How To Manage High-​Performing Teams


We all want to do it. Plenty of us have even tried and failed. I’m talking about managing high-​performing teams. Will Pemble, at GoalBoss​.com, has been there and done that. He explained how the process works in our recent Manage Smarter podcast with him.

When your organization is facing a huge challenge, it’s time to build a team. To maximize your chances of success, Pemble recommends establishing a team of between five and eight people. At that point, you should explain the challenge and then step back.

Your Role

Personal experience taught Pemble that the next step is crucial. As the company leader or department head, you’ve got opinions. You know which team members you’d like to see take specific tasks and roles to accomplish the mission. After all, that’s how things work in a military unit. When the goal is to stake a geographical claim, the commander gives the order, and everyone follows instructions. In these high-​performing teams operating in high-​stress situations, each person has been trained as an expert in their role.

Your company and your employees are not facing that kind of situation. If your challenge is all about how you must absolutely, positively deliver a product by a specific date, let your team members discuss how they’ll set goals. Don’t insert yourself into the process.

Generational Mix

Here’s why. The generational mix of your workforce likely includes younger workers who are used to thinking for themselves. If you start telling them what to do, their first instinct might be to push back or disengage, instead of making the task their top priority.

Goal Setting

You also want your team members to think of the goal-​setting process as an accountability tool. When they meet to discuss what needs to be done and to commit to their goals, they’re making an implicit promise to each other. If one of them falls short, they know that everyone else’s success will be impacted. If you set the goals, you run the risk of everyone coming to you to complain about the non-performer.

This style of accountability can be stressful for people. That’s why Pemble suggests building in an implicit understanding about goal achievement. Your team should feel great about their accomplishments when they reaches 80% of the goal by their specified deadline. 

The 80% Rule

The 80% figure isn’t arbitrary. It presumes that team members have set goals that represent a true challenge — one that requires their full commitment and level of effort. In any company, we know that things happen. The server goes down. The copier catches fire. A key client demands extra service that is time-​consuming. Your team members will have to divert some of their energy to handling the surprises and tasks that are out of their control. Those activities will cause the team to miss some of its goals.

Make sure your team understands they have some breathing room. Give them a mandate to work independently on urgent projects. And remember to praise them for a job well done when they produce results.