The Rocket Model - Practical Advice For Building High Performance Teams - Notes

All significant human endeavour is a result of collaboration. From the Pyramids to the moon landing

Americans tend to glorify individual talent and accomplishment and tend equally to underestimate the amount of cooperation behind any real accomplishment.

Top 10 reasons groups and teams fail:

Misunderstanding team context

Lack of common purpose or goal

Issues around composition of the team

Bad followership

Poor meeting, decision making and communication processes


Differing levels of commitment

Shortfalls in funding equipment or authority

High levels of animosity or conflict

An inability to achieve superior results

‘lack of leadership is the common thread running through these ten reasons and why most groups and teams fail. Far too often, leaders are either unwilling to take action or don not know how to improve the functioning of their subordinates.’

Define teams as 3-25 people who; work towards common goals, interdependent work, common leadership, common fate depending on outcomes, view themselves as part of a team with common goals and shared fates.

Myths about teams:

Teams always perform better than individuals

Athletic teams are good analogies for business teams (Professional athletic teams obsess over talent, business team often who is available, practice to play ration of around 100:1, challenges clear and binary, ie next weeks opposition).

Corporations are team orientated

Effective team work is common in most organisations

Frameworks for developing teams, overview & critique of various team building models.

Tuckmans forming, storming norming performing.

In his research random groups of strangers were put together and asked to figure out who would do what. Researchers have not been able to replicate his results by looking at real life work groups.

Inputs – Processes – Outputs Model. Promoted by Richard Hackman a US researcher on teams @ Yale and Harvard.

A useful model in several ways. It’s intuitive, raw materials go in people resources etc, groups work on them and generate outputs. The model pays more attention to the variety of internal and external factors that effect teams. The model also describes what leaders actually do, dream, design and develop in order to help teams become more effective. It is not however a simple model.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni book / fable.

The 5 dysfunctions are: Absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability & inattention to results. Simple model with good practical advice. But not based on research and therefore its prescriptions lack empirical support. (Eg Katzenbach & Smith –‘Wisdom of teams’ the only effective means for teams to build trust and cohesion is to do real work.’

The Rocket Model. A practical handrail grounded in research with hundreds of private and public companies. The model is both descriptive and prescriptive.

Context – what is the situation

Mission – what do we need to accomplish. (The most important element of the model)

Talent – whose on board the ship

Norms – what are the rules (culture)

Buy-in. How to drive engagement and commitment

Power – what resources are needed

Morale – Are we getting along?

Results – Are we winning?

Remainder of book looks at each element in turn.

What is the situation? What is my part in it?

Is this a team or a group? What are the key internal and external constituencies and what assumptions do we have about them, what influence do we have over them? How will we add value?

Objective of this analysis is to make what is probably implicit explicit.

Q&A session described for the team to work out this context info.

Links between goals and behaviour. Our goals shape our behaviour. Behaviour is reinforced depending on what is rewarded. Rewards tend to focus on the individual and not the team. Why do we expect team work when focusing on individuals – ‘The folly of rewarding A whilst hoping for B’ Steven Kerr. Need team not just individual goals. Teams perform better with specific goals (SMART). Teams should benchmark performance against other similar teams – not themselves. (Easier said than done in many contexts). Acid test is performance against the competition. ‘Well designed team and group goals combine leading and lagging indicators, adhere to the SMART criteria, and adopt internal and external performance benchmarks. Leaders need to create a set of Vital Few prioritized goals.’

Number, skills and roles of people in the team, shaped by the mission. Many leaders have to drive buses full of people who are there because of availability, politics etc.

Right numbers? Right skills & attitude? Right roles? Right time? Right reasons? Engagement and critical thinking vital elements of being a team player (followership). Based on these 2 axis you have a grid with 4 role types for team members: Self-starters, Brown-nosers, Slackers and criticizers. Brown nosers generally lack self confidence and are motivated by fear of failure. Slackers busy staying out of sight doing their own thing. Criticizers good thinkers usually former self-starters who got cynical. Misery loves company so they often try to recruit others to their cause. Very sensitive to any breach of trust. What role team players take is fundamentally impacted by leadership – leader behaviour pushes these roles.


Diagram above creates a followership scatter plot. Where do you place team members and what do you need to do to improve or change this?

Rules of the road, often implicit codes of behaviour.

Do the norms help or hinder team performance? Do we have the right operating rhythm, how do we communicate with each other and make decisions? What are the consequences if any for breaking norms or poor performance? For each of these elements the book provides check sheets to help identify and create and codify norms.

Buy-in. ‘The degree to which leaders and team members are committed to and engaged in team goal, roles norms and success’. Commitment and engagement are different things. 3 things to improve buy-in; improving credibility (the degree to which the team believes in the leader, composed of trust and expertise), a compelling vision and enabling empowerment. A vision should; honour the past, be realistic about the present, provide hope for the future, capitalize on stories and metaphors use emotional energy in delivery.

Quantity and quality of resources and includes the level of authority granted to teams.

A groups cohesiveness or espirt de corps. Strong emotional ties, close relationships and strong trust bonds are good markers. Teams can often appear cohesive but have high levels of covert conflict.

Is there artificial harmony and what are its consequences? How to manage destructive conflict and foster productive dialogue?

This is the what of teamwork where the other elements are the how. Teams win when they achieve their goals. If the goals are not clear its hard to win. Leaders have a key role to teach their teams how to win. Teams with slackers and criticizers are less likely to win than teams of self-starters. Leaders not focused on results will frustrate self-starters and run the risk of turning them into slackers or criticizers.

Final section of the book is a suggested outline for applying the model and some lessons learnt:

Planning and preparation is essential

Improving performance takes time and persistence

Capitalize on the teams natural rhythm wherever possible

Be deliberate when on boarding new team members