The 6 D's of High Performance Teams



One of my favorite leadership books is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I like the style of the leadership fable and have found the model of dysfunction to be very applicable to every team of which I've led and been a part. The book focuses on the role of the leader in shepherding a group from dysfunction to function by embedding cohesive team behaviors as depicted here:


Over the years, I have worked to simplify this model for myself to assess my team's ability to perform at a high level. I have identified that there are six things that the best teams consistently get right.

Before a team can perform, however, you have to move them from the forming stage through the storming stage, and past the norming stage. That means ensuring the right people are on board, the team culture is set, people feel empowered, and everyone acts with a shared sense of purpose. High performance teams (and individuals incidentally) Discuss, Debate, Decide, Do, Diagnose, and operate with a remarkable level of Discipline.

  1. Discuss - Teams must discuss critical issues openly and not behind closed doors. If there is not enough trust among team members to have open dialogue then high performance is impossible. Your role as leader is to first demonstrate trust building behaviors and then create forums for discussion. Don't rush into decisions. Listen and involve as many relevant voices as necessary into the discussion to get all key points of view on the table.

  2. Debate - This is where productive conflict comes into play. A lack of debate on crucial decisions may signal a lack of engagement or shared passion from your team. Without passion and engagement, high productivity cannot be sustained. Your role as leader is to stimulate debate by either playing the devil's advocate (or appointing one) - to leverage disagreement to help the team dig deeper, firm up assumptions, and improve the quality of decisions.

  3. Decide - Can everyone on your team commit equally and get behind key decisions? If not, then they likely have not bought in because they were not involved (or heard) in the discussion or debate stages. Your role as leader is to assess the degree of alignment of the team. You can go around the room, use polling, or the Fist or Five method to ensure mutual commitment of all team members. Importantly, one of the norms of high performing teams is that they do not revisit decisions constantly.

  4. Do - Part of the decision-making process is to define who does what by when and gain alignment on accountability's. Top teams all contribute to team tasks and police themselves when members fall behind. Your role as leader is to make progress against actions visible and have the uncomfortable conversations when things are not getting done.

  5. Diagnose - Great teams are committed to continuous improvement win or lose. They regularly conduct after-action reviews on outcomes of key actions to understand what went well, what could be improved, what to scale up, and what to stop. Your role as leader is to ensure that after celebrating victory or lamenting defeat, you analyze the team's performance to further potentialize strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

  6. Discipline - Behind all the other 5 D's is a 6th, which is the key driver for success. Dogged, relentless, maniacal desire to make progress. Great teams know where they are going and do what is necessary every single day to achieve their goals. They put the goal above personal differences, disagreements, and inevitable disappointments. Your role as leader is to pace the march of the team and break the journey down into the component parts, milestones, and achievements that will accumulate in success.

Driving the 6 D's will help you transform your team from a loose collection of individuals into a high performance team. What has been your experience in creating and maintaining high performance teams and organizations?

Let's discuss in the comments!

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