How to Shift Your Team Into High Performance


Developing a high performing team is often one of the greatest pursuits of any leader.  Great teams can produce a higher quality output at least 80% of the time.  So, it makes sense that leaders spend so much time shaping and strengthening their teams to achieve high performance.  Yet, what does amazing performance look like for a team?  What are the signs that your team is humming at its peak?

Three Performance Levels of Teams

In our work in developing amazing teams, especially at the senior level, we find teams are typically at one of three performance levels:  

  1. chaos
  2. stability
  3. high performance  

Drawing on the work done at the Center for Organizational Design, each of these levels of team performance have distinct characteristics.  Honestly, identifying the current performance level for your team will provide clarity around what needs to be addressed to achieve or maintain an unbelievable team.


Sometimes teams can drift into poor performance.  It is at this point that teams may not even resemble a team other than by name only.  A recent operational leader was transferred into a new business unit and was appalled at the lack of accountability that existed in her new team.  She said that the results were spotty, people were performing redundant work, and rarely relied on each other in positive ways.  If this sounds familiar, your team may be in a state of chaos.  Look at the following characteristics of chaotic teams and see if your team is at this lowest state of performance:    

  •    Inconsistent results
  •    Shifting priorities, lack of clear direction and goals
  •    Processes, structures, and systems not in place
  •    Reactive, short-term focus
  •    Unclear policies and procedures
  •    Lack of collaboration within the team
  •    Inadequate or unclear people and resources


When a team is delivering sufficient results, has a foundation of processes to rely on, and people respect each other, then the team is likely in a state of stability.  This is a nice place to be, especially if the team is coming out of chaos.  While stability can create positive team impact, team members can become complacent and resist being stretched to achieve their potential.  Unless you are on a growth trajectory, most organizations are quite content to achieve steady, reliable teams.  The following are the characteristics of a good, stable team:  

  •    Consistent performance results
  •    Basic processes, structures, and systems in place
  •    Resources adequate and in place
  •    Clarity of goals and direction
  •    Consistency of priorities
  •    Well-defined policies and procedures

High Performance

Teams that hit the highest level of performance are usually epitomized by growth—in the organization, in the team, and in the team members.  Amazing teams have high targets and rally to achieve them.  They produce results that move themselves and the organization ahead of the competition.  They are well resourced, prize individual learning and educated risk taking, and respect processes as much as the people who perform them.  They can be led by one person or share the leadership across multiple team members.  Consider your team against the following high performing characteristics:      

  •    Excellent performance results
  •    Growth of new business opportunities
  •    Excellent processes, structures, and systems, aligned to strategy
  •    High involvement and empowerment of people
  •    Respect for people is a part of the culture
  •    Good communication and information sharing; welcoming diverse perspectives

Whether you are a team leader, team member, or both, identifying your team’s current and future level of performance is critical.  Understanding the three levels of team performance enables you to develop a plan of action to challenge your team to greater success.  So, what can you do shift your team from chaos to stability and then into high performance?

Shifting from Chaos to Stability

Perhaps your team is in a state of chaos right now.  You need to right the ship quickly and get the team to a baseline of consistent execution and a decent level of teamwork.  This might take at least a few months, but now you know what to focus on.  Here is a suggested game plan for you:

  •    Clarify and communicate the overall corporate goals and direction (and how the team relates to it)
  •    Develop information sharing or communications approaches
  •    Define roles and responsibilities
  •    Develop and communicate clear expectations and performance objectives
  •    Regularly follow up, explaining consequences of unmet expectations, and holding yourself- and others- accountable
  •    Create clear personnel policies and norms of behaviors on the team
  •    Develop and follow technical and workflow processes and procedures

Shifting from Stability to High Performance

As your team comes out of chaos and achieves stability, you can consider elevating the team’s performance to the next level of high performance.  Notice how the following actions build on and extend the foundation established during the team stability phase.  Use these actions below to create your action plan to reach and maintain amazing team performance:

  •    Create and agree upon a team mission and set of values (aligned with the organization’s mission and values)
  •    Align the team structure and systems to support business direction and philosophy
  •    Achieve total customer focus
  •    Focus on growth and develop a learning mindset
  •    Ensure that respect for people is a deeply ingrained part of the team’s culture
  •    Build and expect high involvement and empowerment for team members
  •    Redefine the team leader’s role to ensure participative leadership and to be active and visible  
  •    Focus on process and continuous improvement

If your team is in a state of chaos, you now know what stability looks like and what to do get them to the next level.  If your team is in a state of stability and you want to optimize the team, you now know what high performance looks like and how to achieve it.  

Set your sights high and feel the power and results that come from an amazing team!