Developing Cohesive and High Performing Teams

You have probably been part of a few different teams during your career so far, and experienced the feelings of being in a truly cohesive team, as well as dysfunctional teams. What for you, made the difference? What do truly cohesive teams have that other teams lack?

For over two decades, I led and developed teams for large, global organisations. I found that I was continually developing teamwork, helping my teams to become more effective and a team they felt proud to be part of. I had an idea about what behaviours I was developing, what great teamwork looked and felt like, and I always knew when I got there. However, I didn’t know what I know now.

Gary McEwan

When I become an Executive and Team Coach in 2018, I started to research the various models and concepts that can help leaders build highly effective teams. Had I come across some of these approaches sooner in my career, they would have helped me to build effective teams more quickly and with greater success.

Not only is this a critical aspect of a leader’s role, developing a supportive and highly functioning team also makes their lives so much easier. In this article, I will be sharing one team development model in particular. It captures perfectly, the team behaviours I had been trying to develop as a leader and is a particularly effective model, that leaders and teams can easily relate to.

“Not finance, not strategy, not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Patrick Lencioni is best known as the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He created a highly effective team development model called The Five Behaviours, and I have found this strongly resonates with leaders.

He later developed a solution with Wiley that enables teams to measure their effectiveness, gain insights into the team dynamic, and develop the specific behaviours needed to become a high performing team. Having seen how well it works in practice, we decided to become authorised partners of the Five Behaviours.

The purpose of this article is to help you understand more about the model, how it can help you, and share some tips with you too.

The Five Behaviours

Trust one another

This is often the first dysfunction of teamwork to overcome, it’s not uncommon for there to be an absence of trust in the workplace yet trust lies at the heart of cohesive, high performing teams.
The definition of trust in Lencioni’s model is:

“A willingness to be completely vulnerable with one another — to let down our guard, admit flaws, and ask for help”

It goes beyond what we might describe as predictability based trust, when we trust someone will do what they said they would do. What we mean is vulnerability based trust, where people feel they can be themselves at work, admit to weaknesses or call out mistakes – knowing that they will receive a constructive, supportive response from their team or line manager.

Here are some indicators that trust is building effectively within teams:

  • From concealing mistakes or weaknesses to admitting mistakes and weakness
  • From hesitating to ask for help or feedback to proactively offering & asking
  • From jumping to conclusions over your intentions to giving the benefit of the doubt
  • From holding grudges to offering and accepting apologies without hesitation

Top tip – role model vulnerability based trust

The idea of showing vulnerability as a leader can feel uncomfortable for most, as we tend to confuse this with showing weakness. The reality is that you can’t be an authentic leader and have ‘presence’ without embracing vulnerability. Show more of what you think and feel about issues and challenges at work and invite others to do the same.

Engage in conflict around ideas

Like trust, this can be a significant area to develop for effective teamwork. We are all different and some of us view a lively debate as stimulating and simply a means to pursue the best course of action. For others this can be their idea of hell and feel like a conflict situation to be avoided at all costs.

However, the most successful teams have learnt how to engage productively in ideas and that conflict is not just okay, but necessary in order to become a cohesive team.

The definition of conflict in this model is simply:

“Debate that is focused on concepts and ideas and avoids mean-spirited personal attacks”

What we are really looking to develop is productive conflict and avoid artificial harmony at one end of the scale, or personal, mean spirited attacks at the other.

What does this look like on a team?

  • Voicing your opinions even at the risk of causing disagreement
  • Seeking out your teammates’ opinions during meetings
  • Confronting and dealing with the most important – and difficult issues
  • Exploring everyone’s ideas to uncover the best solutions

Top tip – Create space for your team to share their thoughts and opinions

Develop your team culture to ensure everyone has a voice, is listened to without interruption and that their ideas are welcomed even if you don’t agree with them. Encourage the quieter team members to speak out and to know that their views are as valid as anyone else’s. This will develop new behaviours over time.


Commit to decisions

In our experience of developing teams,  a lot of the initial work is on the first two behaviours, and if teams have build vulnerability based trust and mastered conflict,  we can more easily develop the remaining behaviours.

When we have achieved commitment in a team,  we will experience:

“Moving forward with complete buy-in from every team member, even those who initially disagreed with the decision”

When team members are able to offer opinions and debate ideas, they will be more likely to commit to decisions. It’s not necessary to achieve consensus, but clarity and buy-in are the key to commitment.

Top tip – focus on achieving clarity and buy-in and avoid consensus

Ensure that the team is clear on what has been agreed including who is doing what, by when and what success looks like. We can’t expect anyone to commit if things seem vague or incomplete. Ask if they have what they need or have any further questions to test this.

Our goal is for the team to have confidence that everyone is committed. If their body language, tone of voice or words don’t support this, avoid moving on but ask them how committed they feel, and what would help them feel more committed, what do they need? We may need to go back to productive conflict, and ensure they have aired their true beliefs about the decision, to then move on with commitment.

Hold one another accountable

When team members know that their colleagues are truly committed to a common goal, then it is more likely that they can question one another without fearing a defensive response or backlash.

The definition for accountability here is:

“The willingness of team members to call out their peers on performance or behaviours that might hurt the team”

We are talking about peer to peer accountability within teams rather than a team relying on accountability solely being provided by the leader.

This can feel like a high bar to achieve, but if we have developed vulnerability based trust, productive conflict and achieved commitment, this becomes far more realistic. It is also a hall mark of genuinely high performing teams.


Encourage peer to peer accountability. For example, if one team member is disclosing concerns or challenges about another team member, ask them what they can do to improve the situation, rather than stepping in to resolve this as the leader. Suggest that they speak directly to their colleague to develop peer to peer accountability.

Focus on achieving collective results

Focus on showing appreciation, recognition and where possible, reward, at team level to create a sense of pride. This is the purpose of developing trust, healthy conflict, commitment and accountability, yet this potential dysfunction is more common than we might think.

Why is that? The behaviour that causes this dysfunction is ‘inattention to results’. This is when team members are distracted by their own agenda, self interest, status, career progression or even misaligned business goals versus the overall goals of the team.


Focus on showing appreciation, recognition and where possible, reward, at team level to create a sense of pride. Ask whether the team feel that they have a clear sense of purpose, one that they buy into and provides meaning to what you are trying to achieve together. Communicate regularly and help everyone understand how challenges, opportunities, set backs and successes impact the ultimate goal of the team.

What we are trying to achieve is that everyone is motivated to serve a purpose bigger than themselves, feel proud about their team and understand how this links to the wider organisation’s goals.

Using this model to develop leaders and teams in your organisation

If you are looking to develop your team, this very effective model helps the team discuss where you need to develop, and provides a common language that can sustain focus and improvement.

A good starting point is Patrick Lencioni’s book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’.

We work with organisations more broadly to develop these behaviours, and we are authorized partners of The Five Behaviours ®. We provide a team development solution that helps team members better understand themselves, the personalities on their team, and how they can effectively work together. We also work specifically with leaders and support them to develop these behaviours in their team.

I hope this article has helped you better understand a highly effective team development model, and also think about how you can develop these behaviours in your team or organisation.

To find out more, feel free to contact us. We always enjoy discussing this topic and helping people understand how they can benefit from more cohesive and high performing teams.

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