make your own site for free


3 October 2022


How do teams work to their best ability?

In June 2021, I looked at Team Coaching and used Katzenbach and Smith’s description of a high-performing team to explore how coaching could help team development.

Their description of a high-performing team is:

“A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

This month I am exploring High Performing Teams in more detail and using two examples to help bring the theory to life.

Katzenbach and Smith’s model has five states a team can exist in:

Katzenbach and Smith’s model.

Katzenbach and Smith describe these five team states as:

Working group: This is not a team; it is a group of individuals whose outputs rely on the sum of “individual bests”. 

Pseudo team: The path to being a team rather than a working group often starts with conflict and if the team gets stuck in this stage, it can become a “Pseudo team”.

Potential team: It is moving in the right direction but hasn’t yet established collective accountability. 

Real team: This is the heart of the model. It is a team where a small number of people with complementary skills are equally committed and hold themselves mutually accountable for a common purpose, goals and working approach. This is the minimum level that a project, programme or team leader needs to attain to ensure a successful outcome.

High-performance team: Performance impact does not stop with the real team. In some cases, it is reasonable to aim for a high-performing team where members are deeply committed to one another’s personal development and success. 

I was reflecting on this model and thinking about examples of teams that sit in the “real team” and “high-performance team” states.

One example of a “high-performing team” is a Formula 1 pit stop team, as exemplified by the lightning-quick mechanics that pull off the perfect tyre change. Red Bull racing holds the record for changing 4 tyres in 1.9 seconds, for example.

Each tyre requires three mechanics – one to operate the wheel gun, one to take the tyre off and one to put a new one on the hub. Two people are stabilising the car, as well as two people operating the rear and front jacks to lift the machine when it arrives in the pit box.

Two mechanics are making front wing adjustments and they will also remove the nosecone if it needs replacing. Finally, there are two backup front and rear jack crew members and one or two others operating the lighting system.

They have “complementary skills are equally committed and hold themselves mutually accountable for a common purpose, goals and working approach”. 

Whether they are a “real-time” or a “high-performance team”, I am not sure, as I can’t comment on whether they are “deeply committed to one another’s personal development and success”, which differentiates the two states. 

The second example of a “high-performance team” is one I am far more familiar with. It is the Talent Development Team at Robert Walters, of which I am a member. The team’s purpose is the leadership development of Robert Walters global leaders, the associate directors, directors, country heads etc. The team delivers 121 and team coaching, as well as many other initiatives. 

The team has six key members based in the UK and Singapore.

I joined them a year and a half ago when I started working for them as an internal coach. Ever since joining I have been super impressed by the team’s ethos, which is all about delivering first class customer service in our coaching.

The team has different roles: coach, design support and coordinator and, like the F1 team, we have “complementary skills are equally committed and hold ourselves mutually accountable for a common purpose, goals and working approach”. 

Customer delivery, whether 1-2-1 or for a group is a team effort, starting with the coordinator who works magic arranging and booking all the various stages in the process and prompting all the rest of the team when communications are required to clients or other stakeholders. 

Our coaching is design-led to best support the client(s) in working on their coaching goals. This design is based on diagnostic calls with key stakeholders, calls which are shared amongst the team. The themes identified from the calls are then used to shape the design for the coaching, the design is co-produced by a coach and design support and then peer-reviewed by the rest of the team.

Where required, output decks for the client, capturing the key elements of coaching delivery are co-produced by a coach, design support and coordinator. 

There is a healthy challenge within the team and a very supportive culture from which “members are deeply committed to one another’s personal development and success”, which I think moves it from being a real team to a high-performing team based on Katzenbach and Smith’s team state descriptions.

It’s great working in a team that has such an ethos for customer focus and is so supportive of each other. 

I hope these two examples of high-performing teams bring the theory to life and perhaps prompt you to look at the teams you are part of and ask yourself where they sit on the five team states model and what you might want to do with the insight this brings.

As always, if this blog raises any questions for you regarding the topic or any other coaching topic, please get in touch.

From the author:

As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.

If you would like to hear more about coaching and how to make it work for you, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter and to share this blog with anyone that might be interested in learning about executive coaching, how it works and whether it could be of benefit to them.