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How to lead a high-performance pharmacy team

High performance teams need a strong leader, but it can be difficult to be a leader. Nobody ever teaches us as pharmacists what being a real leader is all about. True leadership is the ability to communicate with and effectively reach each person on your team.
Carlene Oleksyn

Carlene Oleksyn will be presenting at Pharmacy U Vancouver on October 22, 2022.

Why should we as pharmacists be interested in leading high-performance teams?

Here are some the reasons you might want to consider the importance of HPTs:

  • High performance teams get done more in less time and with less cost.
  • Productivity is at its highest when a team is performing as a cohesive unit.
  • Teamwork is almost always lacking in businesses that fail, and often present in businesses that thrive.
  • Teamwork gives staff a sense of belonging and fulfillment, which means less staff turnover and higher productivity.
  • High performance teams are a source of untapped competitive advantage.

What are the stages of team formation? Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his 1965 paper, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." It describes the path that teams follow on their way to high performance. (Later, he added a fifth stage, "adjourning" [also known as "mourning"] to mark the end of a team's journey.)


In Forming, most team members are positive and polite. Some are anxious (because they don’t yet fully understand how the team will function). Members try to determine expectations and how they fit in. This stage can last for some time as people start to work together, and as they make an effort to get to know their new colleagues.

As a pharmacy leader, you play a dominant role at this stage because team members' roles and responsibilities aren't clear. To be effective you must build trust among members; establish yourself as the leader; define key areas of focus and achievement; set team and individual goals; define accountability and responsibility; provide clear processes and expectations; be consistent and evaluate and solicit feedback.


At this stage, people start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. It's at this stage that many teams fail or get stuck. Team members may challenge the leader’s authority, and they try to establish appropriate behaviour and performance standards. If the leader hasn’t defined clearly how the team will work, people may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or they may resist taking on tasks. Team members may experience stress, as they don't have the support of established processes or strong relationships with their colleagues.

As a leader you expect and accept some tensions, acknowledge conflict and stay neutral/calm. A good leader helps team members identify and solve issues, encourages communication and is a role model. You establish boundaries and rules of engagement and refocus on goals and achievement.


At this stage people start to resolve their differences. They appreciate colleagues' strengths and respect the leader's authority. They may begin to socialize together, and they are able to ask one another for help and provide constructive feedback. At this point, people develop a stronger commitment to the team, and leaders start to see good progress toward goals.

At this stage you as a leader need to stay positive and involve others in decision-making, set goals and give and receive feedback, and develop your team's capability and skill levels. This is where development and shaping of the team culture becomes essential.


Hard work leads to the achievement of the team's goals. Here's where the structures and processes that you have set up support efficiency and your team's high performance. It feels easy to be part of the team at this stage. Team members resolve conflict efficiently because a high level of trust exists. People who join or leave won't disrupt performance. As leader, you can delegate much of your work, and you can concentrate on developing team members.

Your role now is to demonstrate appreciation for your team's efforts and achievements. Invest time in getting to know each individual on the team. Encourage the sharing of information and the exchange of ideas. Focus on communication and create opportunities for social interaction.

What makes a successful team?

  • Strong team culture
  • Quality team members
  • Effective communication

High performance teams need a strong leader, but it can be difficult to be a leader. Nobody ever teaches us as pharmacists what being a real leader is all about. True leadership is the ability to communicate with and effectively reach each person on your team. Your team are counting on you to be flexible, calm under pressure, energized even when others aren't, someone who leads by example and who is empathetic.

Most leaders understand strategy and execution. But they don't realize the power and dynamics of team culture, which can catapult a business's success or lead it to stagnate.

Leadership goes hand-in-hand with strategy formation, and most leaders understand the fundamentals. Culture, however, is a more elusive lever, because much of it is anchored in unspoken behaviours, mindsets, and social patterns. For better or worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked. Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades. Over time an organization’s leaders can also shape culture, through both conscious and unconscious actions (sometimes with unintended consequences). The best leaders we have observed are fully aware of the multiple cultures within which they are embedded, can sense when change is required, and can deftly influence the process.

A strong culture that is misaligned with the leader’s or business’s strategies and goals can be a significant liability. If you don’t proactively shape the team culture, it will form on its own and could be not only misaligned but negative and damaging to the business. 

Some typical examples:

“Patients are a bother, they just interrupt my work.”

“Management doesn’t care about us workers.”

“If I just put my head down and look busy, someone else will help that patient.”

“I’m just going to leave this for someone else to do tomorrow.”

“That customer is so rude, there’s no way I’m helping them!”

“I’m going to use the washroom (but really I’m going to check my phone…)”

“My manager only cares about quotas, she doesn’t care about me.”

With so much riding on the outcome, it doesn't make sense to leave successful team member interaction to chance. If you form team “norms” early on to ensure team success, you can shape the culture of the team in positive ways.

The role of the leader

Put procedures in place to facilitate regular communication. Regular engagement with your staff as a team and as individuals is essential. Staff feel more engaged and connected to the business when you communicate your feedback on their performance, help them develop their skills, and solicit their feedback. Plan what you are going to say in advance. Organize your thoughts so you can present feedback coherently. Clarify why you are providing feedback.

What can you do today to lead a high-performance team? As Dan Pink says:

“I really think that we have given short shrift to the concept of small wins, both in terms of personal development and organizational performance. We want big, audacious goals, we want moon shots….but most times, the more practical, realistic, and ultimately effective way is to go for a small win.”

  1. Where is my team at?
    • Look at the stages of formation
    • Remember: when a new member joins the team, it can push the team temporarily back to forming/storming.
  2. Implement structure 
    • E.g. regular meetings with staff, one on one and as a group. 
  3. Team building
    • Know your “why”
    • Build team culture

The question we should be asking is: “Can I do one small thing tomorrow to make things a little bit better?”




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