VUCA. Have you heard of this acronym? It’s everywhere these days and, just in case you need a reminder, it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The term first coined in the military is now regularly used in reference to the current corporate environment. Leading through growth, change and disruption is the name of the game these days. Increasingly organizations and the leaders within are required to adeptly navigate a VUCA landscape. 

What makes it a VUCA world?

We work in matrixed organizations where decision authority is often unclear and the ability to drive results is due as much to relationships as it is to direct positional authority. Today, the workplace is a maze of nested teams: intact, cross-functional, project, virtual — and the pressure is on teams to form, perform and reform at an astonishing rate. 

As organizational structures, roles and accountabilities continue to blur it’s the points of intersection that become increasingly critical. The end goal regardless of whether it’s an intact team or virtual team that comes together for a short-term project, is to create a tightly woven and cohesive team. Teams produce results that individuals simply can’t on their own. The most successful and most effective teams in producing results short-term are also teams that have developed the ability to be sustainable as well. A team is more than a collection of individuals. 

A team is a selection of people put together for a common purpose with identifiable goals, clear roles and accountability for results. As a result, the communications, structures and processes hand-offs within and between teams needs to be crystal clear. But is that all that’s required to create high-performing team? Absolutely not.

Wait there’s more?

The skillset that is critical for today’s leaders is to transition from coach to one to coach to the collective team. Research by Team Coaching International shows that fewer than 10% of teams are considered high performing. According to research by Google and others, one of the most crucial elements for team success lies in the relationships that exist within the team. Team leaders today need to be adept and agile at building, nurturing and restoring team relationships in order to cultivate high degrees of performance.

Are there some critical elements I need to consider to build a high-performing team?

Dr. Ruth Wageman, researcher and creator of the Team Diagnostic Instrument identifies that there are both essential and enabling conditions for high performing teams. The following is a short overview of the essential conditions that she has identified in her research. Use this to assess whether there may be some areas for you to hone in on as a team leader.


Purpose is one of the most critical elements to have in place for a team, so when you’re in the midst of a storm of VUCA, you’ve got a north star to follow. Wageman says that compelling purpose orients and motivates team members so that they are headed in the same direction—even when they are not working in the same place at the same time—and they do so with energy and conviction. 

Here are a few questions to consider on purpose. If you find you have a “no” on these, you’ve got a starting point for improving and aligning performance.

  • Is the purpose for our team sufficiently challenging?
  • Is the purpose for our team clear and understood by all?
  • Is the purpose for our team consequential (e.g. has a meaningful impact on others)?

Real Team

This seems like a silly thing but so often we bring together individuals as a group and call them a “team” simply because they meet regularly. Regular interaction, does not make a team! Consider the following:

  • Is our team bounded (e.g. it’s clear who is on the team)?
  • Is our team stable (e.g. they stay together long enough to get some work accomplished)?
  • Is our team interdependent (e.g. they rely on one another to accomplish goals and objectives)?

If your answer is no on the above questions, you’ve probably got a great team of individual contributors or maybe a committee but not a team yet. Think about how they truly can work and achieve collectively.

Right People

This is a regular issue that we encounter in the world of work. We’ve got a real team with a real purpose but do we have the right people around the table? This final condition is critical and so often we encounter leaders who seem to work by the mantra “half a body is better than nobody.” But really, how long can you tolerate underperformance? Consider this: 

  • Are there the right mix of skills around the team to achieve our goals?
  • Do we have diversity that allows us to perform creatively and well?
  • Is everyone performing at the level and ability that is needed?

Again, any “no’s” in this area should give you a sense of what you might want to consider if building a high-performing team is part of your game plan.

If you came through this with a resounding “YES” on purpose, real team and right people, then congratulations, you’ve got the essential conditions of team firmly in place. Hooray! 

Curious to learn more and understand the enabling conditions of team? Join the Roundtable Academy webinar on December 17th where we’ll dive into the model further and give you some suggestions on building both essential and enabling conditions of team.