The Seven Steps to Create & Manage High Performance Teams
Team Performance Guide 2000 Allan Drexler & David Sibbet 1
Team Performance Model: The Seven Steps
In the Orientation Stage, team members need to get their
bearing, finding out what they’re about as team, what givens they
have to manage and what kind of a team they are in the process
of creating. First, this means getting clear about their purpose as
a team, what they have to contribute to the organization. At
another level, team members individually need to understand
what they have to contribute to the team’s work, what is
expected of them, and what meaning their work holds for them.
Finally, the team as a whole may develop a sense of identity, an
understanding of who it is and what it stands for collectively as a
The Keys to Orientation
Purpose is established when team members understand what the group is formed to do;
when they see it as an acceptable challenge; and when they have the sense that their
purpose is important to the organization. Team members also believe that the team’s
purposes are valuable, and will make a contribution to the organization or its clients.
Team members identify with the team. The team has norms, values, things that it stands
for, and a sense of what it’s about, that give it continuity and identity over time. Team
members don’t feel so much “me and them” about each other; more that they are part of
a whole that is important to them.
Membership is resolved when people feel included by other members; when they have a
sense of ownership and identity with the group’s work; and when they feel a pride of
involvement in the team’s enterprise. The people on the team feel accepted by others,
and believe that they are fully “in.” They believe that the success of the team depends on
Signs of Unresolved Orientation Concerns
Team members are confused about what the team is supposed to do or what contribution
they are supposed to make. Their activity is aimless, restless, and unfocused. They are
likely to check out, and occupy themselves with things that are more secure for them.
What am I doing here remains a real issue.
am I here?
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Team members are extremely tentative in their approach. They spend a lot of time trying
to agree on what their purposes are, or dealing with the reluctance of some members to
move forward in an uncertain situation. The possibility that the team is not moving in the
direction the organization intended is always in the back ground.
Team members display a lot of anxiety because they don’t know what to do, and
whatever they choose to do, they don’t know if it will meet the needs of those who gave
the team its charter. Without any clear purpose, they feel they have little chance of being
successful since they don’t know what success is. Fear of failure and fear of the
unknown may combine to paralyze a team into inaction.
2. Trust Building
The central activity of Stage 2 is to establish bonds of trust
between team members. When a team has trust, its members
respect and rely on one another, and feel secure in one
another’s confidence. As a result, members can level with one
another, report what they think and feel about what is going on in
the group, and resolve their differences. Trust means not only
telling one another the truth, but also being able to count on
others to do their part, to have the competence to work
effectively, and to be reliable enough that others can count on it
that you will do what you say you’re going to do. Trust produces
the kind of information sharing that is essential to all of the
The Keys to Trust Building
When team members share mutual regard, they view one another as reliable, competent,
and trustworthy; the climate is positive; and people are nonmanipulative and mutually
supportive. Team members take one another and what they say at face value; there is
little questioning of the motives or good intentions of the others.
A primary expression of trust is the willingness to be open and free in dealing with other
group members. Forthrightness involves disclosing relevant information, free sharing of
data, and group members saying what they see, think, and feel. Team members are
direct and upfront with one another, with little reason to hold back.
Trust is built when team members view one another as reliable, that they can be counted
on. This implies that they have the ability to produce what the team needs from them and
are committed to doing so. The belief in the reliability of others comes over time when
they consistently follow through and do what they say they will.
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Signs of Unresolved Trust Concerns
Where there is little trust, team members think hard before they speak, play it close to the
vest, and don’t take many chances within the group. They hesitate to put themselves in a
position where they are vulnerable to other team members, or have to rely on the others
for support. Each pays attention first to taking care of him or herself.
Other team members aren’t viewed as reliable or trustworthy. Team members assume
that others don’t have their best interests at heart, and would put self interests about the
team’s interests. Individuals are guarded in the group, and attentive to any aggression by
the others. They tend to suspect the motives of others, and are sensitive to hidden
There is a distinct difference between what team members really think and feel, and what
they say. A brave front of false smile often hides real anxiety or anger about what is
going on in the group. Team members are uncertain about where they stand with one
another because they don’t share their genuine thoughts and feelings.
3. Goal Clarification
In stage 3 of a team’s development, its work begins to take
shape. What the team embraced as it’s fundamental purpose
in Stage 1, has to be translated into more specific goals and
objectives. The team gives specific answers to the question
“What are we doing?” It draws a vision for itself, the end point
it is aiming for, that provides the general direction for its work.
It also sets clear goals that are milestones along the way,
measures of its progress, that form the basis of its contract
with the organization and the basis for its accountability, both
internally and externally.
The Keys to Goal Clarification
In resolving this issue, a team must make its basic assumptions, premises, values, and
philosophy explicit. In doing so, it can recognize areas of agreement and confirm them;
and notice areas of difference and reconcile them. Having a clear set of values and
assumptions sets the stage for a team to select goals and set priorities.
Clear, Integrated Goals
Before a team can effectively join in action, its members have to share an understanding
and agreement about what the team is trying to do. The key is to have specific goals that
team members see and support, so they know just what they are aiming for and they can
are we doing?
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tell when they hit the target. A well formed goal is the primary draw on the team’s
A concerted effort by the whole team means everyone needs to know clearly where the
team is heading. Excellent teams have a clear vision of the future for themselves that
defines their contribution to their organization and their clients, and how they see
themselves and are seen by others. A vision shared by everyone on the team sets the
direction for all of their work, and gives it really focus.
Signs of Unresolved Goal Concerns
If team members can’t see the targets they are shooting for, or don’t care much to hit
them, their interest level will be low and they won’t invest much energy in their work. The
fact is if you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter much how fast or which
way you go. If goals are uncertain, team members will tend to be disengaged, and only
do what is absolutely necessary.
When goals aren’t clear, people on the team take everything with a grain of salt. They
suspect that the leaders of the team don’t know what they are doing, and so they
question or resist any decision or call to action. If team members disagree with the
team’s stated goals, they question the wisdom or prudence of those who set the team’s
In the absence of clear goals, team members may pass the time or amuse themselves by
playing games, challenging authority, and nitpicking arguments. All of these are ways of
resisting the team moving in an unwanted direction or making a point in an activity that
my otherwise seem pointless.
Stage 4 is pivotal in a group’s development. At this stage, a team
sets itself to do its work, makes the necessary choices, lets go of
differences among team members, and finds the resolve it needs
to carry it to success. The remaining fundamental questions are
answered: decisions are made, resources are allocated,
priorities are set, roles are formed, responsibilities are shared,
and the team agrees on how it will do business. The crux of
Stage 4 is genuine commitment by the members to what the
group is set to do.
At this point it’s important to remember that the significance of
subsequent stages depends on the goals of the team and level
of interdependence required to meet them. Some teams are
simply tackling one specific problem and will disband after a
Stage four decision. Others need to produce ongoing results.
Some will consciously choose high performance. The more
will we do it?
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freedom and interdependence desired, the more critical it is to
master the earlier stages, which are the foundation of high
The Keys to Commitment
Once a team has identified all the things that have to be done for it to reach its goals, it
has to clear about who is responsible for each activity or function. Sorting all of these
responsibilities out defines the role that each team member will play. Roles include not
only task responsibilities, but authority to take action or make commitments on behalf of
The bottom line test of an organization’s commitment to the team is to provide the
resources needed to do the job. The challenge for the team is to use its resources well,
to set clear priorities, and to make the most of what it has. Teams that manage their
resources well are able to strike a balance between what they have and what they need
To excel, a team has to know not only where it is going but how it is going to get there.
This includes understanding how decisions are made, how control and influence are
shared, how communication flows, and what norms and ground rules will guide the
team’s work. Settling all of these issues gives shape and structure to the team’s work,
and enables it to focus its attention on the work at hand.
Signs of Unresolved Commitment Concerns
If team members aren’t fully committed, they may in effect disown responsibility for what
the team is doing. Their response might be to leave all decisions and responsibility on
the team leaders, or a couple of members. The attitude might be “Just tell me what you
want me to do and I’ll do it. I just work here.” Team members may take responsibility for
particular tasks, but not for the overall results.
Lack of commitment may be expressed by a general pattern of resistance to whatever
the team is doing. Team members may constantly play devil’s advocate, question,
oppose, complain, and snipe at any suggestion to move forward. The general tone in the
group becomes antagonistic and a bit hostile.
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As work begins, timing and sequencing become an
overriding concern “who does what, when, and where?”
Within whatever overall direction is chosen in Stage four,
action plans with task, time, and objectives need to be
articulated and followed. The clearer the overall
organization is to people, the more individual creativity can
be applied on specific tasks during implementation. There
are many ways to achieve this kind of integration, but all
involve aligning on a clear order of work and systems for
communicating progress. Conflict, confusion, and missed
deadlines indicate lack of resolution of these issues. Team
productivity and discipline indicate Stage five issues have
The Keys to Implementation
People on the team know how things are to be done. Standard operation procedures
have been defined where they are needed. The sequence of activities is clear, especially
where team members depend on one another to complete one task so that the next one
can begin. There is a system to plan and schedule work, and to monitor its progress.
The hallmark of team with good alignment is smoothness in its work. Activities of various
members blend together easily, with few instances of duplication or contradiction in their
work. Internal communications among members are sufficient, timing is good, and work
progresses in an orderly way.
The team stays on track, work operation are crisp, and there are a minimum of errors or
misplays. There is a feeling of mastery and having things under control. There is a place
for everything and everything in its place. Effort is concentrated, and little of it is wasted.
Signs of Unresolved Implementation Concerns
Conflict and Confusion
Team members aren’t sure what to do, how or when to do it. Sometimes more than one
person is doing the same thing, sometimes no one does it. Sometimes team members
act or speak contrary to one another. A lot of time is spent reinventing how things are to
be done, redoing work, or catching up with things that should have been done but
The activities of team members clash rather than blend smoothly. People on the team
may not even know what the others are doing when they need to know. Changes of
plans aren’t communicated to everyone, and things tend to fall through the cracks. There
seems to be little order or smoothness in the way activities fall out.
WHO does WHAT,
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Because of confusion about responsibilities, timing, or unevenness in the work
distribution, the team doesn’t keep its time commitments. Target dates pass, and as the
team gets off schedule, later dates have no meaning. One missed deadline leads to
another. The team may soon be working without a meaningful or understood time frame
6. High Performance
When team members have developed an implicit trust among
themselves and have mastered the technologies of their work, a
new dimension of performance becomes open to them. Their
inner connectedness supports a high level of synergy and
creativity. The easiness of their interactions enables them to
respond nimbly to changing conditions and produce
extraordinary results that draw the response, “Wow!” The way
members of high performing teams work together is distinctive.
They interact easily, with little defensiveness, and an intuitive
sense of how to be supportive of one another. They are
accomplished in their work and at ease with it. They respond to
one another, bring out the best in one another, and in doing so
lift the team’s performance to a higher level.
The Keys to High Performance
Spontaneity in interactions tends to arise when team members don’t have to conform to a
lot of conventions in their behavior nor submit to numerous rules and reviews. They are
able to be themselves and exercise a good deal of freedom in the way they work. There
is a lot of easy give-and-take, and creativity emerges from their willingness to follow the
flow of their ideas in an unguarded way.
A high performing team out does itself. The result is greater than the sum of the parts.
Synergistic teams tend to break the boundaries in some sense: they go beyond the
aggregate abilities of individual members, exceed expectations, overcome situational
constraints. The results they produce are surpassing, and they and others around them
High performing teams produce exceptional results. They don’t do the impossible, but
they do the best that can be done under the circumstances, and most would agree that
they achieve what many teams do not.
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Signs of Unresolved High Performance Concerns
Sometimes teams take on too much, don’t have a good sense of their limits (even high
performing teams have them!), and overload the system that may have carried them to
high performance. A team may also become preoccupied with itself as a team, become
so focused on the process and internal communication that it loses sight of what it’s
It is difficult to sustain high performance over a long period of time. As goals are
achieved, members’ interests change, a new vision is created, roles change, and a team
may lose the harmony it once had. A high performing team may simply become
discouraged that it doesn’t always sustain the same performance level, and begin
scapegoating within the group.
High performance teams lose their edge or complete their tasks
and inevitable ask “Why continue?” Earlier answers to key
concerns no longer fit. People arrive and leave, and the group
alignment can change. Burnout is a common result of not
renewing purposefulness and vision while keeping up a high
performance pace. But when a team commits to learning and
renewal, congruence of teams and their visions over a long
period is possible. Renewal might consist of regularly setting
aside time for team practices, or having special annual
celebrations of completion and realignment. Often it is the link
with another cycle of team process which begins back at
orientation, moving through trust and goals back to commitment.
In a team-based culture, this journey becomes richer and easier
as members anticipate issues and deal with them from
They Keys to Renewal
Recognition and Celebration
To recognize the work of individuals or the team as a whole is to see it for what it is and
respond to it. When team members or the whole team produce work that is valuable,
someone should say so, and honor it. That may be the organization, the team leaders, or
the members themselves. The recognition may be in words or a reciprocal gift.
Celebration is a special way of publicly recognizing work.
Teams that last have to be adaptable. They change with the times, confront new
challenges, experience turnover in membership, and deal with shifting conditions. Teams
need to accept change as inevitable and welcome it as refreshing and growth producing
rather than resisting or complaining about it. The most successful teams anticipate and
prepare for change.
•Recognition & celebration
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To endure, to grow and to prosper, teams have to find ways to keep themselves fresh
and energetic. Teams with staying power frequently revisit their overriding purposes and
make sure they keep them in sight. Teams that keep their broad purposes in focus are
better able to sustain their commitment. A key to staying power is pacing, and taking the
time to pause, renew, and regroup.
Signs of Unresolved Renewal Issues
Once a team has become successful, reproducing the same successes is less rewarding.
Some of the challenge is gone, the problems that were once engaging are now solved,
and things may become routine. People may start just going through the motions,
relieved for a while that things are easier, but eventually they get bored and need new
goals and challenges to keep them engaged.
Success may breed success, but it also attracts work. Teams may make more
commitments than they can keep, or take on (or be assigned) more work than they can
do. For a while, a team may run to keep up, working long hours, pausing infrequently,
and taking little time for reflection. Sooner or later, the effects or wear and tear show up,
members start to burn out, and performance deteriorates.