How to create a high performance team

People are the biggest asset of any company as they work towards achieving organisational goals. However, to succeed at their goals, companies need great high performance teams that work effectively and harmoniously. Here’s the thing. A lot of managers confuse ‘great’ with ‘good’ and settle for accepting a lower potential from their teams, simply because they weren’t sure how to build a truly great and successful team to realise the goals.

Are you a ‘real’ team?

Dr Michael West asked teams at the NHS in the UK these 3 questions:  

  • Does your team have clear objectives?
  • Do you work closely together to achieve those objectives and work as a team?
  • Do you meet regularly to review your performance and how it can be improved?

Most teams were able to say yes to the first two questions, thinking “Yes, we have monthly team meetings!”  However, when challenging this further, many teams realised that these monthly meeting are often about tasks, workload, progress towards objectives but rarely about “how are we working together as a team and how can we improve?”

West also found that the most successful teams answered all three questions positively!

To build a real, effective team, it is crucial that all the questions are addressed deeply and that employees understand the meaning and motive behind them.

Our 5 top tips to building a high performance team:

  1. Diversity in recruitment
  2. Open-minded culture
  3. Autonomy, owning feedback, and communication
  4. Agreed team charter
  5. Be their manager not their mate

Read on to learn more about these tips to build high performance teams in detail:

1. Diversity in recruitment

Recruiting a diverse team is more than just having a mix of the obvious big hitters such as race, age, sexual orientation, and gender.  A truly diverse team has a range of opinions, backgrounds, ideas, ways of thinking, skills, and interests. It is true that many managers recruit team members similar to themselves owing to human nature. However, if managers build teams that are diverse, then they can boost innovation, blend skill sets and plug gaps that might exist in their current skill sets.

2. Open-minded culture

“64% of us don’t feel comfortable being able to be ourselves at work.”

Yoshi & Smith

People have their own ways of going about their work, and there’s hardly anybody who likes to be told who they should be at work. If this is the case, it will result in diversity without inclusivity. If companies don’t have an open-minded culture, managers and teams alike might never be able to embrace differences and feel like they can be their true selves at work.

For a diverse team to really fly, we need to embrace diversity whilst also celebrating individuality.

3. Autonomy, owning feedback, and communication

In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us”, Dan Pink talks about the importance of autonomy.  Too much autonomy can make us feel unloved or unsupported, whereas not enough autonomy feels like we are being micromanaged. It is all about the balance.

When team members have true autonomy they can start to influence the work that they do and how and when they do it. Those with autonomy also take ownership of sharing feedback with others, coaching peers, and dealing with issues without always having to involve their manager.

“86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.”


4. Agreed team charter

Managers have expectations of their teams with regards to the way they work.  Often it is not until one of these expectations is broken that a conversation is instigated to clarify what was expected of them in the first place.

For example, a manager may have an expectation that if a team member is going to work from home on a particular day, they will be informed beforehand. But if the team member calls on the day itself, then this would be a broken expectation, probably easily resolved by the manager saying “I am fine with you working from home whenever you like, as long as you inform me at least a day in advance so I can plan my work accordingly,”  We now have a new agreed explicit expectation.

Agreeing ways of working or a Team Charter is a way of taking implicit expectations that managers and team members have of their team, and making them explicit.  

5. Be their manager, not their mate

Finally, being a strong manager isn’t about being a best friend to those in your team. Successful teams have leaders that they admire, are open with and communicate with effectively. At the same time being a ‘strong’ leader doesn’t mean being overly authoritative rather fostering trust in the team through honesty and transparency.

Great managers are good at recognising the skills and successes of their team members and providing useful feedback and guidance.

Forming high performance teams using the COG’s Ladder model

Forming the team is important and so is managing the teams development along the way. George O’Charrier developed a model called COG’S Ladder (COG being his initials backwards). The ladder is made up of 5 rungs starting with:

Step 1: Being polite – “Hello, how are you? Etc.

Step 2: Why are we here? This links to both Sinek and Pink above.

Step 3: Bid For Power – Where we work out who does what officially and unofficially.

Step 4: Constructive – Where the team starts to cooperate with each other and get things done.

Step 5: Team Spirit – The last stage, where world class occurs – the team machine works perfectly.

What O’Charrier points out is that there is danger of slipping back down the ladder if we are not mindful of it. What really helps is actively checking where a team stands and helping new team members climb quickly.

Key Takeaways

Building a high performance team is not abstract work – it needs to be nurtured from the start. As one of the most important responsibilities of a leader/manager, it requires regular evaluation and attention. However, it is something that is truly achievable. When focusing on the right strategy, tips, and approach, a manager can deliver great outcomes through their well developed team.

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