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Mission statements, vision statements, market strategies, annual goals, and action plans are all key components of comprehensive strategic plans. And when well-crafted, they serve as a roadmap toward a compelling future. 

Yet it all adds up to a big fat zero when the team charged with creating that plan and carrying it out doesn’t trust one another, won’t say what’s on their minds, won’t buy in, won’t be held accountable, and care more about their own personal agendas than the firm’s results. A strategic plan, on its best day, is worth the paper it’s written on. But the activity of strategic planning can be invaluable — if you have a high-performance leadership team in place.

Here are 10 ingredients:

1. Trust — Trust is neither spontaneous nor arbitrary. It is built when we show real concern about the well-being of others and manage our commitments rigorously. Trust is a mood. We judge that a person is sensitive to our concerns and will fulfill his or her promise. It is this trust that is the bedrock of a high-performance leadership team.

2. Collaboration — Collaboration is thinking with others, helping others, and learning with others. High-performance leadership teams create a playground for developing the practices of collaboration.

3. Efficient problem-solving — High-performance leadership teams practice a scientific thinking approach that emphasizes problem definition and results in a) working on the right problems, and b) reducing waste. They don’t just “see problem, solve problem, move onto the next problem.” They only work on things that matter.

4. Sound decision-making — High-performance leadership teams arrive at sound decisions as a cohesive team by using decision-making methods (such as “Choosing By Advantages”) that are statistically superior to other, more traditional methods such as “pros and cons.”

5. Bringing the outside world in — The A/E and environmental consulting industry can be provincial. We seem to learn only from those in our discipline or profession. Few people have practices for learning from those outside the industry. But high-performance leadership teams make a habit of engaging more broadly in the world around them — and they consistently innovate as a result.

6. The power of language — Traditional use of language puts emphasis on facts, the representation of facts, building models, and communicating about the truth of claims. High-performance teams understand another dimension of language — where it is used to collaborate with others, negotiate with each other, and make things happen.

7. Solid assessments — As much time as is given to decision making, at least twice as much time (and often much more than that) needs to be given to making assessments. High-performance leadership teams know that if they are sloppy in making assessments, their decisions are no better.

8. Attentiveness — High-performance leadership teams understand the paradigm of taking care of others while taking care of themselves. They get the nuance between being selfless and being attentive. They produce bigger results by garnering the support of others rather than throwing themselves on grenades.

9. Reliable commitments — Most of us are so interested in getting our requests satisfied that we latch on to the first utterances of a would-be performer, thinking we got the promise we were looking for. All too often we receive just the opposite. The individual is trying not to promise, but doing a very bad job even of that. High-performance teams master the skill and teach it to others, leading to increased success working not only in the business, but on it as well.

10. Ability to produce gratitude — High-performance teams routinely produce gratitude in the course of doing client work and cooperating with others. They instill a culture of commitment in their working relationships, allowing them to focus on what they are building together while reducing the stress associated with attempting to balance trade-offs of individual agendas and interests.

Get hearts and heads in a good place and great things will follow.

Mark Goodale is principal with Morrissey Goodale LLC in Newton, Mass. Morrissey Goodale LLC is a management consulting and research firm that serves the AEC industry. He can be contacted at mgoodale@morrisseygoodale.com.

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