Teams exist in almost every organisation and most people will work as part of a team at some point during their working life.  A team is by definition “an interdependent group of individuals who share responsibility and a common goal”. A focus, however, is shifting towards high-performing or elite teams. Elite teams are thus enhanced teams, that outperform standard teams. Using the definition above, an elite team would be “an interdependent group of stable, role-defined individuals who share mutual trust, values, responsibility and a clear focus on a common goal, who outperform in anticipated productivity”.

According to Peterson (2003) and Thomas (1998), up to 50% of the variance in organisational performance can be attributed to the top team. The value of a high-performing team has long been recognised. There is a 1.9 times increased likelihood of having above-median financial performance when the top team is working together toward a common vision. It is known that elite teams have the ability to outperform other teams. However, they do more than that. Elite teams also have the potential to lift both the performance of other teams within their organisation and other teams within the competitive market space.

In 1964, psychologist, Bruce Tuckman developed the Stages of Team Development model. He theorised that these four stages (Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing) are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results. Once a stage has been passed, it is still possible for the team to move back and forth between stages.

The model explains how a team develops over time, which consists of four key stages:

When using Tuckman’s model for high performing teams, in is necessary to look at what is imperative for a team to become elite. Looking at the diagram below, the red line indicates development of a team, whereas the green line represents an elite team’s accelerated performance. One of the main tasks of a leader of a high-performing team is to shorten the Storming phase and prolong the Performing stage.

Below are some pre-requisites for each stage in order for this to occur, using our Elite Team Framework as a guide.

Case Study: Leicester City Football Club

What sporting teams and business teams have in common is the human dynamic. In an organisational context, we choose to work together in order for the combination of skills to drive an outcome in the form of a “collective dividend”. In a sporting team context, this is not so much a choice, as a requirement of the rules of the sport itself. However, in both cases it is clear that some teams are able to work more effectively together and create a much higher “collective dividend”.

Leicester City is a good case study. They made an incredible turnaround after a 14th place finish for the 2014-15 season, their first season back in the Premier League since 2004, when they won the Premier League 2015-16 season. So, what can we learn from this? How did a team come back to defeat the odds and win? How did they move from being a “normal” team to being an elite team?

One of the many factors that had a huge contributing impact was leadership. We often hear stories of a dynamic leader, going into an organisation and changing everything to achieve success. But what happens when, as is much more often the case, the leader has to work with what is already there? In Leicester City’s case, they won the Premier League.

To do this, new Manager, Claudio Ranieri, prioritised building a culture of trust, both in each other and in him, and diligently stuck to that formula for the duration of the campaign in order to get the victory that he needed. As ex-military, he applied some of the principles of war, such as:

  • Concentration of force: To concentrate your greatest strengths at the right time to achieve the objective.
  • Simplicity: Simple plans, and clear concise orders minimise misunderstanding and confusion.
  • Maintenance of morale: Morale is a positive state of mind derived from inspired political and military leadership, a shared sense of purpose and values, well-being, perceptions of worth and group cohesion.

During the preparation of Leicester City for their season, Ranieri devised the team’s systems and tactics perfectly with each individual players’ strengths and weaknesses in mind, optimising the talent he already had.

Despite having a much lower budget than their competitors, they won because of the following factors that had been instilled in the team:

  • Relationships;
  • Culture;
  • A deep understanding between players and Coaches/ Management;
  • Trust;
  • Shared respect;
  • Mutual understanding; and
  • A fundamental confidence in ones’ own and team mates’ ability when pulled together.

This ultimately, enabled Leicester City to transform from being a team, to being an elite team.


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