Seven Tips for Creating a High Performing Team


A team is more than just the sum of its parts – to achieve the best outcomes, every team member needs to work together effectively. Team performance specialist Martine Harkin shares her tips on how you can create an efficient and rewarding workplace.

You’ve put in the hard yards when recruiting your staff – but even though you’ve chosen the right people, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work well together. So what does it take to create a high-performing team?

Martine Harkin is a partner and facilitator at Leading Teams, a consultancy that helps corporate and sports teams build their performance capacity.

“A sporting team is very well-structured, and they spend a lot of time reviewing their performance,” Martine said. “The question we ask is, how can you apply this same rigour for high performance to a business?”

Tip 1. Look for the red flags

To identify efficiency gaps, you need to be on the lookout for signs that team members aren’t functioning as effectively as they could be.

Martine commented: “It can be small things – like if people don’t come to meetings or they miss deadlines.”

Team relationships have a direct impact on productivity. So if your staff are consistently falling short on their targets, there may be a deeper problem.

“If the numbers are pretty ordinary or there tends to be triple-handling of work, it’s time to look at the levels of trust and interaction within the team,” said Martine.

Tip 2. Set clear expectations

Efficient teams are those who share a common vision for where the business is headed – and know how they can work together to reach their goals.

“Both the business and the team within it need a clear purpose for existing,” Martine said. “Leaders need to be clear and communicate with their teams the business goals, purpose and vision, so staff know where they fit in terms of achieving this purpose.”

But you also need to set firm expectations around each individual team member’s behaviour – including your own.

“Decide what you stand for and commit to this as a team,” Martine said. “As a leader, you also need to make sure you’re behaving in the same way you expect others to.”

Tip 3. Choose character over competence

Of course you want to employ people with the right skills for the job, but a candidate’s CV doesn’t necessary show that they’re a team player.

“It’s critical to have people around you who are strongly aligned with your strategy, vision and expected behaviours,” Martine said. “Like on the sporting field, you need to know your team will have your back when you’re under the most pressure.”

As a business leader, it may also be worth creating opportunities such as promotions and mentorships. This will help you attract and retain staff who will drive your business forward.

Tip 4. Trust is key

For Martine, the most vital element when it comes to building strong relationships is trust – between you and your employees, but also amongst other team members.

Business leaders can foster a culture of trust within the workplace by valuing and rewarding the behaviour they want to see. “There are significant consequences in teams if performance is rewarded when it comes at the expense of the agreed behaviours,” Martine said. “Giving someone a bonus for meeting targets is great, but not if they way they achieve their targets is by behaving in a way that is counterproductive – that in itself is a strong message of culture.”

“When you’re working in silos, you don’t care what the person sitting next to you is doing because it doesn’t directly impact you,” she said. “On the other hand, when you genuinely care about and trust your co-workers, there’s no need for a manager to stand over you because they know you’ll get the job done.”

Tip 5. More sharing, fewer meetings

Once trust has been established within the team, they’ll be more likely to spontaneously share information with each other. This can even reduce the need for formal meetings.

Martine commented: “You may find that you actually end up meeting less, because people just get into the habit of talking to each other. And when you do have meetings, they’ll be more productive.”

Martine also emphasises the need for leaders to make each team member feel comfortable about speaking up and giving their opinions.

“It’s about creating an environment where people are willing to discuss their challenges and share how they’re feeling,” she said.

Tip 6. Track performance

One lesson Martine has learned from the sporting world is the importance of regular performance reviews. Reviews of individual staff are also a way of measuring the effectiveness of the team as a whole.

“Even though they don’t have the same structure of a weekly match, corporate teams can still review their performance in the same way a football team does,” she said. “They can relate it to the behaviours they’ve agreed to, and then ask themselves what’s working and what isn’t.”

Tip 7. Give it time

The final ingredient for boosting your team’s performance? Time. That’s why dedication and focus are essential for driving long-term change.

“It may take up to 12 months for a team to form healthy and rigorous habits that encourage high performance,” Martine said. “There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all model.”