Five Ways to Lead a Team to Breakthrough Performance

A high-performing team is a thing of beauty. When a team functions well, it’s like the engine of a finely tuned motorcycle – operating with maximum efficiency, speed and, more often than not, crossing the finish line before everyone else.

Taking a team to that level requires special leadership – someone with patience, grit, and the ability to ensure each part works with all the others so the engine can fire on all cylinders. That type of leader is a catalyst – someone who enables others to perform together in a way they never could on their own.

What’s the secret?

Based on my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned from mentors and colleagues, here are five things you can do to help your team achieve breakthrough performance:

Find a common purpose

A common purpose, something that’s often overlooked when developing high-performing teams, results from the development of a set of shared team norms. These are the principles by which a team agrees to treat one another.

Your team members may have a set of individual values, but they need to define them as a group. Don’t dictate these values. Let it be an employee-led process that involves everyone in the decision-making.

It’s not hard to do this. Start the process by asking your team: what values does this group absolutely need to function at its best? Come up with a list of five to seven words. Invite small groups to work together to unpack the facets of each word.

Here’s an example from one of our values at Mitchell – trust:


– Honest, transparent, forthcoming

– Reliable, dependable: we do what we say we’ll do

– Treating others as you would like to be treated

As a next step, have each group share their thoughts with the overall team for feedback. Finally, create a final list of values and definitions with the entire team. These shared values can help drive a positive organizational culture and allow your team to rally around a common purpose.

Embrace selflessness

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” Great teams are in it for each other, not just for their individual success. You see this in sports all the time. Great teams typically have great players, and the superstars often are called on to make key plays at key times. But they win championships by playing together.

You can have a very talented team member. But how does that individual complement the whole team? And how does he or she provide the assist and create the environment where every player performs to their fullest potential? Most importantly, how are you modeling a selfless, team-first attitude?

Discover diversity

I’ve spent much of my career looking for ways to champion the value of women in the workplace. But team diversity isn’t just about hiring more women – or more people of color, or more of any one thing. It’s about inclusion and discovering the value of different experiences, different insights, different backgrounds, and different skills.

One mark of high-performance leadership is knowing how to invite and manage lively, diverse discussions. You have to know when to listen and when to end the debate and make decisions. You have to know how to share credit. And you have to know when and how to hold people accountable. Developing these skills allows you to assemble and lead the best team for whatever challenge your organization will face – and their diverse thinking will get you there faster.

Fill your gaps

A motorcycle consists of hundreds of parts, and each needs to perform its role to make the ride successful. Similarly, the best teams are ones that have individuals who complement, not duplicate, each other.

That’s why it’s so important to hire for your team’s weaknesses. You want people who can shore up the functions that you or other team members don’t really love or have the expertise to handle well. Take an inventory of the strengths of your current team. What gaps in knowledge, skill, perspective or capability do you have? What type of team member could you add the next time you have a hiring opportunity?

Listen to sincere feedback

Really listening to and empowering others will help you build a high-performance team. It will also help you mold better leaders for the organization and gets better business results. Too many leaders still want to tell their team what to do and how to do it. That command-and-control style of leadership breeds bureaucracy and slowness, and it discourages innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

The disruptive nature of business and the changing attitudes and expectations of the workforce have combined to make this style of leadership virtually obsolete. The world rewards adaptive leaders who assess challenges quickly and engage teams to manage through change together in real time.

As you think about your team, you no doubt see great strengths, as well as opportunities for growth and improvement. Fine-tuning your leadership will help you sharpen those strengths, build on those opportunities, and experience break-through performance that gets you and your team over the finish line.

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

Written By

Elise Mitchell

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