The Inside Scoop On High-Performance Teams

Brian Johnson
6 min readMar 20, 2019

Believe it or not but strong leadership teams don’t just materialize. They are built by clear expectations and a true desire to serve, to teach, and to learn. And what I’ve learned is that the desire to accomplish the above has to start with me.

After years of developing and leading high-performance teams, I’ve learned that I have to take an active role in my leadership team's personal development. I can’t expect that they’ll just go off on their own and develop themselves into an amazing team of high performers without any guidance on my part.

That would be as if I expect that an NBA team of highly talented players will just go off and practice on their own without any coaching or guidance and then come back together on game day and win championships.

As talented and motivated as the players are, it’s just not going to happen.

The truth is that I have to be part of the equation and I have a few basic drills that I rehearse with my teams over and over. In fact, anytime I manage a new team I start off with Leadership Development training that is set up to take place once a week.

I do this for about 45min a week until the team is up and going and managing their units with a high degree of efficiency. Once we can all track our progress we tone down the Leadership Dev meetings to just once, or maybe twice a month.

Several things are immediately clear once we start our sessions. Most of my leaders realize that they’ve never been effectively trained in the art of leadership. At least not on an ongoing basis.

They may go to a few break-out sessions during a conference or take some CEU type coursework, if at all, but that is about it. They will also do a lot of self-improvement and professional development, which is fantastic, but it’s hard to align all of that individual and personal growth with the team.

Another thing that has become apparent is that if the teams are filled with high performers, they are high performers individually and have not yet learned how to be high performers collectively. This, again, is something that takes time and reinforced training.

But first things first. How do I get individual high performers, or mediocre performers for that matter, to be a high-performance team? Step one, I set the priority.

Priority one, or as I call it, Principle one: Training

The primary job of any leader is training. Training is the crux of the job in every aspect of their work. To put it another way, a leader's job is to make sure her team is well attended to and that their training needs have and are being met. Sometimes I refer to training as education, depending on the dynamics of my team, but the spirit is still the same.

Leaders are, in all their essence, teachers. Being a teacher means that there are certain intrinsic characteristics that must be brought to the surface. You must be caring and concerned with your team/students. Every good teacher/leader has this single characteristic in common. They care about the personal development of their unit.

So much so that they are constantly checking in on their status. This is different than micromanagement. They are checking in on their teams to see that they have the resources that they need. They are checking to ensure that they understand their objectives and are progressing accordingly. They are checking to make sure that there are no stragglers and that everyone is focused on safety and appropriate procedures, etc. In a nutshell, leaders care about their teams.

Principle number two: Motivation

Effective leaders are always working to motivate their staff. Often we find that our unit members know what they need to do, from an experience and training perspective, but it’s just sometimes hard for them to actually step up and do what they know. In these cases, we are often dealing with a motivation issue and not a training issue.

Let’s face it, we all need motivation from time to time. I know I need it, sometimes on a daily basis depending on the project.

To be clear, we all have a responsibility to be motivated in achieving our individual and team goals. We are all expected, at some level, to be self-motivated. However, there are times where we look to our leaders for the much-needed motivation we need to get past certain obstacles. We all, at various times, need the support and motivation of our team members and team leaders. And a leader's job is to understand when it’s time to step up and get her team motivated.

The third principle: Discipline

Now here’s the thing I always have to discuss when it comes to discipline. It’s not a bad thing.

Discipline is often a good thing and it is often the motivation we need to push ourselves to the next level. One could say that discipline, applied appropriately, can be the best form of motivation. I talk in greater detail about discipline in my blog post The Simple Truth About Discipline In 60 Seconds.

We all know that ‘good’ leaders have to engage in the discipline of team members and this is often more art than science. In our Leadership Development sessions, we often discuss the different discipline challenges and focus on personal, professional, and group accountability.

Open accountability in our teams allows each unit to police itself which is what you want when developing high-performance teams. Team members need to know that they are accountable to each other and that the leader is accountable to them.

When done in this way, the team understands that discipline is used as a tool for growth and performance enhancement. You can use a hammer to construct and you can use a hammer to demolish. The hammer of discipline, in my experience, should be used to build and construct high-performance teams, and not to punish individuals, just because…

The final principle: Remove

This is a difficult principle because it means that someone has to leave the team. This is never easy, but the truth is that everyone doesn’t always make the team.

There can be many reasons for this and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter but if you are building and leading high-performance teams there will often come a point when someone will have to be removed from the team.

The thing to understand is that this isn’t a bad thing and it's not a good thing, but it is a necessary thing. As a leader, I’ve always opted to spend my energy playing to my team members' strengths. When looked at from this perspective, not everyone’s strengths are aligned with the teams’ objectives.

When this misalignment happens, it's the job of the leader to identify it and validate it through the use of the previous principles of training, motivation, and discipline. If these tools don’t work to align individual strengths to the team objectives then it’s a good sign that the individual is probably on the wrong team.

However, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the individual, though that could be the case, but rather that the individual may just be in the wrong seat on the bus. The job of the leader is to help them find the right seat, or in some cases, the right bus.

From a high level, I believe that we all have value to bring and give to the world, and sometimes we are just not in the best position or environment to bring that particular value. In these cases, removal is a good principle and benefits the individual and the team, equally, though to be honest, it doesn’t always translate as easily as that while actually going through the process.

Training my teams and guiding them to do the same with their units and encouraging them in the practice of growing their own leaders is most of what I do.

Once my teams are able to understand and practice these principles of leadership in their own units I can engage them in just about any strategic plan or initiative and have confidence that they will perform at the highest levels of their ability.

After all, I truly believe that’s all that any of us really want to do in life.

To your success…



Brian Johnson

Technology Innovation Strategist & Change Manager: Influencing and helping others to reach their full potential through intentional improvement.