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What Makes A High-Performance Team?

Updated: May 12, 2020

Team results that matter

with Bruce McLeod

The relentless focus on performance is not easing. Many companies and leaders continue to work very, very hard at realizing results. We believe this power of results happens when the leader can effectively lead a team to their best performance. There’s lots of research and models on what could be done. So where to start and what’s important?

Teamwork, getting work done through others and delegation are leadership and sales competencies that permeate many of our planning and coaching conversations with clients. This is where the soft skills come to the forefront. It is in these conversations that we spend time on people, personalities and communications.

Pivotal Coaching recently worked with Vision Coaching and their high-performance team lead coach consultant, Bruce McLeod, to help a client with their leadership performance. Our work with Bruce has us wanting to tap more into his insights, best practices and coach approach for how leaders create, build and sustain a high-performance team culture.

If you see you and your company’s success realized through the work of strong teams, connect with us to learn more about our High-Performance Team Program.

The goal of this article is to disrupt your thinking, get you curious to learn more and see the potential you could realize by focusing on developing High-Performance Teams. Let’s see what Bruce has to say on the subject.

What is a high-performance team?

It is a team built by design – it requires commitment and hard work. The most important work means:

1. It is a team with shared purpose and goals, and the metrics by which to measure

2. There is full alignment, collaboration AND accountability

3. Tough conversations are had; feedback is provided in the moment and in a spirit of continuous improvement

Where have you seen trust done well in a team?

Trust is a very important foundation to a team’s performance.

Quite simply stated – I have seen trust done well when there are both the investment of the work required and the commitment to do it. There is no place in HPT for trust to be earned. It must be granted and that requires tough and vulnerable conversations.

I have heard you make the statement of: “Are we working for the system or is the system working for us?” Tell us more about what’s behind this.

A key element of high performance is looking at how systems can support efficiency and better results. In the complex environments we work in today, we need to be constantly examining the systems we “have” and asking if they are the systems we “need”. As the environment changes, our systems need to be fully adaptive to be able to meet new opportunities and challenges.

How do we diagnose a team using employee engagement surveys?

We know two things with certainty from all the data gathered from employee engagement surveys done over the past 15 years. First, that people don’t quit an organization, they quit their immediate manager; and second, people want to go home at the end of each day feeling like they had the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution and that the contribution is appreciated by the organization. Who is the face of the organization for them?

Their immediate manager. High performance starts and ends with leadership. The value of surveying engagement levels lies in the data provided AND the ability to understand and act on it – not getting defensive about it.

There’s additional diagnosis and measurement to help a company focused on the right things. Employee engagement surveys are one perspective.

Tell us about your view on “being – doing – having” as a leader.

In North America, we have a false sense of urgency to jump right to the “doing”, and we pay the price. It all starts with who we are being, individually and as a team/organization. Who we are informs and drives what we do, and what we do leads to what we have. Leadership starts with self-awareness, of who we are being. Self-awareness creates a choice point for the leader to explore how they want to show up. That decision ultimately creates what/how they decide to “do”. Without the self-awareness, there is no recognition of the choice, and that ultimately drives what the end result will be.

You talk about the 20/60/20 composition of a team. Who should a leader spend their time on?

All too often leaders spend a disproportionate amount of their time and energy on the lowest performing, disengaged employees. High performance is attained by leveraging and supporting the top 20% as a means to lift the performance of the 60% in the middle. High performance is fundamentally about setting conditions to leverage discretionary effort and that already exists in the 20% most engaged employees. The question to ask as a leader is, “Am I tolerating and managing the bottom 20% or am I leveraging and growing our top 20%?”

What’s one thing a leader can stop doing to be a more effective leader of a high-performance team?

Stop saying yes to everything and leverage the strength you have in those around you. Ask yourself what you can stop doing or delegate to others so that you can step back and look at the organization from the balcony, not the dance floor. This will result in spending less non-productive time on the urgent/important things and allow you to consider the not urgent/important things (Stephen Covey Time Management Matrix) – that is where the path to high performance starts.

Start with an honest self-evaluation of who you are “being” as a leader. Resist the temptation to jump immediately to the “doing”.

What’s your advice to a busy leader who doesn’t have any time in their day to take on new activities?

What got you to where you are now will not get you to where you want to be! One of the most commonly shared obstacles to growing leadership and performance is the capacity issue. This is often framed in terms of the cost of stopping something in order to create “thinking” time or to plan and try something different. Rather than thinking about the cost of getting off the hamster wheel, the real question leaders need to ask is what the cost would be of not doing it!

What’s the starting point for looking at the effectiveness of a team and its leadership?

Often leadership teams can’t see the forest for the trees. This is not surprising and is all too common. I believe the starting point is working with someone who can objectively help your team to look itself in the mirror and reflect on what they see. Be ready to be challenged and pushed into uncomfortable places and conversations in service of creating what you aspire to be. Little growth ever occurs when we are comfortable!

Thank you so much, Bruce! It is great to have your insights on this important work.

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." – Helen Keller

The high-performance team priorities

Those who work with Pivotal Coaching know we try to distill things down to 1 to 3 themes, focuses or priorities. We do this because 1 to 3 is our best memory capacity. To help you recap this interview on high-performance teams with Bruce McLeod, here’s what we see as the leading themes to retain:

1. Work on strategy for a culture by design and systems (People, Process, Technology, Customers, Leadership and Culture) that work for your company

2. Know who you are as a leader and how you show up. Pause to capture self-awareness before jumping to “doing”

3. Grant trust. Believe that people act with good intentions and are capable of handling difficult conversations

If you’ve got important business goals or are feeling that team potential isn’t being realized, a fresh perspective can help. Look to have a diagnosis and a discussion about your desired future state. Contact us to talk about the performance you and your team would like to realize and how we can help you.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African proverb

About Pivotal Coaching’s and Vision Coaching’s Work

Executive coaching trends reflect using coaching strategically in corporations; coaching being embedded in learning and development programs and coaching being delivered with technology. To be industry leaders for our clients, Pivotal Coaching and Vision Coaching work together to bring a full suite of coaching, consulting, and services to our clients.  

Pivotal Coaching powered by V1 Coaching System™ offers our clients diagnosis, solutioning, coaching methodology, technology and certified coaching resources. 

Vision Coaching

Vision Coaching is the largest coaching company located in Atlantic Canada and provides coaching services throughout North America. They offer access to a bench of highly experienced and credentialed coaches for leadership and professional and personal development coaching.

Vision Coaching built and leverages the V1 Coaching Platform to enhance coaching enegement management, coaching experience and outcomes.


Bruce McLeod, guest contributor and high-performance team coach consultant

Bruce McLeod PCC, CEC, B.A. Law, C.AEd is a multi-certified consultant and executive coach. Bruce has worked in and with organizations in pursuit of creating a coaching culture and has contributed to the kinds of business transformations that garner national notice. Bruce earned his Certified Executive Coach designation at Royal Roads University and his Professional Certified Coach credentials through the International Coach Federation. He is on faculty of the graduate executive coaching program at Royal Roads and he co-wrote curriculum for, and delivers, the Creating a Coaching Culture program for Royal Roads University. Bruce is currently General Manager, HR Consultant and Executive Coach with Vision Coaching.


About Pivotal Coaching

Pivotal Coaching is a leader in executive coaching services and is sought after by leaders, businesses and corporations for strategic services. With a focus on transforming the potential of human capital into business growth, Pivotal Coaching diagnoses the needs of clients and customizes solutions to realize results. Pivotal Coaching provides results focused professional services in two areas: Leadership Development and Sales Effectiveness. The Pivotal Coaching relationship provides diagnosis, solutions, programs, measurement and technology.

Lisa W. Haydon is the President and Founder of Pivotal Coaching. With more than 30 years of experience as a leadership and performance coach in prestigious organizations, Lisa took her coaching leadership philosophy to market and began her journey as a growth focused entrepreneur and services provider.


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