The Big Three for Effective Teams

by | Mar 12, 2017 | 12 comments

4 min read

Susan was disheartened, distraught, and uncertain on how to move forward. As she drove home, both concern and worry occupied her thoughts and blurred her thinking. Her mind was plagued with how she put the team together and had high hopes for the group. They were smart, talented, and energetic, but the bottom line was that they weren’t gelling like she predicted, and the work products were less than accomplished because of it.

When she arrived home, she walked through her kitchen door, and she greeted her son who was watching basketball on television. And although Susan didn’t have an interest in basketball, the commentator was talking about high functioning teams, and as luck would have it, the commentator said something that struck her with the clarity she didn’t have during her reflection time on the drive home.

Commentator: “It’s like Pat Riley once said, ‘When a gifted team dedicates itself to unselfish trust and combines instinct with boldness and effort—it is ready to climb…’ and that’s why this team wins and will continue to win.” 

Three Ingredients for High Functioning Teams

Susan knows the ingredients needed for a high functioning team, and she knows that there are three areas that make all the difference:

  1. A Shared Vision
  2. A Collaborative Spirit
  3. Synergy

Susan immediately rushed to her table and wrote the Big Three at the top of her notepad. Then she rated her team’s strength in each area—one through four—one being ineffective and four being highly effective. Two meant that improvement was needed and three meant that it was effective but not what she really wanted.



As she wrestled with her team’s ability to work with one another and function at a high level, she started her evaluation process with what was going wrong.  Susan rated shared vision as the highest with a three, which she even thought was generous. But the team knew what they needed to accomplish, and they were sharing ideas.

However, the ideas didn’t flow and develop because of teamwork. She knew that vision was far more than just processes and actions, but rather the soul of why the team was working together. Vision should inspire direction. Pat Riley’s words echoed in her head, “instinct with boldness.” Her team was not being instinctive and far from bold, which is why she rated collaboration with a two, thinking maybe it should be a one. Her team was operating within the status quo or what she liked to call the safety zone.


Although this was a high-powered assembly of individuals, they weren’t acting as one. Susan was confident in their methodology—design thinking. However, as she reflected on the latest team meeting and what it lacked, she knew the team needed inspiration, fueled by their purpose. They weren’t meeting just to review data, or simply to improve test scores, or even to get a good rating for accountability.

Although those things are all aspects of their professional world; their real purpose was to uncover every possible strategy to help students succeed. The teachers she assembled were dynamos, very good at unlocking ways for students to achieve, and she needed to unleash their creative thinking. This also made Susan’s next step critical. 

She had one week until their next meeting, and she committed to creating a high functioning, purposeful, energized, and synergistic team. She knew that leadership wasn’t a title, it was a call to action! Her mentor’s familiar saying filled her thoughts: “great leaders lift their teams, average leaders pull their teams, and weak leaders push their teams.”

It was time for Susan to give her team a lift. The vision was there, but they needed to work together to create a plan that would be better than something that they each could have come up with on their own. Something was missing and only Susan could make things better as the leader of the team.

Let us know what you think Susan’s next steps should be with her team. Leave a comment.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J.


  1. Sharon

    Great post and right on time being that this is the month that I sit and observe my principals during a leadership team meeting. This is great information to share as a summary when I finish. I have no doubt Susan will lift her team out of the safety zone. There were no 1’s as she ranked them which is a good thing. I would suggest transparency and straight talk ( high trust behavior). She can have that “locker room” discussion on (1) how she views the team currently, (2) where she rates them against the 3 areas, and (3) get their feedback as to how they would rate themselves. Once this is done, they can collaboratively create the plan to move forward.

    • @josephjonessr

      Excellent ideas Sharon. You mention a couple highly effective practices, particularly observing your leaders within their team meetings. Too often we simply expect our teams to function well; however, they require nurturing and care like many organizational practices. I also like the idea of straight talk and transparency. We are often hesitant to be direct, but once you establish a trusting environment centered on the same goals, people thrive in that environment. We truly appreciate you thoughts and ideas!!!

  2. Amy

    I think she should allow the team to “ideate”….capture all possible solutions regardless if they seem disconnected to her. She should shape an environment at the meeting that allows this to happen…one in which the norms allow for trust and criticism that is not personal. Once all the ideas are on the table…the team can classify them and begin to weigh which ones get at the heart of the problem. The team’s core purpose should be posted and referenced throughout the process.

    • @josephjonessr

      Amy, this is an excellent strategy. We often talk about brainstorming or ideating but rarely allow a true organic process. I like how you suggest letting them go and then classifying the information. One thing that came to mind though is how do you ensure they stay focused on the task at hand and not jumping to a new focus or idea that may emerge from the “ideation”?

  3. Doug Timm

    Collaboration is important, but I think at times consensus is the equivalent of safe at times. So it is a tricky slope. I think monitoring progress and developing a real specific problem of practice with opportunities for sharing and onservation with feedback are vital.

    • @josephjonessr

      Doug, I haven’t heard someone use that phrase in awhile, problem of practice, but it is powerful! Do you use a specific tool (e.g. google doc) to capture feedback?

  4. Nathalie Princilus

    Each member should reflect on ‘how’ the vision fuels their purpose. For me, this would help reconnect to my passion and incentivize the climb.

    • @josephjonessr

      Nathalie, thank you for your comments. Interesting point because I think many people simply thing the vision hangs on a wall, but I agree with you and love the work of Simon Sinek because he simply states that we have to know our WHY. Visiting the vision each meeting is nothing more than reminding the group of the WHY!

  5. Matt B

    What is their purpose within the organization? If they do not know their purpose it will be hard to push them forward with the vision. Not only do they need to know their purpose, they need to know who their work directly impacts. I would have Susan start to have her team answer those two questions as she moves forward.

    • @josephjonessr

      Purpose and Impact! This is terrific Matt. I also like this because we can lose sight of why we do things rather quickly. As a good friend of mine you to say–it’s easy to get lost in the sauce! But impact is something we often don’t discuss. At times we get so wrapped up and excited about the doing and are satisfied with starting a new program or purchasing a new product, whatever it may be, but the truth is we need to measure impact with very explicit measurable outcomes. Thank you for your comments!!

  6. twoguysde

    Susan should take a step back with her team and revisit the vision. The team needs to remember the why, what is it that is motivating their work. If the vision doesn’t do this then Susan may want to consider recreating it as a team.. This will bring out their passion and create the productsthat Susan was hoping for.

    • @josephjonessr

      Great thoughts! If we were to distill “recreating” the team, what would that actually look like?


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