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The secret to creating a high-performing team

Bob Vanourek //January 15, 2014//

The secret to creating a high-performing team

Bob Vanourek //January 15, 2014//

To develop a high-performing team, above all else, develop shared values.

Above all else?  Isn’t that a stretch?

Based on our own experience and interviews with leaders worldwide, we say no, it’s not a stretch. In fact, it’s the key.

No doubt, the creation of any high-performing team results from a complex set of factors: who is on the team, the leader, the challenges, and more. So, one factor alone does not create a high-performing team.

But the absence of a collaboratively developed set of shared values precludes a high-performing team.

High-performance teams have very healthy relationships among the team members. They are not a bunch of superstars working in silos. They interact often with each other and respond to all the challenges that arise. They make many rapid, mid-course corrections.

Under such pressure, even high-performing teams have disagreements. They debate passionately the pros and cons of various courses of action. Nancy Tuor, the former CEO at Rocky Flats, told us, “We closed the door, and people would just fight.” They fought because they were dealing with the cleanup of a toxic plutonium site. Yet, when people left the closed-door meeting, Tuor told us, “You knew everyone in the room was going to do it…. Every single person knew, once a decision was made, that everybody had their back. Their counterpart had made a commitment to them. They were going to keep that commitment.”

Rocky Flats was cleaned up ahead of schedule and below budget to the environmental standards established. It was a remarkable achievement from a high-performing team, who were able to constructively argue, using facts, data, logic, and persuasion. They did so because they were committed to operate by certain shared values, of which safety was paramount.

Shared values are the core beliefs that guide the behaviors of a group. The values specify their responsibilities to each other and other stakeholders. These values are not just words posted on the web site; they are actively used daily to make decisions, especially the toughest ones where difficult tradeoffs are involved.

On a high-performance team, everyone knows the shared values. Policies don’t always tell you what to do. The boss often isn’t there to help you decide. But the values guide your behavior.

Sometimes the values are a few single words, for which the first letter of each can form an acronym, with explanatory sentences for each word. Sometimes the values are brief sentences.

In the midst of the Civil War, the Mayo family formed a new medical practice that would be guided by two values:

  1. The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered, and
  2. No one is big enough to be independent of others.

Values have guided Mayo Clinic until this day when it is an $8 billion exemplar of how health care should be practiced. Here is their current version :

Mayo Clinic

Primary value: The needs of the patient come first.

Respect: Treat everyone in our diverse community, including patients, their families and colleagues, with dignity.

Compassion: Provide the best care, treating patients and family members with sensitivity and empathy.

Integrity: Adhere to the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and personal responsibility, worthy of the trust our patients place in us.

Healing: Inspire hope and nurture the well-being of the whole person, respecting physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Teamwork: Value the contributions of all, blending the skills of individual staff members in unsurpassed collaboration.

Excellence: Deliver the best outcomes and highest quality service through the dedicated effort of every team member.

Innovation: Infuse and energize the organization, enhancing the lives of those we serve, through the creative ideas and unique talents of each employee.

Stewardship: Sustain and reinvest in our mission and extended communities by wisely managing our human, natural and material resources.

Shared values are essential to high performance for any group. Dr. Shirley Tilghman told us, when she was president of Princeton University, “My most important job is to articulate clearly and consistently what the values of the institution are.” John Krol, the former outside lead director at Tyco (after their former CEO and CFO went to jail), told us, “The number one thing in the turnaround of Tyco was a culture of basic values.”

Core Concept: It takes many important attributes to create a high-performing team. But without shared values, it is impossible.

Practical Applications

  1. Does your team have shared values?
  2. Have they been collaboratively developed?
  3. Are they used in daily decision-making?
  4. If you are not pleased with the answers to these questions, why not begin the process of developing your team’s shared values?


If you would like some free counsel on crafting your organization’s shared values, contact us: [email protected]. We will help the first five such requests we receive.