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How to build a high-performing team

High-performing teams

An HR expert’s tips for building high-performing teams, and how one start-up co-founder is building better relationships between team members.

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of the insights from our interviewees:

  • Building high-performing small business teams starts with recruiting the right people for the job.
  • Encourage them to grow by providing a clear role description and scheduling regular one-on-one meetings.
  • Start-up co-founder Joanna Auburn cultivates success among her team by encouraging them to own their work – and fail when needed.
  • She is also quick to share insights from one part of the business with other teams, to foster growth across the board.

Small businesses and start-ups need to justify every new hire with ROI, especially in the early stages. Owners and founders can ensure every hire pays off by identifying high-performing team members who can inspire growth.

David Wurth, HR consultant and founder of Wurth HR, says building a team of people that can work together effectively is probably the biggest problem facing any business, and therefore one that takes precision.

He shared his insights into how small business and start-up owners can cultivate high-performing teams.

How to identify high performers and build their skills

For David, it all starts with ensuring those hiring new team members know how to recruit effectively and to bring the right combination of skills into the business.

“It’s important that hirers know what they’re doing and how to hire the right people,” he says. “This is particularly important when starting out, when owners have fewer resources and need to ensure each employee is high-performing,” he says.

To hire well, he recommends clearly laying out each new team member’s individual tasks and responsibilities, and discussing those duties with others within the business. Whether it’s a business of 30 or a partnership of two, David says all parties need to be clear on both the personal characteristics and technical know-how of those they wish to hire – and everyone can contribute to ideas about what additional skills and attributes a new hire could bring into the business.

“Identify in detail the sort of person you want,” he says. “They might have highly developed communication skills, for example, or you might want customer service experience. It could be specific or general, but your team needs to agree on it, because if you don’t, then you’re going to have an unclear recruitment process.”

Building team members’ skills on the job

Once a talented team member is on board, then, how might small business owners further develop their skills? David suggests that workers with a clear understanding of their own purpose and how it fits into the wider team’s are most likely to be inspired to do better quality work and understand how they can develop to make additional meaningful contributions.

“New employees should have clarity of purpose,” he says, explaining that they should know why they’ve been hired, and what their job is and the job of their colleagues.

This way, team members can be inspired to achieve more, aligned with the common goals of the organisation.

“This inspiration starts with small business owners,” he says. “It’s about knowing that what you do as a leader is observed and heard by everyone else in the business.”

In smaller businesses, one-on-ones between employee and owner can help to foster this attention to employees’ duties and skill development.

“Schedule time on a regular basis, at minimum once a fortnight, with each team member,” says David. “Have an open agenda – the meetings are designed to check on the employee’s progress and let them ask questions.”

How start-up co-founder Joanna encourages high performers in her team

Joanna Auburn is the co-founder of Trace, a tech start-up that aims to help businesses manage and offset their carbon emissions. At just three years old and with its team working almost entirely remotely, Trace requires certain key attributes from team members, including agility, flexibility and creative thinking.

“We look for dynamic and flexible people who are genuinely curious to go outside of their direct remit,” says Joanna. “That shows us they’ll thrive in our space, where there’s different things asked of them. We want people who grab opportunities and run with them.”

The start-up has also experienced rapid growth, from a team of two to a team of 14 in 18 months, making high performers critical to the success of both individuals and the team. Joanna says her approach and that of her co-founder prioritise empowerment.

“What has worked well for us is having some structure and ways for people to connect, but also getting out of the way and letting high-performing people do their thing,” she says. “We’ve found that if you give someone a KPI to own, if they have those high-performing characteristics and drive they will own that KPI.”

Recruiting a range of employees that exhibit complementary skill sets has also been part of Trace’s strategy.

“If we have complementary skill sets bouncing off each other, that helps both individuals,” says Joanna. “We take someone who’s process-focused and someone who’s more technically knowledgeable, then bring the different skill sets together and have both learn from the other.”

She gives one major example of how that act of cross-pollinating ideas has benefitted the Trace team as a whole.

“We have an excellent operator who provides an update every week on client renewals,” she says. “It’s a fantastic update – my co-founder and I get an understanding of how things are going in a quick soundbite.”

“Presenting examples of what is awesome in different ways to different people is another way to help people learn.”

Cultivating high-impact individuals for the benefit of the broader team is further helped by Trace’s culture of open communication and collaboration, Joanna says.

Not only do she and her co-founder call out wins and achievements – but also the projects they’re having more trouble with.

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