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Career Doctor: How can I build a high performance team?

By Peter Cullen FIML

I was extremely fortunate and very grateful to have been a member of a really great team on one occasion in my career. There were seven of us with a very close bond that was forged over time. People from outside the company wanted to join our team. They could not, because no-one left. Our team exemplified five fundamental foundations that most great teams share: leadership, purpose, values alignment, accountability and communication. Here are some ideas to help embed these five foundations in your own team.


As a leader remember: it is not about you, it is about what you do. You need to consistently role model the behaviours you seek in the team because your attitudes and behaviours are contagious.

Trust sits at the heart of any high performing team. Displaying genuine vulnerability is an essential ingredient in establishing trust and it must start with you. This should be encouraged within the team as people flourish in an environment where they feel safe. You need to be open and honest about your mistakes as well as your achievements.

Give your time to your team and people. And have courage! Be the advocate of your team and their protector.


Do you and your team members know their purpose and that of the team? It is a great idea to develop this with the team so everyone has clarity, buy-in, ownership and responsibility for their purpose.

Provide time for team members to consider the who, what, when, where and how of their work. Plan a team meeting to brainstorm and consolidate all this information into a concise paragraph that is relevant and easily relatable.


Knowing, understanding and living your personal values provides personal satisfaction, contentment and a sense of quiet confidence. Values form the basis for your attitudes, beliefs and perception of the world and how you fit in it.

People whose personal values are aligned with team and company values usually perform at a higher level because they are generally happier and want to contribute. They want to support each other and the team. Help yourself and your colleagues by providing a personal values assessment then ask the team to create some jointly agreed team member behaviours.


Knowing what team members need to be accountable for – and then consistently following up – has a big influence on how a team performs. KPIs are normally front of mind when we think about accountability. Remember that these need to be realistic, achievable and agreed by both you and the person who reports to you. It is beneficial for a team to create and develop some targets collectively and they should feel comfortable to hold each other accountable for them. When working in an environment of trust, team members will appropriately and respectfully call each other on it.


It is essential to be open, honest and transparent with the team and your people while being appropriately respectful. Two important motivators for people are recognition and acknowledgement. These can be delivered by providing regular feedback which should always be affirmative and supporting, never blaming, criticising or judgmental.

Depending on how many direct reports you have, consider weekly 20-minute catch-ups and weekly structured team meetings. To ensure you all get the most from every meeting, ask what worked well and why and what can be improved and how.

Be present! Ensure you ‘walk the floor’ and chat with people to see how they are going and whether they have any concerns you can help them with.

Keep people informed on the progress and developments of the company. Remember, we are all human and as such we will make mistakes and we will have wins. Use each mistake or win as an opportunity to build self-awareness through self-reflection.

If you can establish these five foundations with your team then you will be a formidable force together. And you will be the leader your team needs you to be.

Peter Cullen is an education and training facilitator. Each of his three-day programs engages participants in developing and implementing their capabilities as managers and leaders.

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