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Positive workplaces and high performing teams

An antidote to the winter work blues

By Scott Keighley,  Chief Financial Officer, AGPAL Group of Companies

Have you ever noticed how everything seems to get that little bit harder when the winter months appear? The days are shorter, the temperature drops and, for many, cold and flu bugs zap your energy. All of these factors can impact your motivation, engagement and productivity which make it particularly hard to bounce out of bed­­­ in the mornings and go to work, especially if the workplace culture isn’t as encouraging as it could be.

The correlation between a positive workplace culture and a high performing team is undeniable. Rather than finding work a struggle, exhausting and demotivating, employees in positive workplaces are more likely to enjoy work and have a sense of belonging, which in turn, positively impacts the organisation’s culture.

Positive workplaces also create increased productivity, commitment and loyalty to the organisation, and the generation of unity among team members to give their best effort.[1]

So, as a leader, what steps can you take to develop and maintain a team environment where members want to go the extra mile? The answer to this question is really a case of ‘how long is a piece of string?’ as what works for one organisation may not necessarily work for another.

To support your team to create, maintain and/or enhance a positive workplace culture, there are ten key areas for success:

1. Great teams start with great leadership

Leaders are only as successful as their teams and the great ones know that with the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities, everyone wins in the end.[2]

The words ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ are often used interchangeably but it is important to note the difference in their traits. Managers, particularly those who rely on control, aren’t always great leaders and leaders aren’t necessarily in management positions. Great leaders are primarily great team players with excellent communication skills who aren’t afraid to make difficult decisions, change course when necessary and lead by example.

Successful leaders deliver on their promises, appreciate individual and team achievements, actively listen to team members and provide constructive and supportive feedback. These actions can help break down barriers, strengthen team unity and increase team member confidence.

You should also be able to identify opportunities to motivate your team to get the best out of all staff, effectively manage egos and leverage off team member strengths, differences and skills to ensure organisational goals and objectives are achieved.

2. Know your team

Great leaders take the time to know their staff. This goes beyond knowing what’s on an individual’s resume; it is learning about their characteristics, their strengths and weaknesses, how they like to work and what motivates them to go beyond what is expected of them.

Simple ways to achieve this include engaging staff in conversations with open-ended questions, listening actively to their responses and taking an interest in both their professional drivers and personal passions which contribute to their individual personalities and work styles.

These approaches to engage staff help them feel appreciated while also creating understanding which supports you to know exactly which buttons of motivation to push to ensure you get the best out of them.

3. Have clear roles and responsibilities for staff

All teams work better when each member knows the role they play, their responsibilities and how they contribute to the organisation’s overall objectives. Duplication of effort and confusion as to someone’s roles and responsibilities can increase frustration and stress, and potentially create conflict in teams.[3]

It is helpful to ensure that each team member has a clearly defined position description which outlines their role and responsibilities, allowing them to feel a sense of ownership and pride over their specific functions and contributions within the organisation. Position descriptions should be routinely reviewed and updated to reflect professional development and increased responsibility, providing an opportunity to set expectations and address areas that may be falling outside expected role responsibilities.

Staff should also be provided with an overview of how their position interconnects with other team members to provide further clarity and guidance, which can act as a vital reference point if someone starts to veer off course. This mutual understanding showcases how the team is working together to achieve common goals.

4. Hire for the right reasons

Building a successful team is about more than finding a group of people with the right mix of professional skills.[4] Creating a high-performing and cohesive team is about finding staff who share the organisation’s vision, values and work philosophies.

When hiring new staff ensure you consider a number of different elements that go beyond what is written on their resume as the best candidate may not be the best candidate on paper. There are so many questions that could be raised during an interview to discover if potential employees are a good fit for your team – do they have the same approach to patient relationships and care as you? What is their work ethic? How well do they function in a team environment and under stress? How do they respond to constructive feedback? What matters most to them in the workplace? Do they have long and short-term goals which align to the organisation?

Ultimately, all staff are there to ensure a positive experience for every patient that walks through your doors, a task made significantly easier with staff who are united.

5. Provide constant feedback

As human nature indicates, most people prefer to deliver good news rather than bad which means many leaders are prone to only providing feedback when things go wrong or months after an incident at an annual performance review.

The essence of effective feedback is simply great communication which should be a part of the everyday working environment. Developing a regular system of informal and proactive feedback can serve as a team’s greatest enabler for continuous improvement while also making more formal feedback sessions less stressful for both the leader and employee. Constant communication also allows you to check-in to ensure team members are on track, are clear as to their deliverables and have the opportunity to ask for support or assistance as required.

6. Acknowledge and reward

Everyone likes to be acknowledged when they’ve done a good job and providing more proactive feedback allows this to happen naturally. Some leaders believe they shouldn’t reward staff for simply ‘doing their job’, however this negative attitude will be felt by your staff and will diminish team morale.

Acknowledgement and reward doesn’t have to be in the form of financial benefits or with the presentation of gifts. It can be done by saying ‘thank you’, providing praise individually or acknowledging staff publicly, an opportunity for professional development, the flexibility to leave early one afternoon, going out for a team lunch or by offering a promotion to higher duties.

Genuinely reassuring your team that you are paying attention to their efforts shows them they are appreciated and respected which goes a long way towards increasing productivity and building loyalty and trust.

7. Celebrate success

In today’s fast paced world it can be easy to move from one project or patient to the next without stopping to look at what has been achieved. Perhaps your team recently accomplished the implementation of a waiting room redesign, you came up with a quality improvement initiative to better communicate with patients or staff received positive responses to a patient satisfaction survey. Celebrating success goes beyond simply acknowledging the end goal, it allows you to take a step back and reflect on the accomplishment, effort and lessons learned throughout the entire journey.

Taking the time to celebrate these ‘little wins’ is important as it increases staff motivation and morale. It is also said to release chemicals in our brain that give us a feeling of pride, happiness and that ‘feel good’ factor while creating drive toward achievement of the next goal.

8. Work with experts

Have you ever had a patient who walked into their appointment having already diagnosed themselves after some basic online research? Would you blindly follow what they were telling you and treat them accordingly or would you use your expertise to ensure the patient received the best possible advice, treatment and outcome?

The same is true when it comes to working with others in your extended team. You may be the healthcare professional but are you also an expert on HR, business planning, accounting, and marketing? Engaging those who are experts in their field rather than trying to do it all yourself will allow you and members of your immediate team to share knowledge and insights, leverage off each other’s skills and strengths, and consider other and varied perspectives. This collaborative team work will strengthen your team dynamics, outputs and relationships to enhance the power of your team and each individual within it.

9. Accentuate the positive, tune out the negative

As a leader, your team will follow the example you set. If you are positive, approachable and a team player who focuses on the tasks at hand, chances are the rest of the team will as well. Likewise, if your team hear you being negative about people and situations they will then think it is okay for them to do the same which can have a huge impact on the workplace culture. Even when things aren’t going as planned, remaining positive and focussed on your goals will allow you to more easily tune out the negative comments.

While you can’t control the behaviours of others, you can control the way in which you recognise, respond to and address negativity, and how you channel your own positive emotions and strategies to contribute to creating a positive work environment.

Organisations which consciously embed positivity within their culture are said to see results in less sick days, greater job satisfaction and outputs, increased creativity and innovation, and a sense of belonging and organisational loyalty.

10. Culture counts

To work at their highest standard, people need to be aware of what they are working towards. Organisations with truly high performing teams have a crystal clear purpose at an organisational level as well as by department and even down to the individual.[5] Engaging all members of staff in setting, or modifying, the organisation’s vision will ensure each member of the team has a sense of belonging and purpose in the work they are doing which, over time, becomes ingrained into the DNA of the organisation.

While there are many ways to create a positive workplace culture and build a high performing team, the attributes of them are largely the same. These special ingredients are open communication and strong relationships, built as a result of shared goals and experiences. Workplaces, and leaders who lay the groundwork for a highly productive team that can communicate, cooperate and innovate in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect[6] will ensure their workplace is a positive place to be. This in turn has significant benefits to an organisation, ultimately lowering staff turnover and therefore costs, increasing levels of motivation, productivity, and overall employee satisfaction and enhancing company reputation as an employer of choice.


  1. The Center for Organizational Design. 2015. Developing High Performing Teams: What they are and how to make them work. Accessed 18 July, 2018.
  2. Llipos, G. 12 October 2012. 6 Ways Successful Teams Are Built To Last. Accessed 17 July 2018
  3. Prof Alimo-Metcalfe, B and Alban-Metcalfe, J. 18 May, 2018. Five principles of high-performing teams. Accessed 18 July, 2018.
  4. Bryant, A. 13 March 2018. How to Build a Successful Team. The New York Times Accessed 17 July 2018
  5. Ferguson, T. 18 October, 2017. What Does a High Performing Team Look Like? Accessed 18 July, 2018
  6. Bryant, A. 13 March 2018. How to Build a Successful Team. Accessed 17 July 2018