5 steps leaders should take to grow a high performing team



To be really successful every business should have a clear strategy which clarifies and targets its ideal customers, produces and delivers products and services that add value, establishes a way to achieve a competitive edge, uses a sales and marketing mix to create demand from new and existing customers, defines an operational plan to meet that demand efficiently and does all of this whilst managing cash-flow and delivering a profit.

Clearly there are a lot of moving parts. Many business plans address all the above and on paper seem to have all the answers.

What is often overlooked, however, is not the “what have we got to do” but the “How can I make sure my organisation delivers this effectively”. You’re probably not surprised to hear that getting this right can be the difference between mediocrity (or even failure) and stellar performance.

Organisations that have good leaders and effective teams achieve significant benefits. They: –

  • Make better, faster decisions
  • Align the team around common objectives
  • Tap into the skills and opinions of all members
  • Avoid wasting time and energy on politics, confusion, and destructive conflict
  • Avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of a lack of buy-in
  • Create a sustainable competitive advantage
  • Retain the best people
  • Are more fun to be on!
  • Deliver the best results

Here are 5 steps you should take if you want to build a high performing team that delivers all of the above benefits.

Step 1 – Create a cohesive leadership team

As a leader your job is to set the direction and goals for the company and make sure the organisation is motivated and working in harmony to achieve those goals. This requires your leadership team to be as one to bring clarity to the following: –

  • Vision and Purpose – why do you exist? What is your driving force?
  • Your key values – these determine what your organisation stands for and how you and your employees are required to behave
  • What you do – simply what your business does (e.g. makes widgets)
  • Your strategy to compete – how you will differentiate yourself from the competition to win more business

 Step 2 – Agree Focus and Ownership

It is vitally important that the leadership team is exactly that – a leadership TEAM. In many businesses the leadership team is not really a team but more a group of departmental heads. This is characterised by each member being more aligned with his/her departmental agenda than that of the organisation. When this happens interdepartmental politics and silos emerge and this is toxic to effective teamwork. The rest of the organisation easily spots these rifts and are put in a no-win situation.

As the leader, you should satisfy yourself that the team is properly aligned around a shared agenda that they all commit to and hold above their own departmental plans.

You should also agree the priority objective for the business right now – Pat Lencioni, author of “The Advantage” and leader in the field of Organisational Health, argues strongly that, at any one time, there should be just one overriding priority over and above the standard operating objectives that the business focuses on. He calls it the thematic goal. Once that thematic goal is achieved then the next one can be agreed and focused on by the organisation.

The thematic goal is usually split into 4-6 defining objectives – each of which will be owned by the appropriate leadership team member.

This combination of focus and shared ownership at the leadership team level requires hard work and persistence to achieve (see step 4) but it is a vital factor in driving effective teamwork and worth the effort.

Step 3 – Embed into the way things happen in your organisation

The clarity, focus and ownership agreed in steps 1 and 2 will be motivators to the rest of your organisation – we all want to be part of a bigger picture and know how we fit in and contribute.

Communicating regularly, quickly and consistently is vitally important. Cascading throughout your organisation will engage your employees in a way that motivates them and helps them to understand their role in the overall plan. As they become familiar with the challenges of your strategy you will find that they may bring better solutions to the party than you at first envisaged.

Of course, no communication will help if you and your leadership team do not “Walk the talk” and demonstrate the espoused values.

Similarly, you should look to reinforce the agreed values into the way you run the business. For example: –

  • Your recruitment process should select employees who share the same attitude and values
  • Your compensation and reward programmes should be in line with targets
  • Your staff appraisal process should be regular and use the agreed values
  • A dashboard of key measurements should be widely shared showing progress against the defining and standard objectives

 Step 4 – Lead the organisation through the 5 behaviours of a cohesive team.

As a leader, you need to: –

  • Establish vulnerable trust – effective teams operate on a foundation of vulnerable trust. Members should be comfortable admitting that they have made a mistake or that they don’t know something or that another team member’s idea is better than theirs.
  • Engage in constructive conflict – the best ideas are produced when team members can operate in an atmosphere of high challenge and high support. Where they can openly disagree and thoroughly debate the pros and cons of various options. Lack of challenge usually results in the ideas of the pushiest team member being accepted – and they are often not the best!
  • Ensure alignment and commitment – when you have established trust across the leadership team and given them the opportunity to put their own ideas forward and challenge each other’s ideas, they will be able to commit to whatever way forward is decided by you as the leader. It is absolutely key that you make sure that every member of your leadership team is fully behind the way forward (even if it is not their proposed solution).
  • Hold each other accountable – your challenge as a leader is to set the example in terms of accountability. You will need to be first to challenge members who have not delivered their part of the plan. When team members see that you don’t shy away from this, they will feel able to hold each other to account and it is this peer pressure that really moves the team forward.
  • Focus on achieving results – If you are successful in the first 4 behaviours then you should be seeing the expected results. It is your role however to make sure that the desired outcomes are being achieved. You will take the lead in reviewing results on a regular basis and be ready to take action as required. Define a dashboard of key measures that you can share with the whole organisation to communicate progress against plan. This should be very simple and must show progress against the current thematic goal as well as performance against the standard operating objectives (sales revenue, cash-flow, pipeline, profit, etc.)

Step 5 – Equip your middle managers to get the best out of their teams

Gallup’s State of the Global workforce research shows that 83% of employees are not engaged in their work and with their company. Their studies also show that the single most important factor in engaging employees is how their manager behaves. Put together a programme to train your managers in how to get the best out of their teams. I’ll put more on how to do this this in a future post.

You’re well on the way

When you have successfully navigated to this point you will have a Leadership team that is aligned and walks the talk for the rest of the organisation to see. They will be modelling the behaviours to their teams and creating the culture of a healthy and effective organisation.

Good Luck!

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