Q1 · 2020Harnessing your top performers for team success

Richard, one of my clients, recently faced a special kind of challenge. Two years ago, he hired Stella into a vital role in his organization. In a short period of time, Stella became an outstanding performer. She was, and remains, absolutely on top of proceedings – and at the top of her game. She is knowledgeable, driven, and knows how to connect the dots.

Speedy Transformation

From the very first day, Stella went through the Executive Performance Transformation– from “drawn in”, via “obsessed” and “ready for success”, to “playful” – significantly faster than most other people could. As a result, she delivers top results confidently and consistently. She embraces both her own stretch goals and the company’s wider culture. She prioritizes appropriately for overall success and never shies away from putting in extra effort when needed. Within the first few months of working together Richard realized that Stella was a lucky find, and that she added enormous value to the organization. Consequently, he increasingly involved her in the company’s strategic decision-making and asked her more often than others for her specific input. The whole business benefits from Stella’s ideas and achievements.

Appreciation and resentment

The team, of course, recognized Stella’s outstanding performance. Gradually, however, there were other voices – some resentful comments about her, rather than just appreciation and respect towards her. Some colleagues began to ask: “Do Stella’s ideas and opinions count more than ours?”, “Does Stella get special treatment?”, or “Are we being outstripped by Stella?” Richard, as a leader, faced a special kind of challenge: He needed to continue to reward and encourage Stella in order to go on harnessing her outstanding contribution, but, at the same time, he needed to calm emotions and change perceptions within the team in order to avoid the team becoming dysfunctional and correct the perceived imbalances.

Leveling the team’s imbalance

In one of our coaching sessions, Richard and I discussed two approaches that he consequently pursued in parallel:

  • Richard regularly and explicitly expressed gratitude and appreciation towards Stella for her exceptional attitude and performance. With that, he avoided any risk of her feeling that her efforts were being taken for granted. In addition, he explained that he had the very highest expectations of her when it came to her team behaviors. Every other week, during their regular one-to-one, he reminded her that, as an exceptional performer, she had a major impact on the team, and was always “under intense scrutiny” from the other team members. He urged her to act as role model in every respect.
    In team meetings, for example, Richard advised Stella to contribute last, to prevent others from feeling sidelined or railroaded. And before making her contribution, she should first comment appreciatively on other members’ input: “You made a great point there. That reminded me of…”
  • In parallel, Richard acted upon the whole team: He organized a team offsite session, where he pointed out each member’s value to the overall success of the business. He particularly emphasized the team player qualities of each individual. Finally, he set up one-on-one meetings between every team member, including himself. After well-structured preparation, each team member shared with each other what they valued especially highly in each other, what the other could change to achieve even better teamwork, and how to support each other even more. On the back of this process, each team member made one personal commitment that would add to the team’s strength.
    For his own one-on-ones with each team member, Richard asked for direct and candid feedback: Does everybody feel equally appreciated? Does everybody get sufficient opportunity to contribute their ideas? Does everybody feel fully included?

Performance culture and appreciation

I have been impressed by Richard’s ability to apply the insights he gained from our coaching session into practical actions. As a result, he has continued to harness Stella’s exceptional performance and potential, while at the same time establishing a high-performance culture with a spirit of mutual respect, appreciation and support.

Just imagine how things might have turned out if Richard hadn’t taken care of both issues the way he did? Before he took any action, Richard and I went through some alternative (unfavorable) scenarios:

  • Ignore the team‘s criticism and resentment:
    Signal: “I don’t care about team spirit”.
  • Put the brakes on Stella, involving her less to avoid the team feeling treated unfairly:
    Signal: “It’s most important that everyone feels OK. Never mind the maximum success possible.”
  • Fail to address Stella’s team behaviors:
    Signal: “As long as you, Stella, keep on performing at this level, I don’t care about your impact on the team.”
  • Prevent the team from giving feedback and therefore feeling fully included and equally appreciated:
    Signal: “I don’t care about you. Stop whingeing and whining.”

Top Performers and Team Spirit

Like Richard, it’s possible for you to harness the exceptional potential of individual star performers within your business, while simultaneously cultivating a healthy team culture.

Wishing you courage and success in your current challenges.
Go for it.