How to build high performing teams

How to build high performing teams

Over the last few months we have been working with the senior management teams of several Professional Services firms where we have been given a similar remit – how do we build high performing teams that will shape and embed the direction and strategy of the firm for the next few years? This is something we love to get involved in and we usually use the tools from the strategic planning areas of our latest book ‘Firm Principles’.

However there is often a major challenge to generating any kind of success from such a process – the functionality and effectiveness of the senior team itself. Unless the team really is operating as a cohesive team with the interests of the firm at heart, then it’s virtually impossible to implement any kind of successful change or strategic planning.

We have worked with some firms at senior management level, where quite clearly there was a senior management ‘group’, which lacked the clarity, direction, performance measures and trust required in a team. It’s fundamental to address this to drive successful performance throughout the business and create high performing teams.

Just recently we met with a firm that is operating under a very different model. In order to avoid ‘silo mentality’ and some of the ‘protectionist’ behaviours associated with traditional structures, they are focusing heavily on teams both within and cross service line to develop high performing teams. But, importantly they have realised that unless they have an effectively functioning management team then there is little chance of building a high performing teams culture across the firm. They made a very important point:

“The thing is when people think about high performing teams, team building and dynamics, most think it is ‘soft and fluffy’ stuff. It’s not. High performing teams have to be tough, sometimes brutal with the way they go about things. The focus has to be on a shared responsibility for performance and with that, there is no place to hide and no way to shirk the challenge.”

Improving team effectiveness


There is no ‘I’ in team – there is actually – In fact there are two- Independently and Interdependence!

For a team to function effectively at a senior level each member needs to be a high performer INDEPENDENTLY. This not only means that they can take on challenges and have the skills to follow through on managing and executing delivery, but that they know their strengths, their working style and how they function most effectively with others.

The second I is INTERDEPENDENCE. This is where respect, trust, team roles and dynamics have been built between a group of independent performers. The first major step to achieve this is for individuals to ‘drop the ego’ and make the conscious decision that they want to commit to the team.

From here real interdependence is built through four fundamental focus areas for successful teams:

  1. Clarity of objectives and performance standardsHow will the team measure success? How do we break this down into targets and KPIs? What is effective performance for each of us as individuals? What do we all need to ensure the team objectives are achieved?
  2. A sound understanding of each otherIt is vital for team members to understand the strengths, motivations, viewpoints, experiences and values of each other, not just to match roles to individuals but to build mutual respect.
  3. AccountabilityTo each other. An effective team is self governing in monitoring collective and individual performance, and ensuring that everybody is ‘on their game’ and contributing to the required standard. As our contact at the progressive firm said. “we won’t tolerate slackers or team members driven by their own agenda. It becomes very easy to identify these ”.
  4. Openness and honestyWe have seen many situations where fear, politics, ego’s, a lack of clarity over direction and a lack of understanding about each other prevents constructive ‘adult’ conversations at the top level. For a team to continue to learn, improve and raise the performance level it’s important to get everything ‘on the table’ on a regular basis.


Maybe implementing a Red Arrows style performance meeting could be beneficial with each member taking it in turns to verbalise ‘here is how I could have been better and here is how we could have been better’.

A by-product of the 4 areas above is the generation of trust. We define trust as:

Competence (Good enough?) x Credibility (Do what they say they will?) x Compatibility (aligned objectives, ambitions and values?) = Trust

If each individual has a sound understanding of other team members, knows what everyone is expected to achieve and to what level, and experiences open and honest conversations driven by accountability against performance – then this builds assurance of competence and credibility and compatibility.

Creating effective senior teams can be hard work and can feel brutal at times, but if firms want to drive their strategic plans, raise performance levels and re-define success then it is imperative to have the right people, doing the right things individually and collectively at the top level. And then it is just a case of replicating this across the firm!!

To find out more about how to build high-performing teams, theGrogroup ‘Board programme’ or the Firm Principles book can help, please fill out an enquiry form or get in touch on 0333 7722 061.