The Most Important Ingredient to the High-Performance Team

Becky Morehouse

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High-Performance teams are about recognizing the importance of teams in organizational success. Let’s take a quick look at the single most important characteristic of a high-performance team. 

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of teams at different colleges and universities. What sets the high-performance teams apart from the rest is not talent, big budgets, or a great leader. 

What sets high-performance teams apart from the rest is a shared purpose. Without a shared purpose, all those other qualities will never meld and catalyze. Their potential will remain untapped.  

The idea of a shared sense of purpose has two important dimensions.  

Let’s look at the second word in that phrase first: purpose.  

High performance team members must be individually attracted to the goal. It must be worthy of their attention, it must be worthy of their talents, and must be clear. Importantly, each team member must immediately sense how their individual contribution will impact overall success.  

Many credible leaders understand that the nature of the goal dictates who should be on the team. In response, they assemble the team after the goal is identified. This allows the leader to vet potential team members for talent and temperament a priori

The second word, “shared” is equally important. Not only does everyone understand the purpose, but everyone on the team must commit to both the shared purpose and to other members of the team.  

The benefits of shared purpose are almost too numerous to mention.  

  1. There will be less confusion about the team’s purpose. Valuable time and momentum will be saved.  
  2. There will be greater team identity and less self-identity. This is as rare in organizations as it is precious.  
  3.  Turf and silos will disappear as there is less competition and more genuine cooperation. This means all resources will stretch further.   
  4. Information is shared rather than hoarded. As a result, trust will increase.  
  5. Finally, and this one is tremendously important, honest debate will increase even as destructive, often tangential, conflict is reduced.  

Most teams call this shared purpose a “vision.” While this term is well-understood and well-used, there is another that I have found to be very useful: North Star.  

In many senses the high-performance team’s shared purpose, like the North Star, is a navigational aid. It keeps you on course. It tells you where you are on the journey. And perhaps most importantly, it tells you when you’ve arrived.  

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