Happiness makes the world go ‘round – but let’s face it, you need those cheery team members to perform damn well, too. So how the heck do you manage the perfect balance of good cop *and* productive workplace? Here’s how to finally build a positive team culture that drives performance with invaluable people and culture skills that truly deliver. 

Ahhh, team building in the workplace.

Before you begin preparations for a human knot, reciting your ‘Darren Donuts’ or rolling out the ping pong table – hear me out.

As a Business Psychologist, I completely understand the struggles that come with developing groups of people that are equal parts happy and high-performing. After all, creating a positive team culture goes hand in hand with creating high-performing teams. But for many, achieving the perfect balance can be trickier than the ‘human chair’ exercise when someone steps aside at the last minute. #ouch

Here, we’ll unravel why current attempts may have flopped, as well as new, actionable steps you can take to make moving forward with a happy and high-performing team easy. 

Building high-performing teams starts with: 

  • The Myths About Building Happy, High-Performing Teams
  • Tradition v Forward-Thinking: Inspiring High Performance
  • The Future of High-Performing Teams
  • Innovative Companies Apply Design Thinking
  • How Collaborative Action Inspires High Performance
  • Apps for Productivity
  • Apps for Wellbeing
  • Apps for Engagement
  • Examples of High Performing Teams
  • The Simply Irresistible Organisation™ Model
  • Taking your Team to the Next Level

The Myths About Building Happy, High-Performing Teams

Remember that cool teacher at school? Maybe they wore kooky clothes, spoke to the class like they were a student too. Or had some little inside joke you all got a kick out of. 

Now? You’re basically in that role. Sure, you’ve got a few inklings of how they wooed a room of teenagers into getting their work done (and feeling good in the process). But what psychology-backed techniques could you whip out (instead of the ‘I’ve still got it’ dance moves, à la Michael Scott)?

Here are the top myths about developing a happy, high-performing team.

Myth 1 – Team Members HATE Rules

Having had to follow a few rules in your time, you might despise certain ones. Maybe they made you feel restricted or like your personal choices didn’t matter. 

But the truth is, rules actually create structure (which the human brain loves). That’s because rules set expectations which can create more efficiency, consistency and predictability for team members. Exercise a flexible mindset that offers a ‘playbook’-like approach (more on this soon) to enforcing workplace rules for the best outcomes.

Myth 2 – Work Needs to be ALL Fun

Sure, it’s great to have an upbeat culture and a positive work environment. But it’s also been proven time and time again that hard workers respond well to rewards. The catch? Exceptional work must be completed *before* receiving positive reinforcement.  

In line with Pavlov’s Theory of Classical Conditioning, high-performing team members experience a positive behavioural change if they complete a task that has elicited a positive response in the past, even if a reward isn’t present. That is, rewards should be provided for performance that goes above and beyond with fun or perks, not simply for completing expected tasks. Then, the next time the task is asked to be completed? Over time, they’ll experience a more positive view of the task itself.

Myth 3 – Lower Standards = Happier Workers

As discussed in a previous article covering promotions – inspiration, integrity and competence remain high attributes for exceptional leaders. Rob Peters further explains that with the right workplace culture, team members are empowered by self-governance

Peters goes on to discuss in Standard of Trust Leadership that rather than lowering your standards, for a happy and high-performing team you must connect your standards with a collaborative approach that aligns with company and team member values and principles. This creates an involved journey to purpose for the team members and the organisation. Which brings us to the future of developing high-performing teams (without settling for less).

Tradition v Forward-Thinking: Inspiring High Performance

Pssst… over time, culture-building has changed. Who am I kidding – this isn’t a secret! New ways of thinking are smashing through stereotypical hierarchical workplaces and opening the door to collaborative, powerhouse teams. 

Long gone is the tyrannical boss spitting ‘you’re fired!’ across a packed office spilling with employees who shiver with fear. Today, old rules are replaced with constructive outlines optimised to create empowered, trusting and multi-functional teams. 

Take Deloitte’s overview of ‘the organisation of the future: old views v new rules’, for example:

Notice the significant shifts in structure and approach that transform workplaces from stagnant to involved, collaborative and forward-moving? Take a closer look. See how both actually work towards the same goal (developing high-performing teams), though the new rules include opportunity for happiness too. I call that a win-win!

But what does this mean for companies today and in the coming years? More specifically, what does this mean for your organisation as you edge towards positive team culture and high performance?

Here’s your fast track to developing high-performing teams on repeat

Innovative Companies apply Design Thinking

Design thinking, according to Marc Solow and Nicky Wakefield, ‘provides a means to focus on the employee’s personal experience and to create processes centred upon the worker’. With the ultimate aim of increasing employee satisfaction, productivity and enjoyment.

Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang of Interaction Design Foundation define design thinking as “an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding… it provides a solution-based approach to solving problems”.

This involves creating culture as an ‘experience architect’ and intersection of productivity, wellbeing and engagement. Here’s a deeper dive from a HR perspective:

Rather than rely on the classical economics worldview, traditional “best practices,” or business-guru books, think about people from the inside out; begin with psychological insights about what motivates superior performance and ethical behaviour.”

Interestingly, in a study by Deloitte, it was reported that employees of organisations using design thinking were nearly five times more likely to experience the highest level of value from HR. 

Take inspiration from these key points from Deloitte’s examples of design thinking to begin developing high-performing teams in your organisation.

  • Role restructures – consider designing your organisation’s roles to complement team member strengths, opportunities and lifestyles
  • Engagement emphasis – review existing engagement techniques and look to implement systems that increase ease, efficiency and fulfilment
  • Analytic reviews – can you dig deeper to uncover better solutions for your employees? Are particular tasks taking too long? If so, why? Would it be better suited to another team member, could time tracking increase motivation or can it be automated?

HR that’s forward-thinking – enhance internal systems with digital, mobile and user-centred processes built today for a brighter tomorrow

High-performing team examples

When we seek to elevate our own skill set, operations and approaches, looking to others already killing it is the perfect place to start. Here are just a few organisations who have implemented forward-thinking practices to help develop high-performing teams.

Zappos – Kick job descriptions to the curb

Controversially, Zappos views team recruitment as a two-way conversation and one that’s focused on building long-term relationships. So? They removed job listings all together, instead creating a high-performing candidate experience. 

Then, come onboarding, they have the opportunity to take $4000 and leave if they feel they’re not the right fit for the company. Stay on? A four-week training process begins, during which they learn more about personal emotional connection and customer loyalty, before officially commencing in their roles (which invite opportunities for improvement regularly).

Nestlé – Implementing experiential learning programs

Instead of focusing on the presenter, Nestlé begins new learning experiences with the individual and their personal work experience. Cleverly, Nestlé uses learning technologies to encourage continuous learning that builds upon existing skills. 

Nestlé has also worked to unleash employee creativity, embrace risk-taking and use this fusion to help create innovation within the team and enable them to connect more closely with customers.

Telstra – person-centred and personalised

Having reinvented their culture from product-focused to customer-centred, Telstra has reported that personalised learning pathways play a large role in the future of education, with a culture of continuous improvement.

This is all well and good. But where did these ideas stem from, and how can you create an original framework suited to your team? For that, we must look to the simply irresistible organisation model.

Develop a High-Performing Team with the Simply Irresistible Organisation™  Model 

Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organisation™ model implements a collaborative approach with the ultimate goal of building happy, high-performing teams. Through the clever intersection of practices that acknowledge the workplace, team members and the individual, this simple outline has the potential to revolutionise performance.

Irresistible experiences and culture help to build high-performing teams, who actually enjoy being a part of your organisation. They fall under 5 key areas. 

  • Meaningful work – in action it looks like autonomy and unstructured time
  • Supportive management – in action it looks like transparent goals and coaching
  • Positive work environment – in action it looks like recognition and a flexible environment
  • Growth opportunities – in action it looks like on-the-job training and self-directed/dynamic learning
  • Trust in leadership – in action it looks like a clear mission for team members to create a shared sense of purpose and continuous investment in people

How will you implement these irresistible experiences into your workplace? While it’s all well and good to use them as a guide, professional insight into your exact workplace dynamic from an outside source has the potential to completely transform your organisation.

Take your team to the next level

Developing high-performing teams that exude happiness begins with you. Because no two organisations or teams are the same, personalised advice, strategies and actions are critical to your performance-building goals. 

You care for your team, and you’re serious about building a high-performing and happy one (you wouldn’t be here otherwise!). After working with countless companies (big and small!), I have the precise hands-on experience and psychological insight needed to take your team to the next level. The only thing left to do? Put precise action steps in place. Reach out to see if I’m the right fit for you. 

It’s time to take your team to the next level!