The Curse of High Performing Teams

Corporate American often speaks of the ideal team, usually framed as a high performance team, which is able to achieve grand objectives disproportionate it’s size or talent of the team’s members.  On these teams, the collective cause is more powerful than individual reward, leading members to willingly subordinate their egos to the team’s performance.  The team easily hits its stride and things just seem to click, as parts become perfectly synchronized.  The energy and passion is palpable.

Most of us itch to be a part of these types of teams- we want to be winners in the eyes of our superiors and peers.  I believe this hunger is kindled in our youth- most of us had childhood fantasies of being part of a legendary sports moment, exploding into celebration as the clock strikes 00:00 in the final period of the championship game.  Accomplishing out-sized objectives and being regarded as “high performing” is euphoric.

There is a downside to working on such a highly functioning team, however.  Once experienced, the high performing team becomes the baseline against which all future teams are measured.  An ideal is implanted in our mind that is very difficult to replicate.  The immensity of the relationships forged on a high performing team are difficult to match.

When subsequent teams fail to measure up, it leads to disappointment.  Expectations for the performance of new teams and teammates are unrealistically high, which course is not fair based on the context of the new team.  We form requirements for new members in our mind, based on our experience with the high performance team, and expect new team members to meet these requirements even though it is unlikely we shared these expectations with the group.  As a result, we unfairly expect the team and its members to measure up to performance ideals that are known only to us.  Even if we did communicate our expectations, it is unreasonable to expect every other team we work with to perform in the same way as our high performing memory.

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