High Performance Teams and Stratford


Hooray for summer! And time for my annual vacation to Stratford, Ontario to see world-class theatre at the Stratford Festival. About a three hour trip from Lansing, this charming town has become a home-away-from-home from my visits over the last 12 years. I can recommend a great place to stay — the Above & Beyond Suites on Wellington St. in the heart of downtown. I can steer you to delicious places to eat — the Bijou, Monforte (conveniently located downstairs and next door to the Suites) and even a beautiful place to stroll — around the winding Avon River with its bevy of swans.

Then, of course, there are the incredible theatre productions. The 2015 season includes 13 productions ranging from the traditional Shakespeare (Hamlet) to musicals (The Sound of Music) to new productions (The Last Wife) and more.

Now, you may be dreaming of a getaway or you may be asking, “What’s the connection between the Stratford Festival and a Business Coach column?” The answer is High Performance Teams (HPT). From an audience member’s viewpoint, the Stratford Festival seems to be a series of High-Performance Teams. It’s not just the acting that is so, so good, it’s the gorgeous costume design and the amazing set design.

And it’s repertory theatre, which means the actors and actresses are in several different productions throughout the season. That translates to lots of set changes — six days a week from May to mid-October. At the end of The Sound of Music matinee at the Festival Theatre, those High Performance Teams are jumping into high gear, quickly dismantling and packing away that set and then assembling the set for the evening production of Hamlet or The Taming of the Shrew. And another High Performance Team is doing the same kind of switcheroo at the other three theatres — The Adventures of Pericles set to The Physicists set, The Last Wife set to Possible Worlds set and so on.

High Performance Teams. This is the big buzz word in many organizations these days. In addition to everyone wanting to create a “coaching culture,” organizations are also determined to create High-Performance Teams.

Wiki defines a High Performance Team as: “A group of people with specific roles and complementary skills, aligned with and committed to a common purpose, who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation, and produce superior results.”

One of the things that sets an HPT apart from other teams is the ability to resolve conflict quickly so that conflict does not become a roadblock to achieving the team’s goals. An understanding of team members’ work styles is helpful in this regard. Using a popular tool like DiSC can create a common language for understanding styles.

There’s a four-stage model of group development that was created in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman. He proposed the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model. Tuckman maintained that these phases are necessary in order for a team to grow, to face challenges, to find solutions and to deliver results.

The High Performance Team uses the Storming and Norming phases to really define who they are, how to best interact with each other and how to resolve conflicts. So when the HPT gets to the Performing stage, they have already developed effective behaviors that allow them to overachieve relative to other teams.

Other characteristics of HPTs include:

  • Using a democratic leadership style that involves and engages team members
  • Using a blend of rational and intuitive decision-making methods
  • Open and clear communication
  • Valuing a diversity of experience and backgrounds
  • Trusting in team members and trusting in the team as an entity
  • A positive atmosphere that is open, transparent and future-focused

High Performance Teams sure seem to be evident at the Stratford Festival. In looking at the Wiki definition, the Festival team members do have specific roles, whether it is on the costume design team or on the magical set-moving team. The Festival team members are aligned with a common goal of producing an outstanding theatre experience for the audience, they create innovative theatre productions and they produce superior results.

How many of the above characteristics do you see on your teams? Have your teams gone through the Forming, Storming, and Norming stages to successfully get to the Performing stage? How much trust and collaboration is present on your team?

To get inspired about High Performance Teams, pack your bags and check out Stratfordfestival.ca and stratfordlodging.com. See what you can learn in Stratford to bring back to make your team a High Performance Team. Have a great summer!


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit SusanCombsCoaching.com or MentorRoadmap.com for more information.

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