Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Trevor E. S. Smith | High-performance teams are not accidents

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM

We see these statements on posters:

- Teamwork makes the dream work

- Together each achieves more

- There is no ‘I’ in team

But while most of us accept the value of teamwork, cohesive high-performance teams are rare.

Why is it that something that is so important and sought after is so difficult to achieve?

Why is it that people who signed up to achieve the same objectives, spend a significant amount of time and energy in conflicts and unproductive behaviour?

Why is loyalty to the team and genuine support for each other so rare?


In dysfunctional teams, personal agendas rise to the top and displace the required focus on team goals. People do not give up their personal goals and aspirations when they enter a team.

However, in high-performance teams, leadership takes responsibility for accommodating personal objectives with team goals. Team members are not driven to forsake either objective.

This is an increasingly important role for leaders into today’s environment in which there is a higher level of individualism than in the past. Team members are a lot more interested in keeping the lines clear between themselves and the organisation.

Leaders have no alternative but to be responsive to personal interests and to sell how members can achieve fulfilment in the context of the organisation.

This skill is addressed in effective future-ready, leader-coach training and certification programmes. Ask me how!


Misunderstandings, prejudice, behavioural style differences and rivalries are important factors negatively impacting the performance of teams.

Members of high-performance teams appreciate the importance of nipping conflicts in the bud and taking care not to leave issues unresolved. Harmony is an essential ingredient of high performance.

Unfortunately, prejudice rears its head in teams. There are basically two solutions to prejudice – education and exclusion. Prejudice is fuelled by ignorance. Correcting falsely held views through education might help. Failing that, exclusion is required.

High-performance teams do not allow prejudice to take root in the team.

Differences in behavioural preferences are perhaps the most prevalent obstacles to effective teamwork. Here are some examples.


Members send and receive messages in different behavioural languages.

The choice of words, tone, and body language impacts how messages are translated into the unique understanding of different team members. We can take away different meanings and feelings from the same message.

This critical fact is the basis for many conflicts around “You said” and “That is not what I said” or hurt feelings from well-intentioned approaches. These team members are not lying or confused. That is what they ‘heard’ or experienced.

Someone with a preference for communicating in a definitive and animated manner might be deemed to be pushy and domineering, regardless of the actual content of their message.

A subdued style of presentation might be misconstrued as a sign of the lack of confidence, thereby reducing the impact of the message.

Addressing this challenge is why high-performance teams equip their members with an appreciation of principles like those shared in our DISCerning communication model.


The area in which there might be the starkest difference between high-performance and dysfunctional teams is in respect of how instructions are given and received.

This is an area in which one size does not fit all! Yet, leaders continue to take a uniform, across-the-board approach to getting things done.

That does not work!

Some team members simply want to get their assignment, targets and resources, and to be left alone to get it done.

Taking that approach to others might invite frustration and thoughts that leadership is uncaring and aloof.

High-performance teams cannot be developed without equipping leaders with mastery of principles related to behavioural styles.

Ignorance among leaders about behavioural styles and their impact on performance and team spirit is one of the drivers for the rash of low employee engagement that is now commonplace in organisations globally.

So, what can your team do?

Do what all successful teams do – get coaching!

What can you do? Keep the request on the front burner in the same way that you would badger IT about a computing glitch.

NOTE: High-performance teams make a big difference to the bottom line. Investments in developing them produce powerful returns.


Request a copy of our publication How Turf Wars Frustrate Productivity (Email:

- Trevor E S Smith/Success with People Academy certifies leadership professionals and coach/mentors and coaches the development of engaged, high-performance teams. Our technology solutions align, drive and track performance. Our SPIKE performance management, governance & compliance e-platform supports compliance, tracks performance and guides learning and development. We avoid bad hires with FinxS solutions from Extended DISC. Ask about how to create your own turn-key coaching business. Email: