Extraordinary Leadership Teams


We don’t always get the performance we want. Not from ourselves and not from others. It can be frustrating. We may not know if it is in some way their fault or ours, nor may we know quite what to do about it: if we did, we would already have done it.

It’s bizarre: everyone wants to perform, We haven’t yet met anyone who wants to perform badly, and everyone would prefer to be in a high-performance team, or at least a winning team rather than a losing one. So what gets in the way?

Why Doesn’t The Team Work As It Could?

Let’s call everything that gets in the way of high-performance “interference”, whether it’s about self, “I can’t do that”, about another person, “He is getting in my way” or about the team as a whole, e.g. “I don’t feel comfortable here”.

This is about the self’s relationship with self, with individual team members, and with the team. These are often sub-optimal. Under pressure, executives can give themselves a hard time. In one-to-one relationships colleagues are often guessing what one another would want or would help each other perform. They don't say. Team formation may follow the haphazard“Forming, Storming, Norming and (sub)-Performing”. None of this helps.

While everything may reflect the relationship of self-to-self, much of the action, and difficulties, occur at the one-to-one level: the self with another. In a ten person team there are in fact scores of one-to-one relationships. Until these function well, the team as a whole is impaired.

In difficult environments, colleagues find themselves unable or unwilling to say what they think. The team itself suffers from a lack of perspectives. Difficult-to-have conversations don’t happen. A game of pretence develops. Although everyone still tries, motivation and belief are likely to diminish. No-one wants to be in this situation. How can one move out of it?

Telling team members to “snap out of it” won’t work. If they knew how to snap, they would. They are already doing their best to survive. Affirming a determination to build a better team can feel good, but without the tools may make little difference. Having a positive experience together via an orthodox team-building event could provide an experience of a better way of working, but once back in the work environment a return to business-as-usual is likely. What do we do?

We have to work at the level of beliefs. In a sub-optimal team, a range of limiting beliefs will operate: “We’re not working well”, “I’m not quite comfortable here”, “I can’t trust her”, He doesn’t like me”. Until these beliefs are uncovered they won’t change, and until these beliefs change, nothing changes. We see this in relationships. When I realise that, for example, you don’t mean to criticize me, it’s just your way of pointing out truth, I don’t need to take what you say personally any more. I’m freer to believe in myself and to believe in you. Of course, not every belief need be explicitly shared: enough for a rapprochement. We could call this “Conscious Team Development”.

Once we can get past our limiting visions of one another, we can move onto a positive vision for ourselves with one another, and then we can think about the team as a whole.

Once I stop believing the image I have of you is real, I can start to work with you as you really are. What would you add, fellow team member?

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