Creating a high performing team

High performance teams are a business leader’s dream – teams which are accountable, productive and smooth-running, which develop talent and smash targets and thrive both at work and beyond. But teams like this do not just happen by themelves. People Director Mark Waine shares his insights into how you can capture the magic of the best teams you’ve ever worked in, and build your own high performing team.

Think back in your career to a time when you worked in a high performing team – what was it that made it so special and memorable? Did you hear or think the words “I wish we could bottle this experience and sell it?”

If you haven’t been so lucky to have worked in such a team then think back to a time when the team was the polar opposite; unproductive, toxic full of unhappy people and a drain to your soul and energy. We have all been there and hopefully you took some sort of decision to confront the issues or to move on. You may even be in that space now where you are considering what to do next – you may have been flown in to look after a new team or feel your current team has hit a ceiling.

So what made those high performing teams so special and what can you do as a leader or team member to develop your team into this positive productive space? What are the key components in the bottle of a high performing team?

Steps to building a high performing team

Firstly, my advice would be to assume nothing and DO NOT go jumping straight in and look to change things as you may feel under pressure to show quick results. Spend some quality time observing the team as individuals and collectively, consider their strengths, weaknesses and personal values and collect honest feedback from your key stakeholders.

Secondly, ask the team as individuals and collectively on their view of how the team is performing (I love scoring things out of 10 and asking why) and working together, and what, in their view, could be done to improve the team.

The next step is the most difficult which is being completely honest about whether you have got the right people “on the bus” to make this a high performing team.

Are you willing to accept the team member who consistently delivers results but lives none of values of your business or team and creates negativity amongst the team? Most teams have this type of person to some degree and the tough decision to “change the person or change the person” in my opinion has to be made – painful I know but in the longer term your team and your team performance with thank you for it.

By taking this difficult step you can start building up a picture and plan of where you are going with the team and look to bring them along with you. This is an evolution and unless you have a burning platform timescale this will take some time and repetition to get into the swing of this (around six months in my experience). Here are my top practical tip of bringing this together.

1. GOALS. Clear team direction is needed in both the short and long term. Work with the team to agree where we are and where we want to be. Discuss the team’s values; are they aligned? Which ones need working on? Have a sense of purpose – why are we here, what value are we bringing to the business collectively. Every one of us needs a sense of purpose not just at work – it’s so important!

2. RULES AND STRUCTURE. This is not setting up a “nanny state” but rules are important to define boundaries. Define roles and responsibilities in the team which may include a Team Charter covering behaviour and values.

3. PROCEDURES. This sounds a bit obvious, but I have seen this lacking in so many teams I have encountered. Look to set up regular, clear communications channels and set them like clockwork – weekly team huddles, monthly one to ones including performance and objective discussions, monthly team meeting, annual review. Structure these with an agenda – and keep to the timings! Always consider exceptions to this if the urgency dictates it but do aim for consistency.

Secondly having clarity over decision-making in the team and delegated authority in the business is sometimes a vital and overlooked issue. Defining this will help you and your team to understand what, who and when decisions are made – the worst thing for any manager is when they have no authority in a more autocratic business where you will find managers and teams being circumvented and undermined.

4. INTERPERSONAL. For me, these are the foundations of all the points I have listed. By developing or introducing team goals, rules and procedures the element of trust and purpose increases with everyone “rowing in the same direction”. It is important that there is challenge and stretch for the team otherwise the team could descend into a “Social Cub”.

The role of the leader plays a vital part in improving and maintaining a high performing team – not only in their own attitude and behaviour and being supportive but in developing a social element if the team are up for it (work hard, play hard) together with an element of continuous improvement (always thinking about what can we do better). It does sound a bit trite, but I really believe that a “Happy Team” is a productive team and that leaders should be treating others as they wish to be treated! (This sadly is not always the case).

The role of the team leader / manager is fundamental to a team’s success:

• You need to believe – you need to rally your team behind a shared vision
• Develop a sense of belonging (a community)
• Clarity of behaviour and calling out there and then when it drops below the line
• Ensuring the team has the tools and resources to carry out their role and to lobby / influence upwards when this is not happening

If there was a simple answer to this then there would be no need for me to talk about it – every team would be a high performing one. But if I could put it into a magic formula to making improvements to a team it would be:

Shared Mindset & Compelling Direction + Strong Structure & Supportive Context = Happy and High Performing Team

I have had the pleasure of putting these principles in place with a number of businesses I have been lucky to work with. It hasn’t always been easy and I have had to make some tough decisions along the way but I look back at these with a sense of achievement and happiness now and at the time. It is also great to hear from past team members recollecting great team experiences and hopefully contributed to some of their career highlights and have taken this and developed their own high performing teams.

Do you want to be that person, leader, change agent in developing your team into a happy high performing team? You must be prepared to be honest with yourself and your team and have the courage to take that first step. If you would like some support in achieving this or would like to meet to discuss further please get in touch.

Profile photograph of Mark Waine People Director
East of England People Director, Mark Waine


This website uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience and deliver personalised ads. By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.

More Information Accept All Cookies