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  • Writer's pictureJohn Rae-Grant


Updated: Apr 14, 2020

The differences between traditional and high-performance teams (HPTs) are immense. These differences represent a 180-degree change in culture and belief sets. Once people have experienced working on a high performance team, they will go to incredible lengths to recreate that situation for themselves. Many experience it as the difference between joy and misery. Basically the differences are as follows: Traditional Team High Performance Team

The boss rules The best idea wins

The rules are golden The rules are suspect

Leadership is learned Leadership is recognized

Conventional Wisdom Accelerating learning

Analysis Intuition

Conformity Diversity

Control Creative chaos

Repeatability Innovation

“yes” people “Why” people

Do as you’re told Do what you believe

Say what you think they want to hear Speak your truth

Professionalism Humanity

Secrets Feedback The biggest issue for most leaders is “how do I go about affecting a 180-degree change within my traditional team?” Now that I’ve worked with a large number of teams to create these changes, it’s time to take a crack at the answer. THE BOOTSTRAPPING SEQUENCE Every high performance team gets there through a painful process. This process is different every time, but at the meta level, it looks the same. The phases are as follows: PHASE 1: CHAOS/CONFUSION/PAIN There is no team, only a vague task. Leadership is in title only. Ideas are almost completely ignored. Everyone wishes someone else would change something. Pointless, procedural conflicts ensue. Team disintegration seems imminent, but remains unspoken. Any decisions made do not stick and aren’t understood. PHASE 2: META-DISCUSSION Someone recognizes the “stuckness” and rising frustration of the team. This person, or group of people, speaks to their own feelings. Suggestions are made for a way out of the dilemma. Usually, these suggestions center around deciding on how to decide. This begins the team’s bootstrapping of its work. PHASE 3: LISTENING In order to successfully negotiate these first decisions and have them stick, the team explicitly addresses its own level of ability to listen to its constituents. Protocols are developed and refined for clarifying decision making points, encouraging exploration of differences of opinion, checking for degree of buy-in, and evening the extrovert/introvert playing field. PHASE 4: VULNERABLE LEADERSHIP Someone takes a chance and trusts the group with a “difficult” feeling state. This is usually an expression of passion about the importance of the project to this individual, and the frustration that they are feeling. PHASE 5: TEAM DEFINITION The team decides to make progress together. A commitment is made to developing a clear agreement on purpose. PHASE 6: ALIGNMENT Either separately or together, the individuals come to terms with their own goals for the project. They begin to see how this project could be extremely fruitful for them. Individual commitment levels rise. As this information is shared, trust grows within the team. PHASE 7: CUSTOMER SCRUTINY Once the individuals have spoken their needs and committed to helping each other to meet those needs, mental and emotional energy is released to pay attention to the customers of the project. The team now goes through a phase of understanding the customers’ desires at as deep or deeper a level than they have just done for themselves. The result is usually a dramatic refocusing of the entire project. PHASE 8: VISION Armed with an understanding of themselves and the customer, the team embarks on the process of developing a product design algorithm. This is usually a fairly quick affair, as the hard work of learning how to learn together and listening to the customer has already been done. The hardest part of this phase is waiting for the big idea. The resulting vision should have jaw drop appeal to the customer. PHASE 9: DESIGN Only now is the team actually ready to begin designing a product. From this stage forward, the team is continually refining its product vision and working together skills. The leader’s role in all of the above is to notice the phases and work toward quickening the pace of progress. No stage can be skipped. The leader can’t rush through and say “ok, I’ve got the vision now, let’s move on”. But, through wise council, the leader can assure the team that the struggle is normal, necessary, and surmountable.


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