In the new world of work, the organisational structure is rapidly transforming from a top-down, hierarchical approach to an inclusive and team-based style. A leading research report strongly suggests that shifting towards a team-based model significantly improves organisational performance.

High-performing companies have taken the team paradigm one step further by operating as a network of teams: participants move from team to team rather than remaining in static formal configurations.

High-performing – or Elite – teams channel their energy to create superb synergy. The collective ability of the team transcends each member’s capacity as they overtake their rivals and outperform in anticipated productivity. Team members are well aware of the fact that they are more likely to reach their full potential by being part of this Elite Team.

High-performing teams are ignited – and driven – by purpose.

If high performing companies are the product of a network of Elite Teams – where participants can move seamlessly from one role to the next – leadership need to embed a strong sense of team-based thinking. No team can succeed without a well-defined purpose. If the purpose is not clear, the team will falter. An Elite Team, however, is both ignited and driven by its purpose.

For them, purpose is shorthand for their raison d’être, the most crucial reason for the team’s existence. Purpose aligns energy, drives interdependence and pushes performance. It is from purpose that mutually agreed-upon goals are derived, roles are defined, and are strategies are developed.

Indeed, one research report defines Elite Teams as “fertile settings for understanding how front-runners of human systems engage in what is called ‘purposing’ – a continuous stream of actions that has the effect of inducing clarity, consensus, and commitment.”

The research paper, titled The purposing of high-performing systems, underlines the critical role of the leader in defining and maintaining a clear sense of purpose among all system members. The team leader ensures that the team, as well as outside stakeholders, is clear about the team’s objective. The leader highlights the importance of the team’s work and cultivates a passion towards the purpose.

When the team leader distinctly clarifies purpose and underlines that their strengths are recognised, the team builds a sense of trust towards each other.

A 2019 global study of engagement from the ADP Research Institute® found that trust in team leaders is the foundation of engagement.

The purposing of high-performing systems highlights three fundamental characteristics associated with such leaders.

The critical role of the leader of high-performing teams in establishing purpose.

One of the notable personal qualities of leaders of Elite Teams is the willingness to invest large amounts of time in the system. This time investment is not limited to hour-to-hour or day-to-day time but also includes the sense of a year-to-year – and even decade-to-decade – timeline.

Another outstanding personal quality of a leader at the helm of a high-performing team is the ability to develop and express deep sentiments about the team, its purposes, the people in it, its history, and its future.

The leader also has the aptitude to focus on the various issues in the system that truly make a difference to the team’s performance. These matters are not limited to the inner workings of the group. The leader also monitors the external environment.

As such, companies aiming to be at the top of their game need to embed Elite Team thinking not only internally but also in the broader ecosystem in which today’s social enterprise exists.

A social enterprise, as Deloitte defines it, is an organisation which mission combines revenue growth and profit-making with the need to respect and preserve its environment and stakeholder network.

How purpose outshines profit-making.

The 2014 Deloitte Core Beliefs & Culture Survey found that focusing on purpose rather than profits builds business confidence and drives investment. Respondents described companies that ascribed to this philosophy as ‘social enterprise.’ The study reported that 91% of respondents (executives and employees) who said their company had a strong sense of purpose also said their company had a history of strong financial performance.

Purpose cultivates reassurance among leaders and stakeholders alike – and can lead to a competitive advantage in a time of economic volatility.

Additionally, personal experience and engagement are critical factors in the transformation towards social enterprise. Aligning personal purpose with organisational purpose is the primary driver of high-performing organisations in terms of employee experience. Personal experience is also defined by the meaning participants derive from their work and emotion connected to the larger purpose of the team.

A recent study revealed that employees would give up a part of their remuneration to experience a sense of purpose. In the survey, conducted among 3,500 professionals in the UK, 49% of respondents who wanted to leave their current employers said that they would give up part of their compensation to stay in their position with an added sense of purpose.

In a survey conducted by Workhuman Research Institute, 32% of responders answered, “My job – I find the work meaningful,” when asked why they stay at their company.

When team members find personal purpose in their corporate objectives, the right psychological boxes are ticked. Participants feel their work is meaningful, which speaks to what drives them to be successful.

In Daniel Pink’s New York Times Bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he identifies that our desire for purpose – the ambition to contribute to something of importance and meaning – is one of the crucial elements that drive human behaviour and the need to achieve.

From purpose to engagement to performance.

This drive to be successful, in turn, sparks engagement. Engagement is the precursor of consistent performance. According to Forbes, companies with a highly engaged culture perform better, with higher stock prices, higher productivity, lower turnover, and greater customer satisfaction.

For organisations that have adopted a team approach, the prognosis for continuous engagement is even better.

The 2019 global study of engagement from the ADP Research Institute® found that if employees consider themselves as part of a team (or even better, part of more than one team), they are twice as likely to feel engaged in their task. This holds true regardless of demographics, work status, or where they work.

The ADP Research Institute® report says that 84% of employees worldwide are merely ‘coming to work’ instead of contributing to their full potential. In terms of Global Engagement, only about 16 % of employees are ‘fully engaged.’

However, the study also underlines that when companies make high-performing teams their primary focus – including what creates them and what can fracture them – they can expect to see more significant rises in Global Engagement.

Executive Coach Gordon Tredgold sums it up by saying that high performance starts with employee engagement. Engagement is not possible without an accessible organisational (or team) purpose. Organisational purpose needs to align with personal purpose to ensure long-term buy-in.

On the topic of purpose at work, leadership specialist professor Karl Moore says, “people often say ‘It’s business, it’s not personal.’ Well, it’s time we retire this worn-out cliché. In order for one to perform in a business or a non-profit organisation, it must be somewhat personal.”


Bradley, A. (2019). How Engaged Is Your Team, Really? Retrieved from

Vaill, PB. (1982). The purposing of high-performing systems. Retrieved from

Bersin, J., McDowell, T., Rahnema, A., & Van Durme, Y. (2017). The organization of the future: Arriving now. Retrieved from

Volini, E., Schwartz, J., Roy, I., Hauptmann, M., Van Durme, Y., Denny, B., & Bersin, J. (2019). Organizational performance: It’s a team. Retrieved from

Deloitte & Touche (2019). Employee experience, engagement, and learning key factors in driving social enterprise. Retrieved from

Deloitte. (not sure). The workforce ecosystem: Managing beyond the enterprise. Retrieved from

Deloitte. (2019). Global Human Capital Trends. Retrieved from

Tredgold, G. (2017). High Performance Starts With Employee Engagement, But You Need More Thank That. Retrieved from

Blount, S., & Leinwand. (2019). Why Are We Here? Retrieved from

Parke, M., & Weinhardt, J. (2018). Research Shows a Simple Way to Increase Your Engagement at Work. Retrieved from

Quinn, E.R., & Thakor, A. (2018). Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization. Retrieved from

Deloitte, (n,d). Go straight to smart. Retrieved from

Parisi-Carew, E. (2015). 7 Characteristics Of A High Performing Team. Retrieved from

Bersin, J. (2015). Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement. Retrieved from

Hayes, M., Chumney, F., Wright, C., & Buckingham, M. (2019). The Global Study of Engagment Technical Report. Retrieved from

Volini, E., Schwartz, J., & Roy., I. (2019). Organizational performance: It’s a team sport. Retrieved from

Enjoyed our thinking?
Get in touch to understand how we can support you.