High performing teams do not just happen. They are planned and built in a way that optimizes performance. Numerous ingredients go in to making up a high performing team. I will outline several of these factors in separate articles in order to emphasize the particular item and highlight how to get it.
A team without a leader is like a ship without a rudder. But the leader does not have to be the anointed formal leader. Often a kind of distributed leadership or informal leadership structure can make teams highly effective.
Beware if there is a poor leader who is formally in charge of a team. This is like the kiss of death. No team can perform consistently at a high level if the official leader is blocking progress at every turn. The best that can be achieved is an effective work-around strategy.
The team takes its energy and vitality from the leader. The leader sets the tone for everything that happens in the team environment, from setting ground rules to reinforcing good performance. Leaders must be skilled in interpersonal dynamics and coaching to be effective team leaders. On a daily basis there are dozens of distractions and potential derailments for the team to deal with. A leader who knows how to empower members to analyze and deal with problems on their own has created the kind of environment that is required.
A paradox is that if a leader is extremely strong, it sometimes works against good teamwork because he or she will overshadow the empowerment of team members. This is the "Bull-in-a-china-shop" syndrome. Even though the leader's intentions are noble, too much micromanagement can strip team members of vital experience and confidence needed to perform at top levels. Therefore, being too strong can actually lead to a weakness. Great leaders know how to let team members struggle and learn from mistakes.
The leader is responsible for having the team share a common goal and have a focus of energy to make solid progress toward the goal every day. If the team is off course, the leader intervenes to not just change the path, but explain to team members how they managed to take the wrong turn.