Connecting to the ‘why’: leading your team with purpose

Leadership Blog

Sara Moore

Written by Sara Moore

Connecting to the ‘why’: leading your team with purpose

Every organisation wants high-performing teams. But could over-emphasising task and objective setting be squashing ambition and holding your people back?

Sara Moore explains why connecting teams to purpose can lead to innovation, inspiration, and new ways of working that drive performance.


High-performing teams: is there a formula?

Picture the scene. You have great ambitions for your team. You invest in people, and assemble a team of high-flyers from across disciplines. You give them tasks and objectives. You expect they’ll explore new opportunities and deliver outstanding results year after year.

But they don’t. They may begin boldly – but quickly settle for the security of doing things the way they’ve always been done. Results are disappointing. So, did you get the formula wrong and pick the wrong people? We think not.


High-performing teams: an outcome, not an input

There is no secret formula for assembling high-performing teams. Rather, they emerge from a high-performance, purpose-driven culture. Because it’s not just about getting the right people – it’s about creating the right environment, in which people can play to their strengths. That’s what makes a team evolve.

A successful team is actually an outcome, not an input. And to create that all-important culture, you need to galvanise your teams by giving them purpose. You must set them not a goal but a challenge.


Letting teams own an ambitious challenge

Connecting people to purpose drives ownership. It allows individuals to become leaders and take the initiative, rather than being given a task to do and just delivering it. It empowers them to seize challenges – and innovate to overcome them.

Leaders often bemoan the fact that they can’t find the right people to meet the challenges their organisation faces. But can those leaders actually articulate that challenge? Is it motivating? Is it visionary, audacious and bold enough to stimulate new ways of working?

It could be doubling revenues and profits, entering new markets, or disrupting existing markets. What’s important is that people know why they’re doing it, and are inspired by it. By articulating an exciting potential future, you tap into people’s deeply held values and desires to be part of something worthwhile and important.

That’s the key to unlocking high performance. It’s what we call a breakthrough.


Aligning values and purpose for high achievement

Articulating a breakthrough challenge is the catalyst that creates a high-performance team. Underlying it is the connection to personal and organisational values.

Take the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. In the UK, Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and pharma company AstraZeneca committed to a single ‘impossible’ goal: developing an effective vaccine within a year, delivered on a ‘not-for-profit’ basis and galvanising the organisation to help save the world!.

Inhabiting this shared possible future allowed individuals to step outside their day-to-day context. They could challenge assumptions, experiment and collaborate, creating high-performing teams overnight.

Crucially, there was a deep connection to personal values and the corporate purpose to bring life-changing medicines to people across the globe. It galvanised existing teams to deliver this breakthrough performance.

The result: accelerated vaccine development, trials and testing delivered in months. And a global pandemic brought gradually under control.


Our anti-formula for high-performance

There is no easy formula for high-performing teams: circumstance and context are important. But at Achieve Breakthrough, we’ve developed a tried-and-tested anti-formula.

  • Start with the challenge: A clearly defined, audacious ‘impossible’ vision will galvanise existing teams. High performance is the outcome, not the catalyst.
  • Declare your future: As a leader, making a bold, public declaration of total commitment to your vision allows you and your team to ‘play all in’ to bring it to life.
  • Put yourself at stake: There can be no safety net, no plan B. Teams that see you put everything on the line to create your possible future will do the same.
  • Always be on-boarding: Lean into the values, concerns and ambition of your teams to connect them to the goal. Different people will commit at different times; keep creating spaces for them to do so.
  • Embrace conflict and resolve the inevitable set backs: At the heart of high-performing teams lies the ability to engage in challenging, courageous conversations that unearth the hidden obstacles to peak performance. The need for courageous conversations stems from the understanding that team performance issues are like an iceberg – only a small part is visible at the surface. The elements below the surface can range from interpersonal conflicts and misaligned objectives to broader systemic patterns. Without bringing these issues into the open, they can fester, leading to diminished morale, decreased productivity, and, ultimately, a decline in organizational performance. By willingly confronting the uncomfortable, teams can identify and address the root causes of their challenges. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable work of seeking setbacks and using them to create energy, momentum and renewed commitment.
  • Diversity and vitality are critical: For high-performing teams to become sustainable, all members must bring their whole, best selves and see results, development and personal fulfilment.

Leaders must become master alchemists capable of constantly recombining the elements above in ways that work for them and their organisations. To find out more, and get support along your journey, contact Achieve Breakthrough today.



High-performing teams in practice:

A cross functional study team were missing targets to recruit and complete a clinical trial for an important drug launch and needed to deliver at breakthrough pace patient recruitment targets. There was a need to reinstate the confidence and belief of success, and to let go of history and refocus the team context to working in partnership, being pro-active, and managing set-backs effectively.

Achieve breakthrough took the following approach:

  • Diagnostic of the problem
  • High performance Team Development: completion of past, new ambition, and new ways of working – from governance through to operational working
  • Team coaching and breakthrough decision making

Results were extraordinary:

  • Patient recruitment rose from 650 to 10,000 (5mths)
  • 200% step change in the pace of site initiations
  • Both organisations challenged existing protocol and created new processes e.g. reduction cross check and legal process
  • The team’s way of working is now characterised through trust, empowered, innovative and joint responsibility


Published 30/04/2024

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