High Performing Teams in the public sector

What are the ingredients of a high performing team in the public sector?


It’s a question I get asked a lot. It’s easy to spot when a team is humming and just as easy to spot when it’s not. The real test of a high performing team is what happens when the work pressure is intense? It’s often during these periods of stress when people revert to poor behaviour and misalignment with the work occurs. 


High performing teams navigate effectively through the challenging periods by placing importance on both accountability and collaboration. To create and then sustain a high performing culture requires an ongoing commitment and regular work. It’s not a one-off exercise.


An example of a sustainable high performing team environment is The National Health Funding Body (NHFB), led by CEO Shannon White. He’s been in this role for three years and turned the organisation culture and performance around significantly in that time. To the extent that the NHFB has played a major role during COVID to seamlessly distribute the additional hospital funding to the states and territories in a far more effective way than was ever previously deemed possible.


It’s no surprise to us that high performance has become embedded in the organisation. It’s also no surprise that the recent APS staff survey (Census) results have the NHFB ranked as the highest Agency across the whole Commonwealth public sector. The census assesses all Departments / Agencies on the culture they’ve fostered and the synergy within which their team works.


It’s a terrific success story that Shannon and his team should be proud of. From my observation Shannon’s approach to leadership places a strong emphasis on: results through people’ by embedding trust and consistency through his actions; proactively shaping the direction of the work and emphasizing alignment; fostering professional relationships (both internally and with stakeholders); and staying committed to NHFB’s small batch of united leadership behaviours that are aligned to the goals of the organisation.


We’ve had the privilege of seeing this culture transformation first hand via our work with NHFB embedding a culture of ‘United Leadership’. This is a bespoke approach that prioritises four interrelated pieces in order to establish and sustain a high performing team.


The four areas are equal in weight and need to be applied simultaneously. They are:


  1.  Commitment: buy-in and ongoing commitment when the stress and pressure inevitably rise during intense work periods.
  2. Structure (or systems) that enable effective team governance: it’s the operating rhythm of the team. Providing clarity on the authorising environment, how decisions are made, how often the team meets and what’s the purpose when it comes together.
  3. Performance: everyone in the team understands what success looks like with the work. Goals are revisited regularly to cater for the fluid and changing nature of the environment. Accountability is clear and performance dialogue is regular (quarterly as a minimum). Investing in a high trust environment enables this regular dialogue to be productive.
  4. Behaviours: high performing teams know that behaviour drives performance. They identify a small batch of meaningful behaviours that help them align with the broader work goals of the organisation. They will also regularly discuss how they have role-modelled those behaviours (the good and the bad) and support each other to continually improve in this regard.

Shannon’s commitment to ‘United Leadership’ and reshaping the organisation’s culture has been immense. He hasn’t done it on his own, he’s created an empowered environment that has grown the confidence of his colleagues to help drive the culture forward. It’s terrific to see the APS census results provide a measurable piece that reflects the work they’ve done in this regard.


My sincere thanks to Shannon for his permission to share these insights, he would prefer his team to have any recognition. My view is that we need to do more, especially during these challenging times to showcase what the top-notch public sector leaders do. Top notch leaders know that building a high performing team takes work and a deliberate approach. Without it, leadership can become a game of ‘wackermole’ whereby you’re endlessly putting out spot-fires and chasing your tail when it comes to the performance of the team.


‘We are proud of our culture and our United Leadership approach. Darren helped us embed a positive workplace culture where ‘how’ we do things is just as important as ‘what’ we do. Under his expert guidance we have embedded our approach to United Leadership through unwavering commitment, performance discussions, team structures and our sign- post behaviours (One NHFB, Enhanced Trust, Open Communication, and Own It). Kirribilli Partner’s blend of one-on-ones, all-staff sessions and team leadership discussions helped engage everyone in building the Agency’s culture. Darren supported us through some challenging transition periods and also celebrated our successes with us, including NHFB’s 2021 Employee Census results where we ranked first out of 101 APS agencies for engagement’.


Shannon White, CEO National Health Funding Body.


If you would like to learn more about our United Leadership Program and building a high performing team please reach out.

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