Vivify Labs BLOG


Building and Maintaining High Performing Teams

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Building and maintaining high performance teams is the key to ongoing success within an organisation. The process of achieving a successful high performing team can be challenging but the tangible benefits of a truly aligned, well gelled team who understand their purpose is well worth the investment of effort and time to get there.

High Performing Teams

When I think about high performing teams some clear examples and their very specific attributes comes to mind. High performing teams are less about the skill and experience of a single 'manager' who commands and controls over his or her 'staff' to get shit done, but more about a group of people who understand each other and understand their clearly defined roles and responsibilities that align with team goals and how they work together as a team to achieve success.

I clearly remember a moment when a light came on for me, while attending an Agile Australia talk on "Agile Special Forces" Leadership that lives disruption by James Brett and Scott Kinder. It was purely inspirational to listen to real life experiences of high performing teams and teamwork dealing with life and death situations that really hit home in being able to connect certain attributes to building high performing teams.

Navy SEAL's (or any special forces team for that matter) are a clear example of an elite group of professionals that are renowned across the world as the best of the best in delivering on their purpose through working as a team. This is a group of people that clearly understand that the more work they are prepared to put into team building, the greater the teamwork benefits will be.

The team understand, live and breathe their core values (which are non-negotiable) when working together toward achieving a common goal. They agree on and understand what are essentially a simple, clear, and straight forward set of principals to help guide them as a team. The SEAL core values include a compelling purpose, mutual trust, respect and care for one another, excellent communication and high integrity.

The ongoing benefits and positive outcomes of successful teamwork can't be fully experienced without agreeing on, adopting and practicing your agreed values. 

The extraordinary teamwork and dedication to achieving their goal within elite special forces teams are the same set of principals and focus that can be applied to teams within corporate organisations to achieve delivery, project and personal success.

Recently in a leadership role within one of Australia's leading online organisations, I directly experienced the pure value of seeing high performing teams of engaged and talented people coming together and working as a close knit group delivering brilliant results - It's a wonderful thing to bare witness to and something I look back on and feel proud to have been involved with.

Hiring the right people 

Hiring the right people for your teams is key and such a crucial part of building and more importantly maintaining high performing teams. It is really easy to recruit the wrong person, especially when organisations rely so heavily on written resume's and past experience in technology X or process Y. Hiring the wrong person and embedding them into an already successful team can very quickly change the dynamic of that team and turn things for the worse.

New hires should only be considered for the role if they firstly fit the job description, but just as importantly they align with your team's vision of what success looks like and how a successful team work together. It's important to look for people that align with your teams cultural values and won't feel out of place when they see a developer sitting in a beanbag wearing headphones from time to time.  Recruit and target “like-minded people.” 

During my days of hiring and recruiting members into my teams, I would always involve existing team members in a 2nd or 3rd interview to see how the dynamics played out during the conversation. The final stage of my hiring process would always be to bring the candidate in and take them out to lunch with the existing team. This is a really good way to have an informal discussion or 'getting to know you' session between existing team members and the potential new hire and often confirms your instinctive gut feel for it being a 'right-fit' or not. 

It often takes a longer period of time to find the right cultural fit for your team, but adversely the expense and damage of hiring the wrong person far outweighs waiting for the right person to come along.

Defined Roles & Responsibilities

It's important for each team member to have clarity on and understand what their specific role and responsibilities are in relation to the rest of the team and the work they are delivering or responsible for, but also what they are not responsible for within the team. With each team member having clarity on where they fit into the greater team picture, the smoother the process of delivering project X will work.

Equally as important as establishing clarity on roles and responsibilities within a team, is defining and crystallising team processes and how each specific role interacts with (and when) each process i.e when does the QA step in and contribute their part of the defined delivery process. This isn't to say a process can't change or evolve within a team, but more how each team member recognises that there is a certain process at a point in time that fits in with how a team performs a certain component of delivery.

Individuals within high performing teams put their own egos aside and take an equal standing with their team mates, as all team members are working towards the same targets and goals, rather than individual objectives. Success is measured as a team effort, requiring equal input from everyone in the team.


High performing teams understand the importance of and are committed to achieving their team goals. Having a 'specific' goal has a much higher chance of being achieved than a 'general' goal. Working with the team to define SMART goals, will bring structure and trackability into your team's goals and objectives and 'in essence' deliver much better results.

Teams will flourish when they have clearly defined and attainable goals.

Specific - To set specific SMART Goals a team needs to ask a set of 6 "W's" to gain clarity on what they are wanting to achieve.

  • Who - Who is involved?
  • What - What does the team want to accomplish with the goal?
  • Where - Identify the location
  • When - Define the goal's timeframe
  • Which - Identify the goal requirements and constraints
  • Why - Clearly articulate the specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal

Measurable - The team will identify clearly defined measures that highlight progress toward the delivery of each goal set. 

Attainable - The goals you set within the team, need to be attainable and realistic based on the skill set and capabilities within the team. 

Relevant - The goal or objective is something that the team should have direct control or influence over to ensure that it is actually attainable.

Time Based - When a team sets a goal it should be grounded with a specific and realistic time frame. The timeframe has to be relevant, specific and measurable and therefore attainable. 

Trust, Honesty and Openness 

It's important that all members of a team feel that they are apart of an open, trusting and honest group that support each other through different environments and circumstances. An unconditional culture of trust and honesty generates high team spirit, which in turn will give the team energy and motivation to persevere, take more risks, and to deliver results in the most challenging situations.

Trust is the key to building the relationships within the group which allow team members to support each other through both tough and good times. Trust between team members also increases confidence within their specific responsibility allowing them to play their part in the achievement of the team goals. Being able to have open and honest conversations within the team is an important part of being completely transparent 

Very mature teams can get to the point of providing open and honest peer feedback with each other in specifically organised sessions. This helps build stronger feedback loops directly between peers to further improve the overall team dynamic. This is a really positive way for peers to highlight to each other where they believe a teammate has performed very well and deserves kudos or alternatively provides a forum to offer constructive criticism around potential improvements for the greater benefit of the team.

Collaborative & Communicative

Successful teams learn to work collaboratively together by understanding that individuals within the team will have different strengths and points of view that they bring to the table. The team will recognise that leveraging off each others skill and experience, when working collaboratively will build better solutions, processes and ways of working together.

Communication in high performing teams, which can take the form of talking, messaging, texting or even going for a coffee together is specific and comes as second nature. Team members that understand the value of having constant communication with their colleagues, be it via updates on project progress, advice on approach or contextual information on how work they are delivering may impact on other external factors continually embed the benefits and right behaviours of a truly collaborative team.

Constant contextual communication gives team members the opportunity to contribute their opinions and thoughts on events that may impact the entire team and what they are delivering. Again there is a component of trust and openness that allows individuals to communicate effectively, knowing that their views and thoughts are respected and valid within the group.

Positive Atmosphere

Having a positive team culture and working within a comfortable atmosphere is a really important component of a successful team. A critical factor to team success is to build an internal culture where teams are connected and show an ongoing interest with the work they produce, the team they are in and the people they work with each and every day. When team members understand their team purpose and goals, their individual roles and responsibilities within that team and are connected, engaged and genuinely interested with their outputs, you will find a far more positive team culture (and better project outputs) compared to people that feel isolated and disconnected and without guidance of team values and goals.

Another important factor of creating a positive atmosphere within a team is celebrating your successes together 'as a team'. Make sure that you shout your successes from the rooftops and take the time to stop and reflect on the positive results, as a team. This often brings a team closer together and reinforces a positive message within the group when you've really kicked a gaol.

The old saying of 'you often spend more time with the people you work with than your family', means it makes perfect sense to adopt and encourage a positive atmosphere and culture with what is essentially, your second family.

Looking back on my own experiences within really successful and high performing teams, I honestly did see them as my second family and treated them with the same care and respect I would of my own family.

Democratic Leadership over 'Staff Management'

One of the core components of building high performing teams is allowing team members to thrive and grow under a democratic leadership style that allows individual team members to get involved in decisions and engages them on a much higher level over traditional command and control led teams.

Often having a diversity of experience and background within a team, all contributing with a variety of viewpoints, leads to better decision making and better solutions for an organisation. The term 'self-managed-teams' comes to mind when talking about democratic leadership - it brings team members closer to the work they are working on and gives them an equal opportunity to have their opinions and thoughts heard leading up to a decision or outcome.

Ideally teams are made up of people representing their individual roles and responsibilities who are empowered to make operational decisions for the benefit of the project.

Gone are the days (well, for the most part anyway) of a burley manager sitting in an isolated office, closed door, occasionally barking orders at his or her 'staff' without any real context on where things are at or how the teams are performing or feeling. 

Essentially, high performing individuals and teams, are the core assets of an organisation and as such, need the right level of investment of time and attention to ensure they are constructed and supported optimally, so that they can succeed in delivering what is needed for the organisation. 



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