How Conscious Leaders Develop High-Performance Teams

By Michelle Hollingshead
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How to master the art of high performance in a VUCA world.

What does it take to develop a high-performance team in the face of industry disruption and market volatility? In today’s world, businesses are required to reinvent who they are and why they exist to remain relevant. To do this, leaders and their teams need to develop their capacity to lead confidently and make decisions quickly in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.

Many teams struggle to deliver consistently and collaborate effectively under this pressure when tensions run high. In order to cope with the stress, people check out or blame others, avoid hard conversations or erupt to find relief and then relationships suffer. Other people struggle with burnout, anxiety or overwhelm, which impacts productivity, creativity and well-being. To make things even more challenging, these types of environments require high trust between team members at a time when individualized development and culture conversations often get deprioritized.

As an executive coach and culture consultant, I dedicate a significant amount of my energy to developing conscious leaders and teams in organizations. Teams are the performance lever of an organization. Most organizations acknowledge the link between team performance and business results but are unclear about what it takes to develop high performance in a VUCA world. Here are a few of the ways conscious leaders develop their teams:


Shift from individual awareness to team consciousness.

The most successful teams operate from full spectrum consciousness. They understand they are part of a system and are aware of and tend to the needs (physical/emotional) and motivations (meaning/making a difference/service to all stakeholders) of the group, maintaining awareness of interdependences and interconnectedness and skillfully managing these tensions. Research in the last decade has proven the advantage of group decision-making over that of even the smartest individual in the group. But the exception to this is when the group lacks harmony or the ability to cooperate. Then decision-making quality and speed suffer.

The important difference between effective teams and ineffective ones lies in the emotional and social intelligence of the group (team consciousness).Teams have an emotional intelligence of their own. It is comprised of the emotional intelligence of individual members plus a collective competency of the group. Emotional intelligence enables individual team members to deal with their own internal responses, moods and states of mind. Social intelligence informs how we understand and interact with others. Leaders with high emotional mastery are effective because they act in ways that leave people around them feeling more capable.They are able to manage themselves effectively under stress and ambiguous circumstances (presence under pressure).

If a team member begins to break down under pressure, other team members can help the person recover by maintaining a positive mental state (learner and player mindset) and treating the mistake or error as a learning opportunity versus lashing out in frustration with blame and criticism. This could also include creating an awareness for the team member by sharing constructive observations about the person’s impact on the group and business results. If the team joins the person in a furthering negative spiral, you will intensify the judgment and emotional state that advances the breakdown in collective performance.


Have a clear mission that generates a powerful, shared purpose and meaningful contribution.

When clarity of mission and a higher purpose are lacking, teams lose focus and flounder in the face of business and market challenges. Knowing what you aspire to and take responsibility for and why it matters is key to sustainable execution and finding deeper meaning in the challenge. This requires asking questions like: Why do we exist? What is our shared purpose? What do we really want to achieve?

We define shared purpose as a unique way of being in service in the world. It defines why you exist as a group and then expressing this with clarity, consistency and constancy as part of your team culture. This includes understanding what makes work meaningful for each person on your team and being a catalyst who inspires and empowers team members to fully express their gifts and talents in service of the mission.


Focus on both “hard” (structure) and “soft” (behavior and culture) for sustainable success.

Most simply, this means the team has clear processes, roles and structures for accountability to achieve its mission “hard” (structure) and a solid emphasis on the human dimension of business “soft” (behavior and culture). We teach a mental model called Three Dimensions of Success that helps keep this focus in balance. Exceptional, sustainable results come from integrating three critical dimensions:

IT:        Achievement of the mission and having a passion for exceptional results.

WE:      Relationships with high trust and a sense of community.

I:          Self-actualization and happiness that allows for a meaningful contribution.


This mental model helps the team understand reality from a broader perspective and offers a definition of success that is sustainable. Overfocusing on one dimension does not make the others invisible. They exist whether we attend to them or not. Poor performance in the long-term typically comes from hyperfocusing on one dimension at the expense of the others.

For example, if you are hyperfocused on getting results at all costs (IT) and in the moment decide to do something unethical to hit your numbers or for short-term gain, you will most likely lose the trust of your team, customers and potentially even the community (WE), and then you will possibly feel out of integrity (I) as you are exposed and forced to face the consequences of your decisions.


Love working and playing together — joy for the journey.

Joy has the power to open our hearts and minds to the present moment, fielding new possibilities and connections. To innovate and collaborate at new levels, teams must love what they are doing and cultivate an environment that welcomes creativity, collective insight and challenge. It is easy to dismiss how you work together when the pressure is high, but this is the precise moment when humor, lightness or fun can shift the collective energy of the group and open up higher receptivity.

At the end of your life, all of your accomplishments will not be what people remember most about you. They will remember those moments when you touched their lives in some way by being you, showing care and concern, and embodying the best of the organizational culture as you strived to accomplish something remarkable together.

When you are struggling with your team’s performance or feeling like you have lost heart for the journey, remember to come back to these four guiding principles for inspiration, recalibration and joy.

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