Raising the Bar on Team Performance

Raising the Bar: How to inspire members to function at the highest level 

One constant complaint I get from clients is that teams underperform and that they, the leaders, are overworked. Often, when exploring the facts, I find that the leader has played a major role in creating the problem, just as conductors create musical problems by their actions. Many times, when leaders complain about others, they are not aware of the roles they play and have played in developing and maintaining the situation.

If a choir is not adequate, then we know it’s our leadership. It’s the same with teams. To transform teams (committees, boards, staff, etc.) to a high performance mode, it’s somewhat like the process a choir or orchestra goes through in becoming an ensemble.

Here are tips for raising the bar in team performance:

  1. Manage Yourself: The fundamental principal in raising the functioning level for team members is to stop overfunctioning, yourself. As you step up in your leadership profile, then others will take note and match your model. The Transformational Leader sets the bar for performance standards, attitude, and accountability. If you lead with authenticity and transparency, then others will know they can do the same. Remain calm. Remain focused. Remain energized. Learn the art of delegation. Check out Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions.
  2. Define a Worthy Purpose: Rather than assume that everyone on the team knows the purpose of the team, it’s important to define the purpose in writing and review it regularly. It is also important to revise the statement of purpose as the work of the team expands or gains clarity. Sometimes, the work narrows in scope, providing focus and intent to the work. Do this as a group collaboration so that everyone knows, understands, and supports the purpose statement.
  3. Challenge the Team: Boring work builds a boring team. Help members to know that they have a voice in creating the improvements they desire. This will give energy and momentum to the team’s work. If the team is only allowed to do maintenance type work, while you do all the creative thinking, then the team will lose its fizzle. Personal growth happens when we stretch our abilities. Allow the team to do the same. Allow individuals to take on responsibilities, knowing that they will have your support. Be sure that you don’t take on duties, so you are available to mentor others and monitor processes.
  4. Create a Collaborative Culture: Surround yourself with people who think in fresh and diverse ways. Build a culture where you ask inspiring questions and allow time for creative brainstorming. Listen to the team like a conductor listens to a choir or orchestra. If you attempt to solve all problems, then the team always expects you to play that role. Find ways to capture ideas, and develop processes to move from concept to action. Defining actions with dates and champions will build in accountability and camaraderie within the team culture. This is part of the dynamic we think of as ensemble. When people feel that individual thinking is celebrated, then more ideas emerge and more ownership for ideas and projects becomes the norm.
  5. Celebrate Genuine Success Often: A constant focus on process improvement and higher performance standards is energized by positive, genuine affirmation. Phony happy words don’t permanently effect people. Direct, honest feedback with helpful suggestions will influence behaviors in a positive way. Balance evaluation with celebration, when appropriate. Improve your awareness of these dynamics by making intentional notes about team performance, as well as about your own performance. When giving feedback to others, ask for comments about your own effectiveness, as well.
  6. Define Accountability as Nurture: When conducting evaluations of work, team performance, and skills, ensure that there is a positive setting for this work. Be sure that there is not an appearance of blaming or fault finding. Sometimes leaders want to dump all of their negative feelings onto one individual. This is not a good way to develop and maintain personal accountability within the team. Accountability has a positive image when people see it as nurture, collaboration, and shared responsibility. The high performance team develops peer-to-peer accountabilities.
  7. Be Sociable: Take time to do something not related to the work of the team. Share a meal. Visit a group or location relevant to your work. Spend time at play. This does not mean that you should not keep boundaries in place for appropriate relationships. Being friends and being social are different.
  8. Define the Culture: Diverse personalities and backgrounds make for great team dynamics. In order to create focus on the work and unity of goal implementation, it’s important to define team guidelines. Let the team define elements of their team covenant. When they define the culture, then they own the accountability as peers. Defining expectations is a risk mitigator for conflict. Check out my e-book: Creating and Sustaining Healthy Teams.

The bottom line – spend time on process, and not only in process.


Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

Author of
“Build Your High Performance Teams…in Just 21 Days!


Hugh Ballou (Author)

  • John Balauat

    Great article.  Thank you for the great content, Hugh!