Here’s the thing about high performance teams…

Martin port

By Martin Port

3 August 2023

As leaders, our most important – and hardest – task is to motivate our people.

Everyone has good days and bad days. Life sometimes gets in the way of work. Careers are complex. Leaders must navigate all these challenges to get the absolute best out of people.

But here’s the thing about creating teams that no one tells you. You cannot motivate everyone. It takes a certain mindset to bring your A-game to work every day. Attitude cannot be taught; it is innate.

I’m lucky. I made many hiring mistakes in my early career, which taught me a lot about human nature. As John Timpson CBE always says – some are 10/10 and others are drongos. The people you hire need to be capable of greatness, and they must be team players.

At BigChange, we have created a hiring process that identifies the best team players. People who aren’t just out to make themselves look good but help one another and are united behind common goals.

I’m a great believer in asking questions during the interview process that show whether someone works well in a team. “Talk about a team project that failed, and why” is a good one. So is: “How have you found skills in others to complement your own to complete a task?”

This one is also revealing: “What is more important to you, doing a great job individually? Or meeting team goals?”

I recently had a birthday celebration at my synagogue, and the rabbi gave an incredible address, which touched on this subject. He spoke about two rowing teams: one that won everything and one that always lost. The losing side sent a spy to check out the rival team while training one day.

The spy came back full of wonder.

“I’ve discovered what we are doing wrong,” he told his teammates. “On their team, one person does the shouting and everyone else does the rowing. On our team, everyone is shouting and only one person is rowing.”

It was an entertaining anecdote, but all leaders can appreciate the sentiment. You need people to be on board with the mission and pull in the same direction. That’s the only way to achieve success.

Legendary football manager Kevin Keegan attended this event and spoke about his experiences leading first-class teams. He too stressed the importance of natural talent, team spirit, and commitment to achieving group goals. When his club bought Alan Shearer for a record-smashing £25m, he recalled, that’s what he was buying: a triple threat.

So, if you want to lead a high-performance team, make sure that when you shout, your colleagues are willing to row, united in your mission. That is the way to glory – both on the pitch and in business.  

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