A guide to building and managing them

Ask any employer in any industry what their most important asset is and you'll get almost universal agreement on the answer – their employees.

Employing people with the right skills, experience and expertise is fundamental to running a business. But high performing teams are what set apart a flourishing business from one that's simply surviving.

Creating a framework for high performing teams

Gurus from CK Prahalad and Bill Gates to Warren Buffett and Steven Covey have written books on the subject, and are often cited as great bosses to follow and learn from. But while picking up tips from inspiring leaders is a great starting point, good management skills are very much honed through practical experience – the mistakes as much as (if not more than) the successes.

So, how do you go about building effective teams who work well together, generate fresh and innovative ideas and take pride in doing a great job for the team and the business? This may sound challenging, but it doesn't have to be a complicated process. The most important thing is to realize it takes time, effort and dedication on your part to create the culture and structures within your business that allow employees and teamwork to flourish.

In my experience, there are three key values that provide a useful framework to think about when it comes to effective management skills and building high performing teams:

  • Simple
  • Modern
  • Personal

Taking each in turn:

1. Keep it Simple: don't overcomplicate things

Let's start with simple - I think this is the key to putting in solid management foundations. For me, this comes down to:

  • thinking about the basic things that you want to achieve
  • striping away the jargon and rhetoric
  • not overcomplicating the issues

Clear goals

Many businesses start off with one single, cogent thought – that "light bulb" moment of a brilliant invention or new way to do something. To get this off the ground, there should be a clear articulation of what the idea is, why people need it and how they can get it. As businesses grow, this one clear idea often gets lost, clouded or forgotten. It's important as a business and as a manager to keep this dream alive, clear and focused in your own mind; if you're confused about it, you're unlikely to communicate it clearly to your team, leading to confusion and frustration for all.

Employees want to know they have a clear purpose and that they have a part to play in the success of the business. To enable this, the best managers ensure:

  • the goals for the team (and each member in it) are very focused and clear
  • each team member knows what the goals are and is able to articulate them in their own words

By giving this solid, straightforward direction, you create a basis for a strong and successful team to be built upon.

Clear communication

By keeping things simple, the ability to communicate your thoughts and ideas becomes so much easier. Communication is a crucial ingredient when it comes to management and using language that everyone can understand and relate to ensures there's no confusion or hidden agenda.

This Forbes article is a great summary of why you can't become a great leader until you are a great communicator.

There should be no need to resort to corporate or business jargon. Using jargon does nothing to help explain any situation and tends to suggest that you're not sure about what you want to say. Using phrases like "open the kimono" or "matching luggage" just add confusion and put up barriers between you and your team. After all, what do these phrases actually mean? Using this type of language allows misunderstandings to take place and has the potential to turn off employees.

Professor of Management Studies at Berkley Haas Business School, Jennifer Chatham, sums up the issue perfectly "Jargon masks real meaning. People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others1."


  • Have one, clear ambition or dream that everyone can understand and buy in to.
  • Ensure that each team's role in this dream is clear – confusion leads to uncertainty, disengagement and dissatisfaction.
  • Use everyday language. The best communicators use simple words and pictures to get across their message.
  • Be open and transparent – your employees aren't children, so don't treat them like that. They know when you're hiding something and are smart enough to realize not everything goes to plan. They'll appreciate your candor; knowing the true situation will help them feel more a part of the business.
  • Think like a small business. Just concentrate on the issues that really matter and relate to your one, clear ambition.

1 Speakerhub, "Reach more people and cut the jargon and speak for a broader audience", Esther Snippe (accessed January 20 2017) https://speakerhub.com/blog/reach-more-people-cut-jargon-and-speak-broader-audience

2. Be Modern: adapt to changing work practices

The world of work has changed enormously over the past decade. In that time, innovations like Wi-Fi, smart phones and social media have completely changed how, where and when we work. Modern technology has revolutionized the workplace and smart businesses know how to take advantage of it. The facts of modern life also change employees' expectations and abilities.

Flexible working

Flexible working has become a reality for many and allowing employees the option to work flexibly to fit around their responsibilities is a very attractive option for many, especially those with young families or elderly relatives. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, younger millennial employees score Flexible Working highly on the list of things that attract them to a company, which is important when you consider that, according to the same survey, they will make up 75% of the global workforce by 20252.

For many roles, set hours really aren't that important at the end of the day. The most important thing is getting the job done effectively to meet deadlines; does it really matter if the work is done between 9 am and 5 pm or between 11 am and 7 pm? Of course, there are some jobs - such as call center representatives or retail sales workers - which have set hours, but even with these types of roles there are ways to build in flexibility through part-time working or job shares.

The most forward-thinking companies, like many of the start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area, are not just offering working from home, they offer work from anywhere. This allows employees to take control and find the environment, either in the office or outside it, that is most suited to getting the job done.

Not convinced? A 2014 study, cited in the Harvard Business Review, examined the benefits of working from home for the Chinese travel website Ctrip. For the study, Ctrip allowed half of its call-center employees to work from home for nine months.

The results showed that those who worked from home completed 13.5% more calls than those who worked in the office. The lead researcher, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, said that the workers' increased productivity was likely due to the lack of distractions at home. They were also happier, and thus far less likely to quit. As a result, Ctrip saved $1,900 per year per employee who worked from home.


Effective leadership in the modern workplace requires employers to trust employees to get the job done and take responsibility to ensure they meet their deadlines. Many studies, including Edelman's 2016 Trust Barometer, have shown that there's a clear link between trust and building employee engagement. A 2015 study by Interaction Associates also showed that high-trust companies are more than 2½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations than low-trust companies3.

To create high performing teams, establishing trust is a vital ingredient. The Jacobs Model, devised by employee engagement expert Susanne Jacobs, outlines eight drivers on how to build trust:

  1. ensuring everyone feels part of the team and included
  2. ensuring the team feels valued by the rest of the business
  3. challenging the team to evolve and try new ideas or ways of working
  4. ensuring members of the team feel secure in the jobs and are certain about the direction of the company
  5. giving everyone in the team a voice to express their ideas and opinions
  6. treating each member of the team fairly, with no one getting preferential treatment
  7. giving the members of the team a degree of choice when it comes to how, when and where they work
  8. giving each member a clear role and a purpose

This model moves management away from the traditional view of employers versus employees; management giving orders and workers obeying them without question, and takes a much more collaborative approach. This is much more about building a partnership within the business, with everyone feeling invested in performing to the best of their abilities and trying to achieve a common purpose.

This approach is definitely something that the new generation of employees entering the workforce is looking for and will embrace wholeheartedly. A modern take on management will help build effective teams both now and in the future.

This excellent Harvard Business Review article looks at the importance of trust within an organization.

2 Deloitte, "The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey". 2016. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-millenial-survey-2016-exec-summary.pdf

3Building Workplace Trust: trends and high performance, Interaction Associates, 2014/15. http://interactionassociates.com/sites/default/files/research_items/Trust Report_2014_15IA_0.pdf

3. Make it Personal: get to know your staff

This brings us on to the final and I believe most important element of successful management: building a personal relationship with your employees. This doesn't mean that you should know every aspect of their lives or become over familiar or intrusive. However, getting to know what matters to your employees outside of work - what they like to do in their leisure time and what responsibilities and interest they have - is invaluable. Knowing just a few basic facts will allow you to establish a rapport and build a relationship that is based on more than just work.

Team cohesiveness

People want to feel like they are more than just a cog in the wheel; that they matter and are valued. Taking the time to get to know your staff and encouraging members of a team to do the same, whether that's through coffee breaks, going to lunch together or social activities outside work, will have great benefits.

There are countless studies that show taking regular breaks makes employees more productive. If these breaks are taken together with colleagues then relationships begin to form and a team ethic and personality begins to grow. You often see this team dynamic working in the most successful sports clubs, where players know each other's games inside out and enjoy each other's company on and off the field.

Workplace wellness

If you take the time to know your staff well, you can spot when they're having an off day or if something isn't quite right. Spotting signs of any sort of distress early can have hugely beneficial results. You are far more likely to notice if an employee is suffering any kind of physical discomfort, mental distress or struggling to cope with their workload if you know how they behave and act when things are going well. When relevant, stepping in and having a chat with them can help enormously. It can prevent small problems from escalating into bigger ones by facing them head on and finding ways to make things better.

It's vital that line managers are given the time, space and skills to do the people management part of their role. When things get busy, it's easy to ignore these elements as there are deadlines to meet and not enough hours in the day. However, in the long run, investing in proper people management can pay huge dividends. One of the main reasons people quit their jobs is not getting on with their direct boss, in fact 28% of employees say they would rather have a better boss than a $5,000 raise4. Getting this relationship right is key to retaining your best staff and developing a trusting and cohesive team.

Effective leadership – trust and delegation

Many bosses get promoted because they are skilled in their specialism, like campaign execution or project management; their aptitude to manage others is often not taken into account. As a new manager, it can be difficult to learn to let go and find the right balance between direction and delegation. Good bosses don't micro-manage, they give team members the responsibility and the right support - when required - to gain valuable experience so they can progress and grow in their role. They don't see delegation as a way to unload tedious tasks, they understand that true delegation is built on a foundation of trust.

But just how do you learn to delegate well?

According to Charles H. Green, best-selling author and founder of the management consulting firm Trusted Advisor Associates, the first step in good delegating is to adopt the right attitude. Instead of "No one else can do this as well as I can," the first question should be: "Who is the best person to do this?"

Once you've identified the employee with the skills and time to take on the new opportunity, Green advises that you sit down with them to work out the details of their assignment which includes three key steps:

  1. Define the employee's authority level. Determine, together with your employee, what authority they will need to perform their job. Make sure to inform other staff involved in those areas to ensure their cooperation.
  2. Acquire the employee's consent. This is crucial. The employee must clearly understand what responsibilities are being delegated to them, and provide their informed consent.
  3. Establish a self-evaluation plan. Work out a clear set of parameters in order for your employee to be able to evaluate their own assignment. "Delegate the whole thing to them," says Charles Green, "including the post-mortem."

This article on Forbes has some great advice on how to empower your employees through leadership.

New team members

When looking for new employees, one of the most important things to consider is how will they fit with the rest of the team. Getting the right blend is hugely important. Employing someone who goes against the culture, working practices and ethics of the current team can be a disaster and destroy a high performing unit.

Many organizations now see attitude as the most important thing when hiring new staff. Skills can be taught, but attitude is inherent. If your team is very social and likes to spend time together outside of work, hiring someone who is very self-contained and prefers to have a clear split between their home and professional lives could have terrible consequences for team dynamics and the business. Hiring on attitude ensures the new employee is more likely to feel like they belong and buy into your common goals and purpose.


  • Make time for the team and to do something fun – the memories created will stand out, and help create loyalty and engagement.
  • Be interested in what makes them tick outside of work – knowing this helps build a rapport and if you want to reward them, allows you to choose something that they'll really appreciate.
  • Put yourself in their shoes – would you be happy to be managed the way you're managing your team?
  • If you notice a change in behavior in one of your team members, address it - don't let it fester and escalate.
  • Delegation is an art. Learn how to do it well and you'll build trust within your team.
  • Find out your employees' career ambitions and consider how you can help them achieve them within your organization – nurturing talent is one of the best ways to retain your best employees.

So there you go, these are the key things I think will help create a high performing team. You may not agree with everything I've said or may think I've missed some vital information out, but at the end of the day each team and manager is different and it is down to you to find the style and approach that works for you and your team.

Trust in your own instincts, think about how you would like to be managed, learn from your own experiences and you won't go far wrong.

4 Randstad, "Employee engagement study". 2015