High Performance Culture & Teams: What I learnt from Todd Blackadder


One of the best things about my role is that as I work with high performance CEO’s and their teams I get to learn from them & those they know and work with. Last week I facilitated the annual conference for a Christchurch based client and all their staff. It was the third such conference I had facilitated for them and looking back over what they have achieved as they have set their Vision & Strategy and over as number of years engaged their team and actively executed the plan has been amazing. They are actively focussing on building a high performance team.

Todd Blackadder came into the conference and spoke candidly about how High Performance sports teams (in particular the Crusaders) set and build their culture and how it can be applied into Business teams. What did I learn or have reinforced from his workshop? A number of things. Namely;

1.  The importance of Culture: Culture is really measured by the way the team responds to your challenges. The very first time the team faces a major challenge is where you will truly see what you team culture is. Their reaction is your culture. Makes perfect sense when you think about that but I like the way he articulated it. Culture is a response you get back from people in relation to the challenge you pose.

2. Teams cannot be highly engaged all the time. There are times that engagement levels need to be really high and teams need to discuss and decide when they need to be highly engaged. It is natural for there to be highs and lows but when high levels of engagement are needed everyone needs to focus.

3. MIsaligned culture is your first competitor. This means that the process of alignment, having discussions and getting buy in across the team is fundamentally important to success. It is your first true competitor to overcome and comes before external competition.

4. Culture turns a person into a people. If you get the team or company culture right people will identify as a team or part of a bigger organisation.

5. Language is the lifeblood of any culture. This ties in with the previous point. Having a common language is part of building identity and “one people”. There is high value in having a common language.

6. Accountability starts with the leader. In this case it is the coach, but high levels of accountability means that leaders at each level own failure and also learn from it. Once a problem is owned and accepted then the team can work to overcome it.

7. High performance teams do not have “lifestylers”. Nothing kills a high performance culture faster than accepting mediocrity. Hard discussions around performance rather than making it personal (or about the individual not performing) allows a team to address problems fast. Play the ball not the man and you will find conversations get easier to have.

8. The good of the team comes before any one individual. This is regardless of what position or role you hold. Park the ego and focus on what the team needs to do to succeed and overcome problems, failures and blockages.

9. Train hard. Train, up skill, guide, mentor, coach and develop talent. This is the role a the modern leader. To be authentic and to walk the talk.

10. Celebrate the small wins as they happen. Take a moment to acknowledge all the small steps that start to feed into the bigger wins. Park up reflections that might ruin a small celebration until the best time to address it. Don’t be such a tough task master that you send the message of never being satisfied. Have some fun! Enjoy being with your people.

11. Trust is everything. It all starts with high levels of trust. This means getting to know people, what motivates them, how they live their lives, what formed their values, what experiences have shaped their lives. Get to know them, get to know their families. See the person. This is the anchor of a high performance team and a base for this is the work of Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a team.”


I learnt a lot about how a high performance professional sports team sets about planning and training to win. How the team builds trust and how it develops the resilience to deal with defeats and blockages that are inevitable in the world of both professional sport and in turn the modern competitive world of business.

There are some subtle differences that separate business from sport too which need to be acknowledged. Things such as business having longer and less defined seasons meaning teams are together longer. The fact that professional sport has no second place whereas in business there is more “grey area” in terms of how success is defined. Strategy and tactics in business do not have to change as fast as in professional sport where it may change week to week.

There are however many similarities and it is possible to really look at how to build a culture that turns individuals into a people with both a common language, aligned goals and values. A team that reacts to challenges in a positive way and overcomes the big hits that temporary failure can deliver.

Some great learnings. Thanks Todd.

High Performance Teams: Foundations


High performance teams…….great buzz words, a great aspiration, we’d all love to be a member of one and to lead one, but how do you actually achieve it? How do you take the concept and turn it into reality? I am lucky enough to be a part of one and to lead several. I also work day to day supporting and coaching High Performance CEO’s to develop, lead and enable their Senior Leadership Teams. There is a link to high performance sports teams and to tight military combat teams and there is no shortage of information on the subject. What are the foundations of a High Performance Business Leadership Teams? Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a great read and outlines some great concepts. But how do you really do it? Here are the 12 foundation stones of developing a High Performance Business Team;

1.  Lead yourself well. It all starts with a team leader being prepared to be vulnerable. To be self aware, open to change, being comfortable with their own strengths and weaknesses and to have the desire to change and get incrementally better as a leader. They admit mistakes and learn constantly from them. They model behavior for their team.

2. High Trust is key. High performance teams trust each other. In fact I believe they actually like each other and hang out together. They know how the team works, their part in it and constantly get to play to their strengths. Constantly communicate.

3. Set the Culture. High performance teams train and practice together. The leaders create the space for high quality conversations to occur, for high quality thinking to occur which in turn leads to high quality decisions be consistently made. The highest priority is placed on Strategic planning, team time, training and measuring success. During busy times more time is spent in planning and supporting the team.

4. Take the wins. Celebrate success as it occurs. Big and small it is important to recognize the wins, to see the first signs a strategy or initiative is starting to deliver results. Have fun, reward your team, say thank you and make your team members the hero.

5. Embrace failure. If things are not working, constantly iterate the plan and involving the team in capturing the lessons learnt. At Stanford Design school we had it drummed into us to “Go early, fail fast and iterate”.

6. Coach and Mentor. High Performance Teams have the best coaches and a network of mentors that keep them at the top of their game. A High Performance Leader guides, develops, mentors and grows their people or recruits their replacements. Investing heavily in developing the team and the individuals in it is a big job. The best leaders are the best coaches. those in the team are unable to grow or are not willing to engage they need to be removed before they hold the team back. It may be they are not in the right seat on the bus or even that they are on the wrong bus. Addressing poor performance fast is more about protecting your “A players” than anything else. No one at the top of their game wants to be in a team that includes non performers. Remember that everyone in a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are watching the leader to see what they will do about it.

7. Measure and Manage. Measure the right things to keep it on track. Building high levels of engagement and buy in is key to being able to hold people accountable. Check in every week on reality vs targets. Support your team to get and keep things on track. Set stretch goals that inspire and challenge your people.

8. Have a Bias for Action. Be more focussed on getting started and making things happen than talking about it. High Performance Teams make things happen. They love action, challenges and what they do.

9. Authenticity Rules. Be open, transparent and honest. Articulating the Vision, Purpose and Values and bringing them to life is the basis for the teams existence. Good authentic Values align and guide behaviors and allow for scaleable and consistent decision making. Walk the walk and do the hard yards.

10. Be Consistent. High performance Teams are consistent in all they do. Do the basics right and build on them. Tell stories and manage by walking around. Build on consistency by basing decisions on the reality of your people.

11. Hire slow. Have a team that is hard to get into and easy to get out of. Recruit for fit, train for skill and induct those joining the team.

12. Lead from the Front. The best leaders are the best managers. Lead, accept responsibility and genuinely care about those in your team. Perception is reality, which means if you are feeling it your team will be too. Constantly look over the fence at what others are doing because often the best solutions and ideas come from other industries and when applied to your own become a game changer.

There are many things that make a team perform at a high level. Many are very easy to do but require the right attitude, approach and the passion to not only start the journey but to continue on through tough times and periods of change and uncertainty. Leadership is the ultimate challenge and leading a team of people who are smarter, better and more capable is very rewarding.

How do you develop your team?

“Good Guys Don’t Win” …….A Tale About NZ CEO’s

Last week Psychologist and Leadership expert Dave Winsborough of Winsborough Ltd (Link Here) spoke here in Christchurch about some of his research relating to NZ CEO’s. Some highlights;

  • NZ business does not scale well.
  • Few NZ Companies go on to be global players.
  • NZ does not grow as fast (GDP) as many in the rest of the world.
  • NZ workers pull long hours but have low productivity compared to other like nations.
  • A good CEO makes a difference of 15% to the bottom line.
  • It is very hard for a CEO to replicate a similar success in another company.
  • NZ CEO’s are highly competitive, don’t do hierarchy and build soft, non competitive cultures.
  • CEO’s around the world are more cooperative than NZ CEO’s.
  • By nature our CEO’s take thing more seriously than their global peers meaning they don’t have as much fun.
  • There is a culture of the 3 B’s. Once a NZ business owner gets a bach, a boat and a BMW there is a culture of “relax”.

Some interesting points were made and backed by some good science, data and research. In fact with 26 CEO’s in the room none disagreed. So what is going on? Whilst some of the comments were deliberately provocative it can’t be denied that most NZ Companies do not become global players. We do seem to be a nation of SME’s, family businesses. In my experience NZ does indeed seem to be a little more relaxed when it comes to thinking big.

My experience (having supported CEO’s and businesses in NZ and oversees) is that we do not invest in the ongoing training of our people, leaders and future CEO’s. Our governance is often ineffective and little more than an extension of the management of the business. Certainly there are challenges for family businesses in terms of growth, leadership, governance and succession. Our cultures are indeed soft and where we like to create a place people love to work (nothing wrong with that) we will often not expect excellence from our employees and leaders in the business.

I’m committed to changing this over time so that NZ does punch above its weight and starts to take excellent NZ brands and products into the global arena.Image

Dave Winsborough of Winsborough Ltd

Dave Winsborough of Winsborough Ltd

Dave Winsborough spoke in Christchurch this morning about why “Nice Guys Come Last”. Dave was speaking to a group of 26 CEO’s & High Performance Leaders that I host in Christchurch. The purpose of the group is to provide a peer group for CEO’s which includes a number who travel from Wellington and Auckland.

Dave is a leadership expert and his company runs a number of large Corporate and Government Department Leadership Frameworks. His topic today was challenging us around the impact good CEO’s can have on a Company and explaining why New Zealand organisations do not go on (generally) to be large Global Players. I learnt a lot.

It was a good morning and generated a lot of discussion and interaction.

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