on a greater team spirit and alignment and cooperation. A six-month follow-up found that the action plans that were developed were all implemented and the organization had surpassed its production goals.

Reducing Conflict and Increasing Ability to Work Together Constructively

Example of Reducing Conflict and Increasing Ability to Work Together Constructively

The long-term Executive Director of a well established not-for-profit organizational in the arts was deeply concerned about internal conflict within the senior staff that included yelling and behavior that could be considered indicative of a hostile workplace. I interviewed each of the senior leaders about what was working and what was not working in terms of the relationships among staff members and their departments. Despite some initial defensiveness and resistance by the staff members, I was able to draw out their concerns, frustrations and hopes. My goal was to move beyond venting to get to underlying issues and specific behaviors that were contributing to the conflict. We then met as a group where I summarized the interview findings. We talked about how they wanted to work together and identified times and situations where things worked well. The focus was on constructive problem solving and identifying positive "rules of engagement". We created a list of behaviors and actions designed to reduce conflict. These included strategies for clarifying roles to reduce overlap, communication strategies to minimize misunderstandings, methods of de-escalating disagreements before they became serious, etc. Each participant identified one action that he or she would undertake personally to improve team performance. All symbolically signed the "rules of engagement' which they agreed to review monthly at a staff meeting. I also coached the executive director on how to support changes and maintain boundaries of behavior. A six-month follow up found that yelling had been completely eliminated, communication among departments improved and morale improved.

"Talent Audits (Assessment of team members' or team's strengths and areas for development)
Example of Talent Audit - I worked with a major media company to assist the HR department develop a talent audit for their organization. We gathered background information on each leader with the title of Director or above (performance reviews, bio data, etc.) This information was enriched by having each leader One of us met with the each of the leaders to discuss and rate (on a format that was developed) their direct reports. (We had initially planned to have the leaders do this themselves but found that the information was much more consistent and thoughtful when it was developed through a discussion with me or someone from HR.) We then held full day meeting where each individual was discussed by the individual's manager, other managers at the same level and managers one step above. (For example, Directors were discussed by VPs and the Sr. VP to whom they reported.) This allowed managers from other areas to learn more about those outside of their areas and for more senior leaders to have a broader sense of the talent in the organization. A photo and background packets were provided to aid in the discussion. A large organizational chart was used to show overall talent audit graphically. A green dot was used to indicate the person was ready for promotion, a blue showed the person was doing a solid job in the current role and a red dot indicated performance issues and need for development. When we looked at the graphs of two facilities, we noted that one had many people who were promotable but few open slots and another facility had a number of employees who were not performing well. This led to discussions and, within a few months, to some transfers and re-assignments. Some key individuals were provided with executive coaches and/or special mentoring by senior leaders Several reoccurring developmental needs were identified so HR arranged for some specific training in areas such as change management and giving presentations.. The CEO and other senior executives commented that they felt they had a much better sense of the talent in the organization.

Team Planning and Alignment Around the Plan

Example of Team Planning

Organizational planning will need to be individualized depending on the sophistication of the senior team. One client dealt with this by a series of off-sites that I facilitated. This team has little experience with strategic planning so our initial session clarified the process. We also looked at the external factors that impact the organization (such as the current economy, competitors, industry consolidation, etc). as well as internal issues that effect organizational performance (such as turnover, gaps in talent, recent changes in technology usage, reorganization of one department, etc.). Later meetings involved clarification of longer and shorter term goals, development of specific and measurable objectives, and outlining clear action plans including timelines and responsibilities. Regular follow-up sessions were used to assess progress toward objectives, review action plans and modify them if needed. Each executive had specific and concrete assignments and accountabilities and was charged with educating and engaging his or her employees in the implementation. Some training and support was offered in terms of managing change at the intellectual, motivational and behavioral level. The regular meetings allowed for candid discussions of what was working and what wasn't. The focus was on problem solving rather than blame and addressing issues before they became serious. The power of the process was its focus and clarity and the opportunity to regularly review and adjust the plan as needed in order to meet the overall goals.


Five Characteristics of a High Functioning Team


High trust

Low Trust


  • Open to feedback
  • Takes risk in offering opinions and ideas
  • Believes team members have positive intentions
  • Knows and utilizes team members strengths
  • Uses meetings to obtain agreement on key initiatives
  • Reluctant to provide feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside of their own responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about other’s intentions
  • Don’t utilize team members strengths
  • Dread and avoid meetings


Embraces Conflict

Avoids Conflict


  • Address critical topics head on
  • Utilize all the team’s knowledge and resources
  • Engage in lively, business focused, discussions
  • Focus on the issue (task related conflict) not the person (interpersonal conflict)
  • Team members play it safe in meetings
  • Avoid discussing controversial topics
  • Lack of commitment and ownership to ideas/projects
  • Fail to utilize the collective wisdom of the team


High Commitment

Low Commitment


  • Clarity on direction and priorities
  • Team aligned and has a united front
  • Excellence in execution
  • Count on team members for support “we are in this together”
  • Lack of follow through
  • Ambiguous work environment
  • Continually revisits previous decisions
  • Unsure of where team members “stand”


Is accountable and holds others accountable

Avoids Accountability


  • Fosters respect because all are held to the same standard
  • Positive peer pressure
  • Identifies problems quickly because able to question another’s approach
  • Reduced need for formal performance management
  • Breeds resentment because everyone is not held to the same standard
  • Frequently misses deadlines
  • Team leader is the sole source of accountability
  • Reduced standards of excellence


Collective Results

Individual Results


  • Focuses team behavior on specific actions
  • Minimizes individualistic behavior
  • Team does what is “right” for the business
  • Encourages individualistic behavior
  • Team members can be easily distracted
  • Individual goals not always aligned with what is best for the business

Creative Conflict: How management teams can have a good fight

The absence of conflict is not harmony, it is apathy

How teams argue but still get along

  • Focus on issues not personalities
    • Base discussion on current, factual information
    • Develop multiple alternatives to enrich the debate
  • Frame decisions as collaborations aimed at achieving the best possible solutions for the company
    • Rally around goals
    • Inject humor into the decision-making process
  • Establish a sense of fairness and equity in the process
    • Maintain a balanced power structure
    • Resolve issues without forcing consensus

Building a fighting team

  • Assemble a heterogeneous team
  • Meet regularly and often
  • Encourage team members to assume roles beyond their obvious geographic or functional responsibilities
  • Apply multiple mind-sets to any issue
  • Actively manage conflict – don’t allow team to acquiesce too soon.

From: How management teams can have a good fight by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Jean L. Kahwaji; L. J. Bourgois III in Harvard Business Review reprint 97402

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