wendy wong
Wendy Wong, SVP Marketing at The Ken Blanchard Companies

Have you ever experienced moments when your work as part of a team put you on a “high”? Not only are you in the zone, but everyone involved is in the same zone. It’s like the feeling of forgetting yourself, and being blended into a vortex of energy that charts a course toward shared cause and excellence. Each person builds on the other, seeking to make the team better, and unleashing a level of trust and creativity that astonishes.

This is the performance high of high-performance teams. Performance high happens spontaneously, sometimes under pressure as we run full-throttle toward a “must make it happen” kind of goal, and sometimes in the quiet arena of breakthrough thinking. But it can’t happen unless there is underlying high performance.

Performance high requires living fully in the context of the playing field. It requires a certain desire to change the playing field – sometimes to enlarge it, sometimes to clarify it, sometimes to pivot within it. Performance high requires an underlying “all in” level of engagement that defines the norm of the team at a foundational level of high performance. Without that, the spurts of performance high have no energy reservoir from which to percolate.

What makes up that energy reservoir of high performance? Lots of stuff that can sound almost cliché: trust, competence, vision, leadership, teamwork, communication, collaboration. The missing word, and maybe the most important ingredient? Focus.

Put a talented bunch of people together without focus and they will run after the goals they see as most important. There is a dispersion of energy.

Bring these people together and ask them to select a few shared goals, and you might have a small, yet still improbable chance of pointing in the same direction.

Tell these same people that their one and only goal is “x” and you might have everyone aiming, and still missing, the bulls-eye.

Ask each of these people to draw “x” in the way that they can visualize it clearly. Ask them to describe the “x” in as much detail as possible. Ask them to teach the person next to them to describe the “x” in exactly the same way, and watch how the “x” morphs as it passes through the group – big and blocky, bold and colorful, thin and ephemeral. The intersection of all parts of this “x” is the shared vision of the shared goal. It may be tiny compared to the other parts of the “x” but it represents the part of the “x” that everyone believes in and can see for themselves.

Focusing people’s energy on the intersection of the “x” allows you to collect a whole reservoir of energy. This shared energy is high performance.  The leader’s most important job is to direct energy.  Build the reservoir for shared purpose and high performance.  From there will spring great moments of performance high.

What are your favorite moments of performance high?

This article originally appeared on the Wendy Wong blog. For more, subscribe at wendycwong.com

Note from The CMO Club: If you enjoyed this article and want a supplemental resource, this week’s CMO Book Club pick further develops this topic. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek emphasizes the objective of a fulfilling work environment by working together to do remarkable things. Click here to read more.