Three weeks back we talked about the fact that great leadership is intentional. In our post titled Great Leadership Does Not Happen Haphazardly I walked you through how to create a solid foundation that you and your leadership team could stand upon. If you did not read that post go back and do so first as it lays the groundwork for what we will discuss here today. Before we can establish high performing teams we must first establish high performing leaders.

“Credibility is the foundation of leadership.” “If you do not believe in the messenger, you won’t believe in the message.”– Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge

This post is going to be more academic than most we post here on It is my hope that by walking you through the framework I have learned from others and applied with success you will find some useful nuggets of information that you can apply to your organization. So first off let’s go over what I see as the essentials of any high performing team.

“If you have the right people on the bus the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people do not have to be tightly managed or fired up! Great vision without great people is really irrelevant.”- Jim Collins

The Essentials of a High Performing Team

1. As a leader you must select performance oriented people and position them for maximum impact

  • Recruit “Doers” not just thinkers.
  • When it comes to getting things done, you need people who can get things done.
  • We need to look past the resume and ask people “What have you DONE.”
  • Employ super smart people who are ACTION oriented.
  • Tell yourself it is much easier to educate a “Doer” then it is to activate a thinker.
  • The org chart is NOT your friend. Ignore it; the organization chart is essentially a performance limiting template. Look for talented people regardless of their title. Find the best players for the job that needs to be done.
  • The organization will be at its best when people are doing what they are best at and are in the right seat on the bus.

2. Connect the Dots

  • Everyone needs to understand their connections to each other. Create a sense of interdependence. Collaboration is not a nice team connection to have; it is a must in order to have a high performing team. Great teams are connected to other great teams.
  • We cannot carry underperforming personnel and camouflage non-synergy.
  • Collaboration is not optional; it is an essential part of a team and eliminates conflict. A team is not a competition. We are not competing against the other people on our team.
  • Teams increase productivity by sharing information.

3. Clarify the WHAT and WHY

  • A team must know what we need to do and why we need to do it.
    • What problem are we here to solve? What opportunity do we need to leverage?
    • Why is this important? This is where people find their inspiration.
  • Our purpose for work can reach past just making money.
  • What is the greater good beyond the work we are doing?
  • It must be important to the team members because when they understand, teams are more successful
  • The WHAT and WHY with produce clarify and focus the energy and resources around the common goal.
    • It leads to people asking “Then why are we doing that?”
  • If this is the WHAT then why are we doing this and how we can look at these things differently?

4. Organize to the WHAT

  • Once a team knows WHAT they are there to do then as leaders we must ensure the organization is setup to support the mission and vision.
  • Be able to question the structure when it presents obstacles to achieving the WHAT – if you have to compete against your organization to accomplish the WHAT you and your team will grow tired and great people will leave.
  • REWARD what you want REPEATED.
  • A good question to ask ourselves is “What are we doing that is off purpose?”
    • Is it because we have always done it?
    • Do we have our best people on the best opportunities?

5. Orchestrate and evaluate everything!

  • Orchestrate and demonstrate how we do it here
    • It brings consistency and predictability to processes.
    • It actually makes an organization feel more personal.
  • We evaluate everything to get better but there is a sense of predictability
  • Evaluate everything – you never lose by evaluating but it has to be a standard process. It cannot be random and adhoc.
  • Create feedback loops that keep you close to critical events. As a leader do not fall victim to being too far removed from the front lines.
    • Information gets filtered as it makes its way up the organizational chart. Leaders’ musts figure out a way to get information from the critical events.
  • What are the Mission critical events in our organization?
  • Is there a feedback loop regardless of where you are in the organization?
  • Spreadsheets do not tell the whole story.
  • Gather the key people at the ground level and ask them how we did, what happened. This is your “in run” around the organizational chart.

“High performing teams are comprised of people with extraordinary clarity around the WHAT, WHY, and HOW along with a strong predisposition towards execution.” – Andy Stanley


@chrismwalden (Twitter)


  1. Mike McCann | Reply

    Two points:

    1) Love what you said about recruiting “doers.” Shipping a product/idea is difficult and the people who know how to finish are invaluable at all levels of an organization. There is a time and place to throw around ideas, but once that phase has passed, the project needs to be completed.

    2) “Create feedback loops that keep you close to critical events.” <– This is also an important line. But, not just for leaders. The team needs feedback from A) the leader B) their peers and C) anyone they supervise. 360 degrees of feedback

    Great points Chris, you've got my brain moving this morning!

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