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Taking the mystery out of building a high performing team at work

16 November 2023

Richard Burleigh, executive coach and mentor, outlines steps leaders can take to create successful teams.

Taking the mystery out of building a high performing team at work
Great teams get things done faster, at higher quality, and usually at a lower cost. Image credit: Shutterstock

Most of us work in some sort of team.

Often, we’re a member within the team, sometimes we’re managing a team and occasionally, we’re in charge of multiple teams.

Whichever is the case, we have a vested interested in the successful outcome of our team's performance.

While I’m sure many of us have experienced what it’s like to be in a great team, there will be an equal number who have suffered being in a lousy team.

Great teams get things done faster, at higher quality, and usually at a lower cost.

Great teams are also innovative, can achieve extraordinary outcomes and are a lot of fun to be part of.

So how do you – as the leader of a team – make sure yours is a winning team and how do you build a high performing team?

Here are a few thoughts to help you on the journey.

1. It starts with trust

Good leaders work to foster high levels of trust within their teams.

People wish to feel trusted by and to have trust in their boss.

This provides a strong foundation of safety within the team where team members can perform to the best of their ability using their individual talents without fear.

As a leader, you have the most impactful role in building an environment of trust.

2. Make sure everyone understands their role and how they contribute to the success of the team

A team is made up of a colourful blend of different skillsets.

Successful leaders understand who can do what most effectively within a team.

However, to apply this wisely it’s crucial that each person in the team knows not just what their individual role is, but also the roles of each other in the team.

They must understand how each member contributes to the delivery of the overall goals and objectives.

3. Set empowering goals

We often hear about SMART goals, and this is a worthy concept.

But, in my experience, there are wiser approaches that are easier to work with and I like to think of goals in terms of what will inspire and motivate someone to do more.

When a leader has established strong bonds of trust within the team, an empowering goal needs little persuasion.

The motivation comes from the team member’s self-belief that’s generated from the leader’s positive demonstration of trust.

4. Let everyone have a voice

Just because you’re the team leader doesn’t mean that you’re the smartest person in the room – in fact you most probably aren’t.

So, be humble and seek out the best ideas.

This means you want to know what everyone in the team thinks, not just the loud confident ones.

Work to create an environment where you consistently encourage all team members to use their voice by giving them the space they need.

You will be happily surprised with the outcome.

5. Show appreciation and use feedback wisely

One of the most powerful motivators for anyone in the workplace is being appreciated for what they do.

Good bosses know this and demonstrate it freely and often publicly.

When your boss tells you that you’ve done a great job in front of your colleagues... well, you know how it feels.

When it comes to feedback, many leaders think that they should somehow balance the good with equally bad doses of feedback.

I disagree. Use ‘negative’ feedback very selectively and in private, all the time validating the integrity of the person.

This will help them to learn and grow safely through this experience.

6. Create a habit of continuous learning

Often team leaders wait until the end of a project (or project milestone) for an evaluation of the team's performance.

They then conduct some well-intentioned but negatively termed ‘lessons learned’ discussions.

In my experience, this doesn’t foster a learning environment. Rather, it creates a blame-defence dialogue.

It’s more productive to establish a regular pattern of evaluation throughout the project or task.

This should be done within a safe space of constructive learning where there’s never any judgment applied to what was done.

The necessary learning becomes a natural consequence of the process.

7. Get the wrong passengers off the bus

Despite a leader's good efforts, there can be those in the team who don’t perform.

The leader gives them every reasonable chance and provides clear unambiguous feedback, but it’s to no avail.

The low-performer’s colleagues in the team are initially frustrated with this individual. But then, if the boss doesn’t act, this frustration very quickly is directed in the boss’s direction.

It will soon undermine all of the good work achieved so far.

So, in my experience – and particularly from the times when I didn’t do so – it’s essential to act quickly.

Interestingly, team leaders often notice that after such a difficult decision has been implemented, the team recovers quickly, and the experience actually strengthens the integrity of the team.

Building and developing high performing teams takes time, structure and patience but it always begins with you, the leader.

Reach out to me if you need to know more!

  • Richard Burleigh, coach and President's Future Leaders group mentor