Leading a High Performance Team: 3 Constants

by Jo Anne Nelson on March 20, 2013

A poignant theme that recurrently arises in my work is leading high performance teams for the sake of elevating and accelerating organizational performance. While there are many ways to successfully lead a high performance team, there are certain constants that I see. Here are three:

What Matters

The most successful leaders provide clarity of direction and purpose. They provide a strong framework for understanding What Matters—the vision, values, standards, goals and promises of the team, and the organization. They articulate it clearly, simply and often, so that all decisions are filtered through What Matters. If we have alignment with What Matters, we consider the opportunity. If we don’t, we decline.


Perhaps one of the most important elements for successfully leading high performance teams is having a leader that the team can respect and follow with deep enthusiasm and commitment. We look to our leaders as models for behavior and barometers for authenticity. If the actions they take are consistent with what they are saying, then we find it easy to align behind our leaders and execute in a manner that is consistent with the strategic objectives and articulated standards of the organization. If we see inconsistency between the ‘talk and walk’ of leaders, we find it challenging to stay on board. As a result, creative engagement, efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness diminish.


Additionally, we know from research today that the strongest motivators are not extrinsic motivators like bonuses, rewards, and accolades. We definitely need to take money off the table, but the individuals who are most successful in leading high performance teams understand that it is the intrinsic motivators that generate the most creativity, innovation and impact.

Dan Pink outlines three intrinsic motivators in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Leading a high performance team involves using all three:

  • autonomy
  • mastery
  • purpose

Autonomy means that I have the opportunity to direct my work. To be successful, I have to make sure that my work is aligned with What Matters, and is generating value. Mastery involves having the opportunity to learn and create new things, while purpose ties my work to a greater objective, and typically involves having a positive impact in the world.

Obviously, leading a high performance team involves an understanding of the skills, maturity levels, and experience of the individuals that comprise the team. Someone with minimal experience and maturity is not going to do well if left completely to their own devices. Leaders make assessments about each individual on the team, and how much is enough given their level of skill, maturity and experience.

And, leading a high performance team involves connecting team members to their purpose over and over again. It involves a compelling, simple story that reminds them why they are doing the work they are doing.

Internally, the story helps those the team interacts and collaborates with to gain a clear perspective on the role of the team and the value that it adds. Externally, the team’s story has the power to attract new customers while exciting and reinvigorating existing relationships.

These are just a few of the constants involved in leading a high performance team, regardless of industry or market sector. Bringing focus and discipline to these will elevate performance, and strengthen your leadership skills.


Jo Anne Nelson

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: