The Foundations of High Performance Teams

1993 Based on the research and findings of Jon Katzenbach & Douglas Smith of McKinsey on a detailed analysis of 47 McKinsey (and non McKinsey) Clients. The research was first published by Harvard Press in 1993.

Focus on Team Basics: (Katzenbach, McKinsey)

Overcoming resistance requires the rigorous application of team basics which are highlighted in the chart above. The vertices of the triangle indicate what teams deliver, the sides and centre describe the elements of the discipline to make that happen. By focusing on performance and team basics as opposed to trying to “become a team” more small groups can deliver the performance results that require and produce team behaviour.

Team Performance Curve: (Katzenbach, McKinsey)

Working Group
This is a group for which there is no significant incremental performance need or opportunity that would require it to become a team. The members interact primarily to share information, best practice, or perspectives and to make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. Beyond that, there is no realistic or truly desired ‘small group “common purpose, incremental performance goals, or joint work products that call for either a team approach or mutual accountability.

Pseudo Team
This is a group for which there could be a significant, incremental performance need or opportunity, but it hasn’t focused on collective performance and it’s not really trying to achieve it. It has no interest in shaping a common purpose or set of performance goals, even though it may call itself a team. Pseudo teams are the weakest of all groups in terms of performance impact. They almost always contribute less to company performance needs than working groups because their interactions detract from each members individual performance without delivering any joint benefit. In Pseudo teams this sum of the whole is less than the potential of the individual parts.

Potential Team
This is a group for which there is a significant incremental performance need, and that really is trying to improve its performance impact. Typically, however, it requires more clarity about purpose, goals, or work products and more discipline in hammering out a common working approach. It has not yet established collective accountability. Potential teams abound in organisations. As our performance curve illustrates, when a team approach makes sense, the performance impacts can be high. We believe the steepest performance gain comes between a potential team and the real team but any movement up the slope is worth pursuing.

Real Team
This is a small number of people with complimentary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Real teams are a basic unit of performance.

High-Performance Team
This is a group that meets all conditions of real teams, and has members who are also deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success. That commitment usually transcends the team. The high-performance team significantly outperforms all other like teams, and outperforms all reasonable expectations given its membership. It is a powerful possibility and an excellent model for real and potential teams.

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