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How to Motivate High-Performing Teams

At the start of this year, I wrote about building high-performing teams. A high-performing team delivers above expectations and works more effectively than a team that isn’t high-performing. When discussing how to build high-performing teams, I focused on trust and how it means different things to each team member – leaders must understand how using the wrong approach could negatively trigger others. 

In this blog, I’ll share the key characteristics of a highly motivated, high-performing team and how to keep the momentum going in the team.

Key characteristics of highly motivated teams

Patrick Lencioni wrote about the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. He highlights where teams fail so a highly motivated team would be the opposite of these five things:

  1. Lack of trust – The team members don’t trust each other and are afraid to communicate openly about how they are feeling.
  2. Fear of confrontation – This refers to teams where people are reluctant to have those difficult conversations and they are not able to engage in constructive conflict.
  3. Absence of commitment – In this case, team members aren’t committed and just go through the motions of attending meetings. Team members don’t go above and beyond – only the bare minimum gets done.
  4. Absence of accountability – Team members don’t hold each other to a standard of accountability. Therefore, they lack focus and the energy in the team is low (or even negative). Poor quality of work is normal as no one is accountable for keeping an agreed standard. (quote about accountability)
  5. Failure to focus on goals – Where there isn’t a clear objective and purpose, the team will tend to chase personal agendas rather than a team goal.

Therefore, a highly motivated team trust each other. They are comfortable banging out ideas and having difficult conversations constructively.

These teams have built healthy working relationships and are committed. They will hold each other to account. Everybody is important to the team and does valuable work, always focused on the established goals.

How to keep momentum in a highly motivated team

In his book, Extreme Teams, Robert Bruce Shaw talks about the five practices that the best teams do. He shared these practices after examining high-performing companies such as Airbnb, Alibaba, Netflix, Patagonia, Pixar, Whole Foods and Zappos. These companies exhibit certain behaviours and mindsets that set them apart. Here are the five practices that emerge:

1. Make work an obsession 

This is about a clear purpose. People argue that most businesses are in it to make money. Yet, the most successful businesses are those that have a deep commitment beyond just earning good returns. The employees are aligned with the core purpose and see it as meaningful.

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2. Hire for the best fit

If you are bringing new people into a high-performing team, you need a good fit. That doesn’t mean you want everyone to be the same. It’s quite the opposite. In a high-performing team, diversity is a key strength. You should hire people that will fit in terms of behaviours and values. New hires come to add new perspective and skills; they shouldn’t be causing destructive conflict within the team. For instance, Zappos, Patagonia and Whole Foods are examples that hire people that show commitment to fun, outdoor sports and love for food respectively. Everything technical, they believe, can be taught.

3. Keep a shortlist of priorities 

It’s important not to spread people too thinly across multiple priorities. Keep a shortlist so that your team can have a laser-like focus. It allows people to know what they are doing and when. The team will look to the leader to set these priorities. This becomes more crucial when your team is remote and/or in difficult times.

4. Build a distinctive culture 

There’s always something unique about working in a high-performing team and that could be your competitive advantage. Know the key characteristics of your culture and what makes your company “tick”. What works for one company may not work for another. For instance, Pixar keeps its offices open around the clock because it recognises that its teams work more to non-traditional times. Patagonia closes its offices at 8 pm every night and all weekend, encouraging employees to take time away from work to recharge. Building a distinctive culture attracts people that are a good fit.

5. Create a safe space for conflict 

Have an open and honest environment where people can have constructive debates, keeping it objective and avoiding personal insults. Creative conversations within teams improve innovation that could drive creative ideas.

But what really motivates people?

Bestselling author and Bucket List pioneer, Dan Pink, highlights what motivates us. If you’re paying people enough so that they don’t need to worry about money, what truly motivates them? 

Dan Pink on Motivation 3.0

There are three things based on Dan Pink’s Motivation Theory:

  1. Autonomy – Give people the ability to make their own decisions such that they can make the role their own and that they’re not being micromanaged. This is crucial, particularly in remote teams. As a leader, you should create a way of working so that people can get on with things.
  2. Purpose – Having a sense of purpose inspires people. That purpose could be linked to the organisation or it could be intrinsic in terms of what they want to bring to the world. Motivation today is driven by a satisfactory answer to the question, “Am I making a difference in the world?”
  3. Mastery – This refers to a person’s ability to become a real expert in their field. It involves building their skills in that area of expertise. When a person feels like they are becoming a master in their field, it helps them stay motivated, so they go above and beyond.

As a collective team, honing these three things creates a highly motivated team such that what the team builds together is far greater than what they would build individually. 

Top tips for motivating your high-performing team

In summary, I’ve listed my top four tips for keeping your team motivated.

  1. Create a vision – If you haven’t got your vision and purpose well-articulated, do that. It’s even better if you could involve your team in creating this vision.
  2. Allow people to play to their strengths – You could use tools like Emergeneticsâ to identify people’s preferences in the team. Or through regular conversations with your team, get to understand what they enjoy doing. Then they can develop their mastery and you get the most out of them.
  3. Setting the water line – To enable you to delegate effectively, your team must know what your expectations are in various situations. I discuss this more in Inspiring Leadership: How to Be a Leader Who Inspires Trust and How to Lead in Times of Crisis.
  4. Creating a culture of constructive conflict – Your team will thrive in an environment that is non-judgement and people can be open and honest. An environment where everyone feels that they can share their opinion and they won’t be shouted down or judged for it. This drives strong relationships within the team.

If you’d like to find out more about leading teams and how I work with my clients, get in touch on 07980 838945 or email me at I’ll be in touch with you thereafter.

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