29 Sep 2020
The secret to building high performing teams

The secret to building high performing teams

The ongoing burden of COVID-19 is tough on businesses. That’s why most organisations are supporting their teams so they can perform at their best.

Kirk Peterson, managing director of training and consulting firm Performance Shift, has more than 30 years of experience in improving team performance, business strategy, operations and people management.

Peterson’s philosophy is centred around the idea that every successful business starts with a successful team. He’s provided some invaluable tips for businesses who focus on building their own high performing team.

“The success of any organisation rests on maximising the strengths of individuals, with a focus on continuous improvement,” explains Peterson.

This approach is particularly relevant right now. By supporting your team so they perform at their best, your business is better equipped to tackle challenges and be agile in the face of change.

“Control the controllable,” Peterson says. “It’s all about survival, recovery and opportunity.”

Help your people help you survive and thrive

Your biggest asset is your people, so you need to take care of them.

“There’s never been more need for care and empathy,” Peterson says. “Leaders need to adjust their approach, to ensure their people remain in a good frame of mind.”

Related article: How to manage psychological safety at work

It’s important to understand the different needs of introverts versus extroverts. Most introverts will find remote working a breeze, while extroverts will be craving face-to-face contact. Tools like Teams and Zoom can help here, as can regular check-ins.

Address these different needs and you’ll be on your way to a happier, healthier workforce, he advises. Once you’ve got your team in a good place, your business can recover. Then you can look at opportunities.

“It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how you deal with it,” says Peterson.

For example, emotional intelligence is more important than ever before. Your empathy and self-awareness skills need to be brilliant. Ask two or three people you trust for clear, honest feedback and act on it.

Building high performing teams - Man in a video conference call on his lap top

Develop a culture of continuous improvement

With so much change around us, it’s a great opportunity to reinvent antiquated processes. Reflection is a powerful tool, leveraged in high-performance sports, Peterson says.

For example, in one AFL game, a team would have a pre-game strategy, a quarter and half-time strategy, and a post-game washup. All these catch-ups will have helped to improve the team’s performance throughout the game, and moving forward.

This methodology can be applied to business. Is an annual performance review enough? Not likely. Schedule more frequent catch-ups and implement actions, and you’re bound to see a lift in performance.

“Develop a culture of continuous improvement with dedicated outcomes,” Peterson advises.

It helps to define your team’s purpose. What are your highest priorities? They might change weekly. Is your team working on high priority work, or spending time on less important tasks?

It’s also a good idea to reset benchmarks. Then reflect regularly on your progress, achievements and business challenges. A possibility mindset is powerful. When you embrace opportunities, you can move forward.

10 pillars to a high performing team

In conjunction with Dr John Molineux from Deakin University’s Business School, Peterson developed a high-performance team diagnostic, based on data science. Evaluating the following pillars will help determine issues in your business, so you can look at development opportunities to achieve better results.

  1. Alignment
  2. Accountability
  3. Collaboration
  4. Communication
  5. Trust
  6. Engagement
  7. Innovation and creativity
  8. Feedback and learning
  9. Resilience
  10. Results

Invest in your culture

Culture is the one ingredient that separates good companies from great companies, says Peterson. A great culture is sustainable. It allows you to be successful, and stay there. It’s defined by the behaviours we accept or deny. It’s all about trust.

“Of the 10 pillars, trust is the most important,” Peterson says. “Outcome trust. Relationship trust. And emotional trust."

Outcome trust is simple. Do what you say you’re going to do. “If you commit, you achieve,” he says. “It’s a powerful mindset that’s addictive.”

Relationship trust is also important, so focus on building rapport with your team. Be respectful and appreciate diversity. It’s critical in a team dynamic.

Then there’s emotional trust. Peterson says a good leader will make their team feel like they’ve got their back. They’ll know you won’t throw them under the bus.

Building high performing teams - Woman working from home on her lap top

Strengthen your team’s resilience

Resilience is all about your ability to bounce back. Peterson suggests keeping a log.

“Logs create trends. If you’re in a slump, see how long it takes to come back to your natural state,” he says.

If you find it’s taking too long, work out the root of the problem and find a solution. Your overall wellbeing can be improved by looking at three things – nutrition, exercise and sleep.

And if you embrace even a few of these steps, Peterson says, you’ll likely be in a better position when life returns to normal.

Books recommended by Peterson:

Good to Great - Jim Collins

Start With Why- Simon Sinek

Go Put Your Strengths to Work - Marcus Buckingham

Dare to Lead - Brene Brown

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Legacy - James Kerr

The Third Space - Dr Adam Fraser



Kirk Peterson, managing director of training and consulting firm Performance ShiftAbout Kirk Peterson

Kirk Peterson is a renowned thought leader with over 30 years’ experience in leadership, business strategy, operational management and people management, along with a history of being a player and coach of high performance sporting teams.





The advice in this article is general in nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You must decide whether or not it is appropriate, in light of your own circumstances, to act on this advice.

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