How to build a high performance team you can be proud of

You’ve heard it before, ‘a team is more than the sum of it’s parts’. So in what circumstances is the following true:

1+1+1+1+1+1 = 6

1+1+1+1+1+1 = 2

1+1+1+1+1+1 = 12

Creating the conditions for high performance teamwork, where 1 x 6 really does equal 12, is the holy grail of team development. In this paper we discuss the five disciplines of high performance teams that should underpin any team coaching approach, the characteristics of high performance teams and the most effective methods for turning your team into a high performance team.

If you would like to discuss how to take your team to the next level please schedule a complimentary consultation at your convenience.

Even when you have highly talented individuals on your team, team performance levels may reach only what each of your team members could have achieved working on their own. Or individual performance levels may even reduce, such is the negative impact of the team process at times.

In this 4 minute video, Professor Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership, Henley Business School shares his thoughts on the 5 disciplines for high performance teams.

Professor Hawkins’ leadership team coaching approach resonates with us here at Triumpha. We like it because it goes beyond how your team connects together through relationships and considers how to create a team that can transform your business.

We believe that accelerating the alignment, development and effectiveness of board and executive leadership teams is one of the most powerful routes for increasing organisation performance and growth. Leadership team high performance is not an optional nice to but an organisational necessity. But don’t take our word for it:


“Not finance. Not Strategy. Not Technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Patrick Lencioni (2002)

High Performance Team Characteristics

High performance teams have the following:

  1. Shared Purpose: team members define a shared purpose which inspires & mobilises them to drive for results
  2. Focus on Results: team members create shared clarity on what you must collectively deliver
  3. Healthy conflict: team members honour differences and engage in passionate debate.
  4. Wholehearted Commitment: team members wholeheartedly commit to decisions and action plans
  5. Mutual Accountability: team members hold each other accountable for meeting team objectives
  6. Trust: team members are open about mistakes and weaknesses and willing to ask each other for help.
  7. Team Sense: team members behave in the best interests of the team when they are together and when they are apart.

These characteristics reflect common sense. The theory is simple whilst also being extremely difficult to put into practice day after day. It requires uncommon levels of courage, discipline and humility from you and your team over a sustained period of time to deliver sustainable team high performance.

In our experience these levels of discipline and persistence don’t happen by chance and occur only when two conditions are met:


Generating motivational energy around a shared purpose and goals that matter deeply to your team members will fuel your journey to team high performance.


 “Be enthusiastic as a leader you can’t light a fire with a wet match.”




Great teamwork doesn’t happen by chance. It takes some heavy lifting. Your team will need to commit to a team coaching process that:

“Will help them both improve their collective performance and how they work together, and also how they develop their collective leadership to more effectively engage with all their key stakeholder groups to jointly transform the wider business.”

Professor Peter Hawkins

High Performance Team Development Options

 There are a variety of interventions that you can use to increase your team’s performance and effectiveness:

  • Strategic planning meetings: focus on your strategic challenges, opportunities and plans without distraction for 1-2 days (preferably offsite)
  • Team development events: bespoke sessions to help your team improve for example, decision making, problem solving, conflict management, team communication and cohesion
  • Leadership retreats: time to prepare for leading transformation and change
  • Team meeting observation & feedback: team coaches observe your team in action, provide feedback on what they see and coach your team ‘real time’ to increase their efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Individual leadership coaching: for positive sustainable behavioural change
  • Meetings with stakeholders: clarifying expectations, enabling collaboration and partnership working
  • Succession Planning: plan for the replacement of key leaders and increase the readiness of succession candidates.
  • Defining a leadership standard: what great leadership looks like in your business

Used in isolation each of these interventions will be helpful up to a point. If we compare team coaching to working with a personal trainer to lose weight and get fitter. A one-time trip to the gym or a week of eating the right food moves you in the right direction but doesn’t deliver the results you want. For sustainable results you need to commit to get fit.

In this example your trainer facilitates a structured process informed by expertise in nutrition, exercise and wellbeing but you have to do the heavy lifting. If you don’t put the miles in or follow the eating plans you are unlikely to make progress towards your goals.

High performance teamwork isn’t different. Just as with the fitness example, when the disciplines for high performance are internalised you don’t need a trainer any more. At this point you have embedded a way of working that supports the continued growth, development and high performance of your team.


Think about the 2-3 biggest challenges for your organisation over the next 12-24 months:

  • Is your leadership team ready to meet these challenges?
  • How does your individual and collective leadership need to evolve and develop?

If you would like to discuss how to take your team to the next level please schedule a complimentary consultation at your convenience.


Organisational Culture and the importance of feelings

Think of organisations you’ve worked for. Which one is your favourite?


What do you remember about it? Your colleagues, the building, the work?


Or was it the way it made you feel: proud, challenged, energised, hopeful or perhaps even ‘at home’?’


What about your favourite leader? Do you remember how they dressed, what they said or do you remember how you felt when they spoke to you?


Or was it simply the bragging rights from being part of a high performance team, doing things that mattered…how good did it feel to say you worked for ‘X’ the very first time?


We join organisations for community. We give our best and we stay because of how we feel.


As a leader in your organisation, it is your job to make sure that the emotional experience people have when they engage with your organisational culture is intentional and memorable.


Research by Daniel Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute offers insights on how to do this. We derive our sense of identity not just from who we are, but what we are part of. Our brains produce a ‘we’ map which shows our part in the bigger whole. Leaders who get this connect individuals to a bigger purpose, honour individual differences and proactively build connections between individuals, teams and across the organisation.


This style of leadership fits with our basic human nature to be part of a ‘we’, rather than a solitary ‘I’. It creates an organisational culture where people thrive and engage. Not because they have to but because the organisation has become part of who they are.


Ask yourself how you want your people to feel when they come to work and then ask your people the same question. See if the answers align. If they do you are doing a wonderful job creating your desired organisational culture. If not then you’ve got work to do because people don’t always remember what you achieved, but they always remember how you made them feel.

New Leadership through the Lens of Emotions

Emotions and specifically emotional intelligence are synonymous with effective leadership in today’s organisations. How leaders manage their emotions, mange their relationships and make changes to their emotional style have been topics of conversation for some time. Recent studies about the benefits from positive emotions offer new insights.

Daniel Goleman’s pioneering work tells us that whilst IQ is the best predictor of what kind of job you will be able to hold. It typically takes an IQ of 115 or above to handle the cognitive complexity, facing a professional or top executive. The paradox is, once you’re in a high IQ position, intellect loses its power to determine who will become the most productive and effective leader. How you manage yourself and your relationships – your emotional intelligence matters more.

In a high IQ job pool, Goleman says that soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding. EQ (emotional quotient) typically accounts for 80% of this leadership success. This finding holds as true for CEO and board level leaders as it does for any other leader, according to research from Mullwood Partnership.

Given the critical role emotional intelligence plays in leadership success, surely mastery of how we manage ourselves, manage our relationships and adapt our leadership style to increase effectiveness must be at the heart of every leader’s development?

Negative Emotions: Narrow Choice and Develop Specific Action Tendencies

Most readers of this blog will have had some leadership coaching on how to manage their own emotions and the emotions of others in the workplace. The mantras, ‘take the heat out’, ‘keep a cool head’ and ‘don’t let your emotions interfere with business’ are probably familiar to you.

The problem with this advice is that it only helps us to manage negative emotions. For our ancestors, negative emotions helped them to narrow in on a specific set of actions, saving their skin in the moment. (Often, in life and death situations.) Whilst our operating environment has changed, we still rely on this ancestral script. For example, if we are fearful, we want to escape, if we are angry we want to attack, if we are sad we want to withdraw and if we feel shame we want to disappear.

Leaders learn early on that letting rip with the full power of our negative emotions isn’t required, except in emergencies, and it doesn’t necessarily produce the best results in the workplace. Through self-management we learn to constrain our negative emotional spectrum and help others to do the same. We become masters in the art of emotional neutrality, able to block out our hard-wired action tendencies and do what is required in the moment to take the heat out and keep a cool head.

Emotional management is an important skill. When you need to have difficult conversations, make tough decisions, close facilities or make people redundant, ‘keeping your powder dry’ is essential. However, being able to manage negative emotions won’t make you an emotionally intelligent leader. For that you also need to understand positive emotions and how extraordinary performance requires focus on both negative and positive psychology in the workplace.

Positive Emotions: Broaden and Build

Professor Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina one of the world’s leading scholars in emotion science says that positive emotions open us up. They broaden our momentary thought-action repertoires and widen the array of thoughts and actions that come to mind.

For example the experience of joy creates the urge to play, to push the limits and be creative. Interest creates an urge to explore, take in new information and new experience, pride encourages us to dream big and achieve more and inspiration aspires us to excellence. This broadening builds enduring personal resources such as creativity, learning and change agility, resilience and the capacity to get out of the weeds and see the big picture. These resources function as reserves that can be drawn upon when you need them.

Our day to day experiences of positive emotions function like a daily diet, which can be rich in all kinds of nutrients like eating five or ten fruits and vegetables a day. We need a variety of positive emotions and a steady diet to keep us learning and growing and becoming the best versions of ourselves over time. It’s not the case that eating one piece of broccoli this year is going to make you healthy! You and those who work with you need a steady diet of positive emotions, day in and day out.

In the Future of Management, Gary Hamel says that for organisations to be fit for the future they need to be fit for human beings. He identifies the biggest challenges facing organisations today as:

    • Accelerated change: Building a company that can change as fast as change itself.
    • Hyper-competition: Building a company where innovation is the work of everybody, everyday.
    • Creating new knowledge: Building a company where people are willing to bring the ‘gifts’ of their initiative, creativity & passion.

To meet these challenges we need leaders who can unleash and mobilise the full potential, imagination, initiative and passion of every employee, every day. If you want to inspire, engage, even elevate people and produce extraordinary performance in the process you need to become a positive ‘climate engineer’. The tiny engine that will power your leadership climate is positive emotion.

Psychology Insights for Extraordinary Organisation Performance

Back in 2005, I was HR Director for BAE Systems Air Support. Looking for new ways to drive the extraordinary performance required to execute the business strategy I turned to the new field of positive psychology.

The business was doing well with a solid order book, £1 billion turnover and profit in line with expectations. We also had a superb management board with a shared ambition to double the size of the business in the next five years. Our strategy was to move beyond the design and development of military aircraft and provide new services, namely maintenance work and capability upgrades for in-service aircraft.

This was unchartered territory, we needed approaches that would help us engage our workforce with the new strategy, encourage extraordinary performance from our people and build from our leadership strengths during a time of significant change.

Positive Psychology

Scouting for ideas I discovered the fledgling field of positive psychology. This offered a profoundly different approach to the way organisations, manage and create value through people. Positive interventions are unique in that they are aimed at optimal functioning rather than just functioning.

Imagine a person recovering from surgery and visiting a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist engages the client in physical activity with the goal of recovering ‘normal’ functioning. In other words moving along a scale from say a -3 to a zero.

Now think about a person visiting a personal trainer at the gym. The trainer engages in many of the same activities, running the client through repetitive physical exercise, but this time with the aim of taking an already healthy body and making it perform even better. For example this time moving from +3 to +8.

This simple explanation gave me the light bulb moment I had been looking for.  I realised that many of the approaches in use within organisations for leading and managing people stop short. They deliver neutral levels of performance at best. Not bad but not that good either.

I began to believe that there was as much, or more to be gained from capitalising on strengths and positivity as there was in trying to overcome weaknesses and fix problems. We needed to generate extraordinary levels of performance. It was time to try a different approach.

It was a risk, it could have gone badly wrong. However positive psychology is built on a foundation of careful study and empirical evidence, so the risk didn’t feel so large.

By 2007 we had a number of ‘first of their kind’ availability contracts under our belt and had doubled business turnover to £2 billion sooner than anticipated. In addition the leadership development, strategic change and employee engagement approaches we used were awarded a Gold Chairman’s Award for outstanding contribution to business success.

If you are looking for new approaches on how to improve leadership effectiveness, employee engagement and the execution of organisational and behavioural change, positive psychology offers impactful tried and tested solutions.

The Science of Emotions

At the heart of positive psychology is the science of emotions. Professor Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina is one of the world’s leading scholars. I recently had the opportunity to learn directly from Barbara in a cutting edge masterclass packed with insights on how positive emotions boost energy, relationships, performance and health. Of particular note, they provide the key ingredient for sustaining behavioural change.

Look out for future blogs where I will be talking about some of the leading edge ideas from emotion science and positive psychology and how they can be applied in the workplace.

Read more about the BAE Systems case study.

CEOs what do they need to be good at?

Recent research from Mullwood Partnership offers a relevant and insightful answer to this question. The research describes how the role of the CEO is changing and examines the wider range of skills that are now required in order to perform and lead effectively at this level.

How must existing CEOs adapt and what needs to change about how we identify and develop the next generation of CEOs?

During 2012 Andrea Adams, Triumpha’s Managing Director (for those who don’t know her) had the opportunity to collaborate with Mullwood Partnership. They invited her to write up their first piece of major research called, ‘Broadening the CEO Selection Pool: where will our future leaders come from?

The findings summarise the views of 135 business leaders from around the world and clearly identify the experience, skills and behaviours that make a ‘stellar’ CEO as opposed to a merely ‘good’ one.

The Key Points

The research reveals that:

  • The best future CEOs will not necessarily come from the traditional routes of Finance and Operations, the talent selection pool will need to be wider.
  • Pre-requisites for today’s CEOs appear to be proven capability as an MD, followed by depth in their chosen sector and a multi-functional background.
  • Aspiring CEOs need to:
  • Express interest in becoming an MD/CEO. Don’t assume others know of your ambitions.
  • Build breadth as early as you can in your career by working outside of your home function.
  • People leadership is the CEO’s supreme differentiator. It singlehandedly distinguishes the best CEOs from the rest.

For more, download a copy of the full research report, Broadening the CEO Selection Pool: where will our future leaders come from.

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Talent Management in the Downturn

For organisations to be fit for the future they need to be fit for human beings according to Gary Hamel. We agree with his statement and in this article we consider some of the most pressing talent management challenges facing senior leaders and HR professionals as we emerge from the downturn.

Key points include:

  • The down turn is not just economic its psychological and emotional. Employees are tired and need help to reignite their passion, productivity and creativity.
  • Talent management approaches must help employees to find meaning at work. Leaders need to be able to convey the true spirit of their organisation and how its purpose goes beyond making money to also making a difference.
  • Translating external customer expectations into internal behaviours attunes the workforce to the needs of the market and leads to an informed employee voice.
  • To future proof their organisation leaders need to embrace what it means to be human and balance this with the needs of the business.

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Leadership Coaching: How CEOs & Senior Leaders Build Resilience and Capacity for Change

Where do you turn when you want to improve leadership effectiveness, resilience and capacity for change? Leadership coaching is a proven approach, so we invited Ann Scoular, founder of  Meyler Campbell and author of the Financial Times Guide to Business Coaching  to join a Triumpha network event group of CEOs and HR Leaders to share her views.

We transcribed the event so if you would like a copy of the transcript, please use the download link below.

Key Discussion Points

  • How to think clearly and effectively using the ’Big 5’ approach.
  • Key insights from neuroscience about behavioural change and how to sustain performance over time.
  • The hallmarks of effective leadership coaches.
  • 10 tough questions to ask a leadership coach.
  • An explanation for teenage behavior and why education is worth the effort.

Compared with only one generation ago, the amount of incoming data leaders need to process has multiplied hugely, and our processor (the brain) isn’t keeping pace. So where do we turn for that extra edge? Leadership coaching is often the answer.

Anne’s view is that working with a great leadership coach is “the equivalent of plugging in some extra processing capacity. With a great coach its like plugging into the National Grid – a surge of energy and clear focus that recharges the batteries and hauls us back to peak form.”

To download a copy of the transcript from this exclusive networking event, please enter your details below.

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Mapping a Strategic Approach to HR Leadership

The quality of HR Leadership in organisations is mixed. When we talk to HR professionals about working strategically, we typically find that ‘common sense is not common practice’. Sometimes people don’t understand what to do, or more usually they understand what to do, but they don’t do it, what we call the ‘knowing-doing’ gap.

Building the strategic capability of Human Resources leaders and their teams is essential. Strategic Human Resources has the potential to modernise management practice, bringing it into line with the needs of the 21st century organisation. HR leadership must strike the balance between business demands and the needs of the organisation and its workforce to adapt to change. This delivers sustainable value for all of the organisation’s stakeholders.

In this paper we cover:

  • How we have closed the HR leadership ‘knowing-doing’ gap in a leading retailer.
  • Five crucial conversations that strategic human resources leaders must catalyse within their organisations.
  • How Human Resources Leaders can build their confidence and strategic capability by working through a planned change process.
  • How to build appetite and expectation for a strategic Human Resources contribution among line colleagues.
  • A staged approach for developing and embedding strategic Human Resources capability in an HR team.

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How to Lead in the New Normal

The business environment will never be the same again. As the new decade unfolds, more and more business leaders and managers who have survived the recession and are rebuilding their organisations are coming to realise that their business models must be overhauled and that the old ways of improving performance and managing change will no longer work. Enter: leading in the new normal.

Leading in the New Normal Key points:

  • We need to steer away from the practice of employing people from the ‘shoulders down’. Today’s knowledge economy demands that we capitalise on individual’s from the neck up, releasing them from command and control management and liberating them to contribute more meaningfully.
  • Leaders must ‘future proof’ their organisations by building the strategic and cultural capabilities which enable them to win in their market place, adapt to change and produce the conditions where people can thrive.
  • Only by looking strategically at the people side of the business can organisations have any chance of delivering sustainable performance.
  • The importance of strategic clarity and having a compelling purpose that goes beyond making money to also making a difference.
  • The power of using pictures and creating the space for conversation in helping make change happen.

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Value of Organisation Development from the CEO’s Perspective

Organisation Development (OD) has had a bad wrap, often accused of being a ‘fluffy’ discipline with some practitioners demonstrating an unhealthy bias towards a people agenda disconnected from business goals.

However given the scale and complexity of the challenges facing today’s organisations, the contribution that organisation development can make to the success of organisations is vital. There is a need to design and develop organisations that are more adaptable, innovative, collaborative, inspiring and ultimately accountable. As such the natural place for the leadership of system-wide organisational change is the CEO.

CEOs need high quality Organisation Development support to help them lead essential business transformation. 
Key points in this article include:

  • The four most significant changes to the CEO role in the last five years.
  • The Leadership challenges that must be addressed are not new. We have been wrestling with them for a while. Today’s ‘stretch’ comes from the amplification of these existing challenges.
  • The one factor that differentiates the most successful CEOs.
  • Organisations that strike a balance between shorter term performance goals and longer term organisational resilience perform two and three times as well as those which only focus on health or performance respectively.
  • Creating and leading organisations that are adaptable, innovative, collaborative, inspiring and accountable used to be the concern of the few. It is now the concern of the many.

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