The anatomy of a great team

We’ve all heard of ‘high performing teams’. But what does a high performing team actually look like? Do they really make a difference? And if they do, how do you ‘make’ one?

A high performing team can be defined as a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents and skills, who are committed to a common purpose and who collaborate to produce superior results. 

This might sound idealistic, but high performing teams are not as rare as you might think. Most of us have actually led or been a member of a high performing team at one time or another in our careers. Think back. If you’ve ever been part of a project team or functional unit where team members all got along, had the right skills and all worked hard to pull together the project and achieve top results for the organisation, then you’ve experienced a high performing team.

What’s so good about high performing teams?

The link between teams and positive organisational performance is undeniable. And there’s plenty of evidence to support it.  

For instance, Cohen and Ledford (1994), examined more than eighty self-managing teams at an American telecommunications company and found that self- managing teams had significantly better job performance and higher employee job satisfaction than traditional working groups or departments.

Batt (2004) showed that self- managed teams were associated with significantly higher levels of satisfaction for workers and were effective in improving objective performance measures.

In a wider European study, Benders et al. (2001) also found a positive effect of teams for reducing employee absenteeism rates and improving organisational performance.

Furthermore, a review of survey based research on teamwork and performance over the last decade concluded that the great majority of studies had found teams had positive effects on operational measures of organisational performance (Delarue et al.2008).

A central argument for linking teamwork to higher productivity is that it gives employees a sense of empowerment, by increasing the control they can exercise over their immediate work environment (Goodman et al. 1988; Harley 1999). Ultimately, workers with higher control over their jobs are likely to feel more committed to their organisations and more satisfied with their jobs. As a result, they will be more willing to deploy discretionary effort, thereby enhancing organisational performance (Cohen et al. 1996; Dunphy and Bryant 1996; Pil and MacDuffie 1996).

The benefits are clear, but how do you ‘make’ a high performing team?

Creating a high performing team does take some work. For some leaders and managers, it can be a particularly difficult task; they may be very organised, technically competent, and masters at navigating their way through complex organisational politics, but they may not be very good people managers and not very effective at building a team. But, this doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

In our experience, there are four important things for leaders and managers to consider if they want to create a great team.

1. Foster a teamwork culture

In every case that has been studied at the Europe-based Centre for Organisational Research, teams that 'click' always have a leader who creates an environment and establishes values that are conducive to high performance. Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2011) believe there are a number of ways leaders can do this.

  • Develop a norm of teamwork. Promote the attitude among your employees that working together effectively is an expected standard of conduct.   
  • Display a consensus leadership style. Whenever you can, demonstrate to employees that you value their input on important decisions. Consensus decision-making also leads to an exchange of ideas within the group including supporting and refining eachother’s suggestions which is proven to achieve better outcomes.
  • Be a positive teamwork model. Practice what you preach! Seek out opportunities to work as a team member with your employees and with other team leaders. Interact extensively with your fellow team members and when appropriate, be as candid as you can about ideas and attitudes relevant to the group’s work. A leader’s self-disclosure fosters teamwork because it leads to shared perceptions and concerns.
2. Understand what a team is, and what it isn’t.

If you are in charge of a work group, it’s worth remembering that teams are definitely forms of work groups, but not all work groups are teams. The table below will help you to distinguish between a work group and a team.

Work Groups


Individual accountability

Individual and mutual accountability

Come together to share information and perspectives

Frequently come together for discussion, decision making, problem solving, and planning.

Focus on individual goals

Focus on team goals

Produce individual work products

Produce collective work products

Define individual roles, responsibilities, and tasks

Define individual roles, responsibilities, and tasks to help team do its work; often share and rotate them

Concern with one's own outcome and challenges

Concern with outcomes of everyone and challenges the team faces

Purpose, goals, approach to work shaped by manager

Purpose, goals, approach to work shaped by team leader with team members

Source: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/differences-between-work-groups-and-teams.html

3. Understand the ‘life cycle’ of teams

Teams that have not worked together before usually go through several stages of team development. Bruce Tuckman’s enduring four-stage model (forming, storming, norming and performing) is a great starting point for understanding the development life cycle of teams.

The four original developmental stages are:

  • Forming:  Team members get to know each other and try to comprehend their task. This stage is characterised by lack of clarity and unclear roles and responsibilities. The team leader must take an active role setting the team's purpose, boundaries and structure.
  • Conforming: Team members fall into an easy consensus in order to feel as though they are really working together.
  • Storming:  The boundaries set by the leader are tested as team members jockey for key positions or promote their own agendas.  Frustrations may emerge over differences that have been surpressed. Factions often form and there may be power struggles. The team leader needs to adjudicate disputes and deal with challenges, reinforcing the team’s boundaries and structure.  Clear and effective communication is crucial during this stage.
  • Performing:  The good team dynamics start to pay off as the team produces high volumes of quality work.  There is a focus on over-achieving goals, and the team is able to function without instruction from the leader, who now takes on more of an ‘overseeing’ role.

Understanding these stages is useful because it will help you to identify where your team is, where it needs to be and most importantly, what you need to do as a leader or manager to support them.

Your role as leader needs to change as the team develops. For example, the leader’s need for conflict resolution skills increases as the team develops towards the performing stage. Once the team reaches the performing stage, the leader assumes the role of ‘boundary spanner’ ensuring that team members can get on with tasks without external interference. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the arrival of a new team member or a team restructure can cause an established team to revert back to the ‘forming’ stage, if only briefly.  

Tuckman’s original model has been expanded over time.  Other proposed team stages you might recognise in teams you lead include:

  • Norming (comes after storming):  This is where confidence and trust within the team starts to emerge, with the team working more cohesively as an integrated unit.  The team roles and expectations of each other are bedded down, while the team leader is able to take on a less directive role.
  •  Reforming (comes after norming): The team checks the new norms and behavioural patterns and reorients itself to the new standards in practice and corrects any problems. The maturity of the team dynamic is able to resolve problems that arise.
  •  Mourning (comes after performing):  This is the break-up of the group, usually when the task is completed successfully.   Team members move on, after being closely bound for a period of time.   This can be an emotional time, with some team members experiencing feelings of loss. When group members are involved in new projects, they may try to recreate the old project in a new form, saying things like ‘we always did it this way in my old project team/company’.
4.  Know your role as a leader of high-performing teams

So, you’ve established the right culture, understand what a true team is and have a good feel for the stages of teams. Now what?

 Sometimes a leader’s inspiring personality alone can foster teamwork. But more often than not, leaders need to encourage teamwork by proactively demonstrating certain attitudes and behaviours and acting in certain ways. 

 The most significant behaviors and actions consistently demonstrated by leaders of high performing teams are:

  •  Defining clear goals or a vision of the future for the team that aligns with overall organisational aims;
  • Creating blueprints for action to achieve those goals and clarifying priorities on a regular basis;
  • Using language to build trust, encourage forward thinking and create energy within the team;
  • Getting the right people involved;
  • Emphasising pride in being outstanding. Helping the group to realise why it should be proud of its accomplishments builds team spirit.
  • Establish urgency and relevance. The more urgent and relevant the rationale for the team, the more likely it is that the team will achieve its potential.
  • Promote self-awareness in the team, including an understanding that people contribute and work differently. Increased self-awareness amongst team members can result in a greater understanding of their own behaviours and the impact of that on others.  There are many tools available to help with this process including the Executive Leadershop Profile (ELP), DiSC, Team Management Profile (TMP) and Hogan assessments.
  • Keeping channels of communication open. Knowledge and information should be shared on all levels; and
  •  Empowering the team to make decisions and self-managing. This encourages members to take ownership of the work and fosters a deeper sense of commitment to achieving project goals. Just remember, for empowerment to work, team members must have the appropriate skills, job knowledge and motivation and be ready accept greater responsibility.

Other things leaders can consider to improve team performance include:

  • Team recognition or rewards. Giving rewards for group accomplishment reinforces teamwork because people receive rewards for what they have achieved collaboratively. Examples could include certificates or recognition at the broader organisational level in newsletters or all-staff messages.
  • Initiate rituals and ceremonies. This enhances team spirit and encourages team members to bond. For example, send the team on a retreat to further develop their mission or goals or organise a team dinner when milestones are reached. 

So there you have it. The anatomy, as we see it, of a high performing team and some advice on how you can create one. We wish you luck on your journey as a leader of great teams and achieving your organisational goals!

If you are grappling with the effectiveness of your team, or you'd like a fresh perspective about how your team is placed to move forward, contact Best Practice Consulting today on http://www.bestpracticeconsulting.com.au/contact-us. One of our experienced organisational consultants will be happy to talk to you about practical strategies to increase staff capabilities, maximise staff effectiveness and help your organisation reach its goals.  

If you want to re-used this article in part or whole, we are happy for you to do that. All we ask is that you reference us either within the article or in the footnotes, with a link that points back to our article.

What makes a successful leader?

Even the most cursory review of leadership theory and research over the past century is likely to make your head spin. On one hand, some managers probably think that the myriad of approaches to effective leadership means theory has failed to answer the million-dollar question “what makes a great leader?” After all, how is a practicing manager expected to make sense of all these theories?

One the other hand, other managers have embraced what is most useful to them from the theory, even though it might not be definitive, and achieved extraordinary results. In short, leadership theories have a lot to offer aspiring and existing leaders. Let’s take a closer look.

Traits and leadership

Supporters of trait theory, which emerged in the early 20th century, claim leaders are different to non-leaders, because they possess certain innate character traits.

Kirkpatrick and Locke (1996) identify six traits which make leaders differ from non-leaders, including:

  • Drive;
  • The desire to achieve;
  • Honesty/integrity;
  • Self-confidence;
  • Cognitivemability; and
  • Knowledge of the business.

Other, less important traits include charisma, creativity/originality and flexibility.

Similarly, Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2006) draw together the vast collection of traits associated with this theory into two distinct categories:  general personality traits and task-related personality traits.  General personality traits contribute to success in a work and personal context and include:

  • Self-confidence;
  • Trustworthiness;
  • Extroversion;
  • Assertiveness;
  • Emotional stability;
  • Enthusiasm;
  • Sense of humour
  • Warmth; and
  • A high tolerance for frustration.

Task-related personality traits are associated with task accomplishment and include:

  • Courage;
  • Locus of control;
  • Passion;
  • Emotional intelligence;
  • Flexibility; and
  • Adaptability.

A significant body of evidence exists to show that traits do matter. For example, studies by Kirkpatrick and Locke (1991) and Goleman (1998) show leaders are different from non-leaders and traits do have a consistent impact on leader effectiveness.

Still, many authors have criticised the trait approach to leadership for being too simplistic. It does not tell us which traits are the most important in which situations, or the amount of the trait required. Nor is there universal agreement amongst trait theorists as to which traits contribute to effective leadership.

At this point, the behavioural and contingency theories of leadership come in to play.

Behavioural and Contingency theories of leadership

The behavioural school of thought endorses the idea that successful organisational leaders routinely exhibit certain behaviours.  This main impact of this theory, when it emerged in the 1950s, was the notion that leadership was not necessarily an inborn trait but a methodology that could be taught to employees. What a great relief this was for the many aspiring leaders out there concerned they lacked the right character traits to be successful!

Following a 25-year longitudinal study at Harvard University, Kouzes and Posner found that exemplary leaders demonstrate five (5) core practices:

Model the Way

Actions speak louder than words: ''Leaders' deeds are far more important than their words...Exemplary leaders go first. They go first by setting the example through daily actions that demonstrate they are deeply committed to their beliefs.'' Exemplary leaders have a philosophy about their organisation, leadership and teamwork. They know what their own values are, particularly around how people are treated.

Inspire a shared vision

If you view leading as a journey, vision is simply the destination you want others to join you in pursuing. Leaders cannot expect to be followed if they have no idea where they want to go. Exemplary leaders envision the future, dreaming how they would like it to be. When that vision is clear to them, they can communicate it enthusiastically to those whose buy-in they need.

Challenge the process

Being a leader entails initiating ''a change from the status quo”. Effective leaders are always experimenting with new ways of doing things, searching for “opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve”. According to Kouzes and Posner, ''the leader's primary contribution is in the recognition of good ideas, the support of those ideas, and the willingness to challenge the system to get new products...adopted''.

Enable others to act

This practice acknowledges that successful leadership and accomplishments are not the result of a single person. Effective leaders listen to ideas, treat people with respect, foster teamwork and collaboration, and encourage others to exceed their own expectations. A high level of trust exists and people have the freedom to make mistakes, rectify these and drive success.

Encourage and recognise

Successful leaders know that colleagues require and deserve recognition and celebration. Effective leaders find innovative ways to celebrate goals that are reached, and encourage and motivate teams and individuals. This practice fosters a strong sense of community.


The contingency (or situational) theory of leadership acknowledges the interaction between a leader’s traits, a leader’s behaviours and the situation in which the leader is leading.

History shows us that leaders can lose power and influence as the situation changes, for example, Winston Churchill in a victorious Britain immediately after World War II. The same applies to leaders in organisations.  Applying a certain set of traits and behaviours in one organisational context might lead to great success. Try the same approach in a different organisational setting or situation, where employees have different needs or environmental factors have shifted, and the same leader might fail miserably.

So, what does this all mean in terms of effective leadership? And are we any further along the path to understanding what makes a successful leader?

I think so. What the broad and varied body of theory and research on leadership tells us is that there are many appropriate ways to lead or styles of leadership. Traits are important. But traits alone are not sufficient for successful organisational leadership. Leaders who possess the requisite traits must behave in a certain way and take certain actions to be successful. And there’s one more important point.

What makes a good leader truly outstanding is a deep understanding of their traits and behavioural preferences and the ability to adapt their leadership approach to suit the specific organisational context and circumstances they find themselves in at any given time. Put simply, great leaders understand that “one size doesn’t fit all”. They think about the culture of their organisation, the characteristics of their followers (or team) and the external environment, and shape their style and behaviour accordingly.

If you are looking for ways to improve your personal and professional effectiveness or take your leadership performance to the next level, Best Practice Consulting can help you. Contact us today at http://www.bestpracticeconsulting.com.au/contact-us

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How to reach your business goals

There are business owners who continue to grow their business and always seem to go from strength to strength. Then there is everyone else who is well intentioned but struggle with the time to manage their business, let alone set goals and then work on achieving them.

It is a proven fact that most small to medium sized organisations do not have a written business plan. No documented business plan means that objectives and strategies are not captured, resulting in a business that lacks direction. In addition, an organisation without a business plan will often lack the confidence to solve their business issues. When business issues remain unresolved they can adversely affect cash flow, revenue and profitability.

The truth is that this lack of formal business planning is one of the major causes of business failure.

A business plan sets out what a business proposes to do and how it proposes to do it. Here are few practical steps to help create a powerful business plan to drive the success of your organisation.

Step 1 – Look at the strength and weaknesses of your competitors. By researching your competitors you are better equipped to understand why clients are attracted to your competitors (i.e. their strengths) and what gaps or niches exist in the market place (i.e. their weaknesses).

Step 2 – Outline the strengths and areas for improvement in your business.

Step 3 – Define the vision for your organisation.

Step 4 – Define your goals. These are areas you want to improve. Typically objectives tend to be financial, operational, business development, staff and IT related. Objectives should be quantifiable by an absolute amount, a percentage and have a specific timeframe for achievement.

Step 5 – Create the strategies which will deliver performance improvements, i.e. how your business will get there.

Step 6 – Identify a timeframe and owner for the achievement of each strategy.

The process of creating a business plan is more important than the document itself.

The process of business planning is beneficial because it gives you:

  • A chance to stop, reflect and learn from past mistakes or wins in your business.
  • An opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas with members of the team.
  • A forum to think critically about goals, e.g. revenue and profit, and this results in targets being set which motivates the team to improve.

High-achievers in the small-to-medium size business sector admit that the turning point in their business was when they prepared their business plan.

Once you have created a sound plan, it is then essential to implement the plan with the support of the right process and people resources. In addition, it is essential to identify intervals for the review of performance against all objectives e.g. monthly, quarterly, annually. This will give feedback as to whether your strategies are working and give you an opportunity to change strategies if need be.

A well thought out business plan is the key to the long-term success of any business. Whether you are just starting a business, buying one already established or perhaps in need of extra finance for expansion you will need a business plan.

If you have questions or want to talk further click here to get in touch with us today.

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Conflict in the workplace - do you know what to do?

Everyone has experienced conflict in the workplace; however, few people are able to escape its fallout. And while no office is immune to conflict, how we manage conflict can make an enormous difference to the outcome(s), the impact on others and workplace culture.

  • So, as leader, what do you do about workplace conflict?
  • Are you even aware it is happening?
  • Do you actively identify when it is starting to affect work place morale and productivity?
  • Do you get caught up in the middle of the conflict?
  • Or do you do nothing, hoping the people involved will eventually sort it out themselves, or leave?

As a leader in your organisation, you are responsible for creating a workplace environment that achieves productive outcomes, values the individual and encourages sharing between team members. Leaders are also responsible for mediating conflict in their teams even though many leaders aren't comfortable with this, or simply don't have the skills or training to know how to manage and resolve these situations.

Possible sources of conflict include:

  1. personality differences
  2. disagreements about goals and objectives , or
  3. vastly different work practices and behviours, to name but a few.


Conflict in the workplace doesn't just affect the people at the centre of the conflict, rather disagreements and tensions can affect the whole office, creating an environment of discomfort, fear, unhappiness and negativity. This consumes the workplace and affects individual and team morale, productivity and delivery of work, and increases the risk of litigation, if not well-managed.

Avoiding the issue will result in rising tensions. Issues (perceived or actual) will grow commensurate with the growing resentment. As is often the case with built-up resentment, this may conclude in an outpouring of this resentment that is highly emotional and inappropriate, and often at the worst possible time, i.e. in moments of high pressure and stress, looming deadlines or difficult project circumstances.

Getting caught in the middle of the conflict can have equally damaging results. Your ability to be impartial becomes more and more compromised as you become the 'confidante' to the affected parties. Your ability to mediate the situation can be viewed mistrustfully by those affected, as your involvement may be construed as promoting your own agenda in the resolution process. High personal involvement in the conflict may also take its toll on your own personal wellbeing as you get caught-up in the negativity and emotion of the situation.

  • So, how do you manage conflict effectively?

The following steps can help you manage situations that could otherwise cause damage to your team and your organisation.

1. Identify the conflict early

Early intervention will mitigate the potential fallout from the conflict. Your ability to identify the conflict may rely on your ability to read non-verbal cues such as body language and identify who is involved. And, sometimes, it can be as basic as actually acknowledging it is occurring - not hoping it will just go away.

2. Meet with the participants together

Holding separate meetings with the people involved can affect your impartiality, expose you to highly emotional outbursts and compromise your ability to manage the situation without impacting on the rest of the team. Meeting with the participants together demonstrates your commitment to a fair resolution that doesn't take sides.

3. Clearly outline the issue

Ask the participants to outline their issue factually and without any additional emotion or making any personal attacks. The objective here is to ensure each part gets their turn to talk and that each person understands the other.

4. Negotiate outcome(s)

Then ask participants to identify what they see as the solution. This is the starting point for the negotiation, where you will be looked upon to help reach a fair and equitable outcome if the participants are unable to reach agreements themselves. In this instance, you will need to drive the setting of agreed outcomes, as well as establishing review timeframes.

5. Monitor the situation

The hard work isn't done once the meeting is over. You will need to monitor the agreed outcomes, and ensure they are being met. You may need to meet again with the relevant parties.

As a leader, understand that you may only be able to progress the situation so far, and that you may need to involve your HR team or the services of a specialist mediator to get the best outcome. However, mediating conflict resolution is a skill that is vital in your managerial tool kit. While you will never eliminate conflict in the workplace, effective and early intervention can stop disagreements escalating and the dispute impacting on the people around you. If you don't have the right skills, training and/or coaching can assist you.

  • Do you know what to do?
  • What will resolving conflict do for you and your organisation?

If you have questions or want to talk further click here to get in touch with us today.

If you want to re-used this article in part or whole, we are happy for you to do that. All we ask is that you reference us either within the article or in the footnotes, with a link that points back to our article.
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