This is something I’ve been thinking quite a lot about lately.

Our theme this quarter in Amplifiers™ is High Performing Teams and after a dozen interviews and lots of reading, this is what I’ve discovered: high performing teams are a myth.

For a long time I’ve quoted the US Navy SEALs as the example. But you know what? SEALs have petty jealousies too. And the All Blacks, even with their No D*ckhead Rule still occasionally have to deal with d*ckhead behaviour. Even Atlassian, the paragon of cultural excellence, still has tension in teams now and then.

So if high performing teams are a myth, what is a leader to do? Treat it as an IDEAL to work towards.

What we want: camaraderie, cohesion, challenge.

What we get: colleagues, conflict, confusion.

What we need: chocolate. Definitely more chocolate!

What we need is to do the work.

Let’s bust some myths to get there.

1. High performing teams are personalities that just click. 

Nope. High performing teams don’t need personalities to click, they need intention to. Are we aligned to the same common purpose?

2. High performing teams are easier to lead.

Sorry! High performance takes work. It doesn’t happen by accident, and when it does happen, it is hard to maintain.

3. High performing teams always deliver.

Not at all. They have failures and misses too. High performance is always in flux. We just can’t maintain peak performance. We need an ebb and flow of energy, and of performance.

4. High performing teams are autonomous.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Sadly, not a reality. Leadership matters. High performance is not an automatic given with a good strategy and good systems. Good leadership fuels that system with enthusiasm, focus, and a moral compass.

5. High performing teams are a team of equals.

It depends on how you define ‘equal’. They still need a leader. The leader matters. It’s not about the leader; it’s all about the leader. The leader’s actions and energy have ripple effects. A team can withstand a poor leader for only so long. An average team with a good leader can become great.

There is one leadership principle that is never going away: pay attention.

Head down, socks up, do the work. Get to know your people, care about them, work together, confront the tough stuff. Clarify direction, clear obstacles, give praise, recognise progress. Celebrate, console, cajole.

Another leadership principle that doesn’t get old: ask questions.

Not sure about what to do to move your team towards a high performance ideal?

Try these questions:

  1. Morale: How are you today?

  2. Motivation: What’s working for you this week?

  3. Momentum: What can you do next that will give you the biggest sense of progress?

  4. Mentoring: What can I do to make your life easier?

  5. Magic: What’s on the other side of all this hard work?

  6. Meaning: What matters to you in this job?

High performing teams are like gardens: they need attention from time to time. Pruning, weeding, and a little water.

How much effort are you spending on developing team high performance? Are you guilty of neglect? Is your garden a little overrun with weeds? What can you do next to clean it up?