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Top Tips for Building your High Performing Team for success. Forget the C (Covid) word - it’s all about the Ps

It is very rare (in fact I would say non-existent) that a group of people who are randomly thrown together will instantly begin operating as a high performing team. 

I have both built and worked in numerous high performing teams over my 30 years of experience of leadership and teams and it has become very clear to me that there are several factors that need to be in place for a group of people to become a truly high performing team. It doesn’t just happen – it takes work.

So first of all, let’s establish what a team is.

Here is one definition from the business directory:

"A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project.

Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) is accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members."

It is a great definition but there are a lot of factors there! So, where do we start? An uncomplicated way of explaining it is to say that a team is a collection of people who work together and support each other to achieve a shared goal. Or, put another way:

A Group:

• A collection of individuals who see themselves as members of the same social category.
• Perform and function as individuals. Concentrate on their own specialisms and areas of expertise.
• Are individual accountability for their own work outputs.
• Will come together when encouraged to share information, make decisions, and help individuals achieve their goals.
• Have meetings that remain too structured and rigid and are usually pointlessly ineffective.
• Tends to have (need) strong directive leadership.
• Discuss, decide, delegate, but everyone tends to want to sculpt the discussions towards their own area of responsibility.

A Team:

• Has individual and mutual accountability for all aspects of the team’s output.
• Come together to achieve collective goals.
• Understand that the sum is greater than the individual parts.
• Have open ended and active decision-making meetings when needed.
• Have a self-defined team purpose.
• Use shared leadership with no egos getting in the way.
• Discuss, decide, work together. Shifts language from ‘I’ to ‘we’ or ‘us’.


1.      Establish the PURPOSE of the team

It is all well and good putting lots of thought and effort into recruiting amazing people who are highly skilled etc., but why are you doing that? What is the point? The first thing is to establishing your raison d'être. Has this changed given the current Covid situation?

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself before you even think about anything else:

·        Why is this team being set up – what outcome are you/the business looking for?

·        What difference do you/the team want to make?

·        Is the purpose desirable and feasible? Is the purpose needed in the business?

·        Do you believe in it?

First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective.
Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods.
Third, adjust all your means to that end.

Aristotle 384 - 322 BC

2.      What PEOPLE do you need in the team to achieve the purpose? 

People make a team.
The simplest and most common way of describing a person is to identify patterns of behaviour and to label them with trait names (introverted, happy, moody, helpful etc). But who states what constitutes a trait? Whose definition is ‘happy’ or ‘helpful’? There are some who may say that this process of categorising people is simply a case of naming but not explaining! A mood can be characteristic of a person over time and friendliness can be a temporary disposition instead of an enduring trait.
We tend to try to fit people into categories according to our cultural norms and our own ideas but are our perceptions and consequent categorisations really about the other person or are they centred round our own personal schemas?

As Anaïs Nin famously said:

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.

Teams only succeed through people. Getting the right people in place and bought into the purpose before any kind of delivery takes place is essential. You may have some of the right people in the organisation already but you may also need to recruit others in. Don’t simply look for skills – think about who you want and need in the team at a human level. To paraphrase a saying first coined by First Direct back in the early 90’s ‘Recruit for attitude, train for skill’. After all, you and all the other team members need to get on with them and not just on a surface level. They may be the best widget twiddler/accountant/engineer (add your own here) ever but if their personality and behaviours don’t fit with the team then there will be problems down the line. 

Understanding self and others’ strengths and allowable weaknesses, through open awareness is a hallmark of a high performing team. Increasingly today’s teams operate in more matrix and dotted line environments. Through restructure and changes in management, plus the emergence for the need for ad-hoc teams to be put together quickly during a crisis, teams might be unfamiliar with each other and need to get to the point much quicker than used to be the case to deliver results. This is why personality profiling tools such as Facet 5, Belbin, LifO, Insights, Spectrum,
DiSC and Myers Briggs (there are many more) offer such valuable insights. They are a fantastic conversation starter and can accelerate the path toward common understanding and ensure people play to their strengths and those of others in the team.

Some useful questions to ask regarding people:

1. How will the team need to be set up to best deliver the purpose? What does that structure look like? Remember that too many levels equate to confusion and too many mixed agendas.

2. What are the roles and responsibilities? What do you need each person to be accountable for?

3. What skills, traits, attributes do you already have that you may just need to juggle around?

4. Do you really know who you are, how you like to operate in a team and how you come across to others?

5. What does each person need to be operating at their best? (Not just physical things like laptops/tablets, desks etc., but also consider the wider psychological things that people need – time and support for families, hobbies development opportunities etc.) What motivates them (and you)?

6. Which psychometric profiling tool(s) might help your team?

3.      How will the team measure its PERFORMANCE?

Before you start to build the team it is important to consider what the key performance measures will be in line with the overarching purpose. This should tie in with the individual roles and responsibilities that hold people accountable. Performance measures should be a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.

Here are some useful questions when looking at the performance requirements of the team:

·        How will you know you are successful?

·        What are the key success factors?

·        How will you communicate and celebrate success even in the current remote working environment that many people have found themselves?

·        How will you deal with not achieving key performance requirements? Have you considered all external contributing factors that could impact your ability as a team to deliver?

·        What other performance measures are important to us aside from the numbers? (What about happiness, fun and morale? Can they be measured?) 

4.     Establish a set of GUIDING PRINCIPLES for the team

This should absolutely tie in with the purpose and vision of the team and should act as a guiding light for how you want the team to be. This is extremely important to shape the culture. You may wish to call these a set of values or a team charter but, whatever it is called it is so vitally important to get this right before the team gets swamped in its every day delivery because when the proverbial hits the fan and the pressure is on people will generally switch to their default setting, which
is why getting the right people in the first place is essential. Guiding principles will help keep the team on track and utilise the collective strengths (defaults) when the harder challenges are presented.

When setting out to establish your team’s guiding principles, start by asking these questions:

1. What do we stand for?

2. What are our key values that we will not bend on?

3. What is important to us individually and as a collective team?

4. Am I/are we considering individual values and aiming to merge them with the team’s values/principles?

5. How do we communicate these values both internally to team members and externally to the wider organisation/clients?

6. Is there potential for the meaning of the values/principles to be lost in translation across different social cultures and in the methods of communication we use?

7. How do we hold team members accountable if they do not live by them?

5.     Create robust and agile PROCESSES

Everyone loves a process, right?

Love or hate them, processes are vitally important to a high performing team. Without them things can descend into chaos rather rapidly.  This is even more important in the current situation.  When working in a more remote way processes become vital.  If the word process sounds too scripted and rigid for you then maybe change the name from process to ‘guide’.

Don’t forget that processes do not work on their own; you need people. A brilliant process with the wrong people will not be effective and great people with bad processes will fall down quite quickly. 

It is also important that as a leader you understand that any process needs to be flexible enough to deal with the reality of life – things change, customer needs can vary and sometimes you just get a fast ball that can potentially throw you off track. Plan processes well – make them robust but ready to flex and be agile enough to adapt to different situations. 

Really give some thought to the following questions when it comes to considering processes that this team use:

1. Does everyone in the team know every process?

2. Are your processes clearly mapped out?

3. How will you get together regularly as a team and check the validity and effectiveness of your processes?

4. Following on from point 3 – when you do get together, what diverse types of meetings will you employ? Not forgetting that a meeting is a process that should have an end result(s).

5. What is your inclusive decision-making process?

6. What is your reporting mechanism? Does it work?

7. How will you store, access, and communicate information both internally as a team and externally to the wider business and customers? What will be your ‘common language’ of communication internally and externally?

8. How much leeway is there on each process and procedure? How much autonomy will everyone have to flex the processes and work in an agile way without deferring to the leadership?

6.      What will create PRIDE in the team?

Having a purpose that team members buy into will in itself create a level of pride but going above and beyond this has a massive impact on team morale, efficiency and effectiveness. All high performing teams have a very high level of pride within both individual team members and the team as a collective. In order to create pride within the team consider these questions:

·        What is your team brand? This ties in with purpose (doesn’t it all?)

·        How would you like to be described by others outside of the team?

·        What do you want to be famous for? 

Processes are the cement that hold the bricks of a team together. They are vital, so rather than fighting against them, make them work for you. Perhaps look at it as if you are creating useful habits that will help the team achieve success. To create effective processes the team must have an inclusive and adaptive culture and it must use past and present knowledge wisely.

Processes are the check points that keep you on track and allow everyone in a team to understand a common way of doing things. The basic processes of a team should never be over-complicated and should be part of each members subconscious. However, processes also need to be continually tested and evaluated to check that they remain fit for purpose. If they are not, then adapt them. If you do not do this, then people will quickly lose trust in them and the team’s ability to operate effectively.

Parts of this blog have been extracted from the forthcoming book Team Foundations.







All the best, stay safe and happy. 


About the author

Dave Dayman

Dave Dayman

I'm passionate about leadership. I believe that thinking is not only the most powerful tool that we own but is also the one thing we have total control over. Sometimes we just need a little help to change the way we in which we choose to think!