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13 min read

How to build high-functioning teams

Team alignment

This panel, now in written format, was originally from our Revenue Marketing Summit London.

Everybody wants a high-functioning revenue marketing team, right? But what does that mean? And how do you find the right talent and keep them from falling foul of the scourge of quiet quitting? To help you get to the bottom of all these questions and more, Alysha Spencer-Pares, Head of Marketing at Shieldpay, moderated this lively discussion with…

💠 Nick Roberts, VP of Marketing at MotorK,

💠 Tom Livingstone, Head of Marketing at Talentful, and

💠 Renata Pasternak, Global Marketing Lead of HSBC.

Let’s dive in.

What is a high-functioning team?

Alysha Spencer-Pares

We're here to talk today about high-functioning teams. What does that mean to you?

Nick Roberts

For me, high-functioning teams are able to get on with the job and show value. High-functioning teammates are people that have confidence in their abilities. When they're given the opportunity to ship and show what they're about, they can let their work speak for itself. I try to hire people that are extremely smart, and then give them the range and freedom to execute on what they think will deliver value to the organization.

I'm a big proponent of execution over perfection. Speed is one of the biggest drivers that allow you to be competitive, especially if you're in a competitive environment. If I can bring people along who can ship quickly and get high-quality stuff out the door without having to focus on perfection, for me, that’s what a high-functioning team looks like.

Tom Livingstone

I'm sure we can all agree on that. I’d just add that, for me, a high-functioning team is one that has a purpose and works strategically towards that, rather than having everyone pulling in different directions and doing their own thing. It’s really important to have a common, aligned goal that every team player can chip into.

Renata Pasternak

From my perspective, the additional aspect that we should never forget is still having fun with what we are doing as marketers. It's so important that we don't get killed by KPIs. We need to be creative, and for me, a highly functioning team is a team that really enjoys what they are doing. That's the additional human aspect.

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The best metrics to measure your marketing team’s performance

Alysha Spencer-Pares

What metrics do you use to measure your teams?

Tom Livingstone

You mentioned getting killed by KPIs, Renata. That’s stuck in my head and I’m going to take it home with me. Why don’t you start?

Renata Pasternak

Of course, we have a lot of KPIs – I represent a huge organization. The big thing for me is really measuring those KPIs in comparison to what we've done before, not campaign to campaign, but seeing how we are improving as a team.

On top of our marketing KPIs, we have HR-type KPIs – things like team attrition and talent growth. We want to see whether junior people are staying with us and growing and changing roles. If they change roles within the organization, it's a success. It means that they feel they’re in the right place.

We have one ambitious KPI, which we're quite often challenged on: how many awards we get. That's probably the most difficult KPI to meet.

Nick Roberts

We’ve been trying to break away from monolith metrics recently. I've challenged the team to put forth campaigns, projects, plans, and programs, and talk about the metrics for that campaign specifically or the environment they're trying to drive.

There’s an understanding that the only monolith metric that investors or the street care about is growth. That's always going to be there, so we don't need to take that on individually. Instead, we’re looking at, for instance, bringing 10 of our customers to an event to increase NPS for those 10 customers because they're at risk or something. That doesn't necessarily translate to revenue, but it could translate to happier customers for that campaign.

Renata Pasternak

Which will translate to revenue in the end, right?

Nick Roberts

That's true.

Tom Livingstone

I think the interesting thing about KPIs and metrics is that they're often not set by marketing or for marketing. Maybe this is a small team mentality coming through, but within Talentful, we have metrics that we present back to the business almost just to show them everything's fine here, the house isn't on fire, and it’s business as usual. Then within our team, it’s more about what motivates us.

Within marketing, we’re looking at what everyone’s working on that they're excited about, and we’re exploring how we can really make an impact. If we got too caught up in thinking, “Okay, we need to deliver 20 leads this week,” or, “We need to generate this much revenue,” I don't think we’d deliver such high performance.

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The impact of hybrid work on team performance

Alysha Spencer-Pares

What impact do you think virtual and hybrid work has on performance?

Tom Livingstone

There's so much conversation out there around this that I feel like whatever I say is probably going to be plagiarism, but I think it's nuanced, it's mixed, and a lot of good things can come out of hybrid work.

Certainly, within our team, we do loads of great work when we're all at home. We were not going into pointless meetings. We're doing focused work. We have time to get our heads down without anybody nattering away in the background. I think there's a time and place for that kind of work.

At the same time, I'm an advocate for the office. I’m not sure that there’s any substitute for being able to jump into a meeting room, collaborate, and have conversations where things just spontaneously come up.

I think we're at a really interesting point right now where there’s a lot of conversation about whether people should be in the office all the time or whether we should have a fully remote culture. It seems like a lot of big companies may be wrestling with each other and posturing to be the one company that has it all figured out.

The reality is that everyone's different, and different working styles work for different people. Some people might live around the corner from their office and be happy to pop in and spend the day there; whereas some people are commuting, they've got kids, and it doesn't work for them.

So I think there are definitely benefits to come out of remote and hybrid work and there are different working styles for different situations. I hope that we can settle on a level playing field where people can be hybrid if they want to be, and not be forced into the office or forced to work from home.

Renata Pasternak

I think we’re lucky at HSBC that we’re formally hybrid – not only informally as marketing, but the whole bank has gone hybrid. Our CEO was one of the first ones to say he wouldn't be forcing people back into the office.

That works really well, especially because we work internationally. I might sometimes have to join a call with the team in Hong Kong at 6 or 7 am, but I'm not forced to go to the office to do it. Similarly, our colleagues on the other side of the world sometimes need to work long hours to be in a virtual workshop environment with us.

There’s also a big value in brainstorming and having conversations together in-person, so I do believe hybrid is the way forward.

Nick Roberts

I agree. I think you're going to be really, really intentional about hybrid work, though. You've got to design the interactions more. You have to take the time to plan them.

We have a sales kickoff once a quarter, and we have a marketing kickoff right after that – in person. We use it both to plan the upcoming quarter and just to have some fun. It is difficult figuring out how to do fun things in another country and get everyone's opinion and feedback on that, but there's something to be said about creating a fun environment intentionally and creating those interactions that you're not getting on the spur of the moment.

Take jumping into a room and having a whiteboard session. I don't care what anyone says – Miro is not good enough for that. We just have to do it because we can't travel every week.

However, coordinating the time that you spend together online requires an additional level of thought, and I challenge my heads to do that. They need to think about how online activities are going to work remotely versus how they would work in person. Then when we come together as a team, we need to make sure we deliver the most impact in that short amount of time.

How to avoid the perils of quiet quitting

Alysha Spencer-Pares

What's your view on work-life balance and how to address the challenges of quiet quitting?

Tom Livingstone

Because we're such a small, lean team, we all need to be contributing all the time. We don't really have space for people to be taking it easy and quietly quitting.

Quiet quitting in itself is not necessarily something we struggle with – it's almost the opposite of that. We are a high-functioning team. The output compared to the size of the team is massive. If people are really motivated and working hard, and they're not going to give themselves the work-life balance, it’s up to us as a company to make sure that balance is there and people are not burning themselves out. However, I don't know if we've got that yet.

We have unlimited holidays (which some people take quite a lot of and some people don't), and we try to get people together and socializing. We do make it quite clear, I think, that work is not everything, but it's difficult. People obviously want to perform at a high level, and they’re not always good at knowing what's good for them. That is maybe the flipside of people quietly quitting and coming and doing the bare minimum.

Nick Roberts

It sounds like you've got a team that doesn't want to quiet quit because they're working in a good environment. Quiet quitting thing happens when there isn't a good environment to begin with. I think of quiet quitting as the antithesis to hustle culture and the idea of growth at all costs.

Obviously, if you're a publicly traded company, you've got to have a focus on growth, but as leaders, it's our job to protect our employees and refuse to take certain things on. We have to make it clear that this is what we can realistically capture, generate, and deliver, and if you want more than that, you're gonna have to either invest more and allow me to hire more people, or get rid of me and find someone else that's going to push everyone to quiet quit.

There’s always that demand from above for an extra 5%, and then another 5%, then that becomes the norm. That’s okay if you’re optimizing and automating things, but it has to be realistic.

I'd be devastated to learn that people were feeling that they had to quiet quit because that would mean I'd failed as a leader. It means I haven't given them the flexibility to work when it makes sense for them or at the level that makes sense to them – assuming I've hired the right people.

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How to hire for performance

Alysha Spencer-Pares

We touched on hiring there. How do you guys hire for performance? Is it culture fit, a skills fit, or something else entirely?

Nick Roberts

All of the above! I look for culture add. I try to figure out if there are any areas we're deficient in within the team and if there are any perspectives that we don't have. A good way to figure out your blind spots is to just talk to one of the executives in the company. If they've got a project that they don't think you're doing a great job with, ask them where they think your blind spots are, and then you can recruit people to fill those gaps.

Skills-wise, I look for people that can tell me what they did and how they did it themselves – not people that have got input from one person, given it to a copy team, then passed it to design, then given it to the performance marketing team, who've then posted it, and then they created a Google slide deck to present their results.

I look for people that can do the level of work that's necessary for the role, even if they're not going to be performing the role. My head of demand gen needs to be able to create a landing page, even if he's got a team that can do it because they need to know what good looks like.

Renata Pasternak

It's almost like the holy grail to find the right balance between culture and technical capabilities, but for me, the culture fit comes first. While on the one hand, I agree that it's important to know what you’re doing, on the other hand, things are changing so quickly and we need to continue to learn. So in my view, curiosity and openness to learn are more important than technical skills.

From a culture perspective, I’ve made one very bad hire in my career. This person was very highly skilled, but they just didn't work culturally with the team. It was a big mistake, and I learned the hard way how important cultural fit is.

It's so important to have a diversity of thoughts and skills in the team too. We’re always trying to balance all of this while finding people with openness, curiosity, and the right attitude to work in a team.

Tom Livingstone

It’s a really tricky one. I don't think there's a right answer when it comes to whether you should hire for culture or hire for skills and experience. It's become kind of a trendy thing to say that you should just hire people with the right attitude and everything else can be learned, but it’s more nuanced than that. There are some roles that people just have to have experience for.

I saw a post where someone was trying to be a LinkedIn influencer and they said that it’s all about attitude and you don't need skills because they can be taught. Someone replied, “I'm really looking forward to being flown by a pilot who doesn't have any experience of flying a plane but has the right attitude.” There are certain roles where people will need to have the right skills and experience.

It depends on the company as well. In smaller startups, you can have someone who's a bit more of a generalist and has the right attitude and can be taught whilst the company goes on its journey. The larger you get, the more you tend to specialize.

I don't know if there's a sort of easy right answer to it, but you've got to get it right, one way or another. I imagine that one bad hire probably haunted you for a while, right?

Renata Pasternak

I wouldn't say I don't look for skills. I do look for skills, but when you have a choice, you should go for attitude and culture in someone that has the skills you're looking for. It doesn't mean that we hire people with no qualifications or knowledge whatsoever.

Tom Livingstone

Separating these things out in the interview process could be one way of doing it. When you try to check their skills and their culture fit into one interview, you end up hiring people who you get on quite well with and there’s a risk that they’re all in the same image as you, so you don't get that crucial diversity.

To avoid this problem, we sometimes do a skills-based interview, which is quite intense, and follow it up with a cultural interview. We ask everyone the same questions about culture, and set it up in a more standardized way than just “Can I see myself going for a beer with this person?”

Nick Roberts

I have a pretty standard process for that, and I think it does avoid confirmation bias. You just start with a call on culture fit; that's a pretty relaxed kind of conversation about how they would fit with the team. Then we move on to a more functional skills-based assessment. From there, they meet with the team.

If the team comes away like, “There's no way we're working with this person,” then that's it. The team is going to make that call for me. There haven't been many times where I've been like, “This person is great,” and the team has said, “Absolutely not!” But there have been times where they've been wrong and I've been right, or I've been wrong and they've been right, so having a good read on your team as well certainly helps.

When we’re bringing someone new in, I like to see whether they’re raising the bar for everyone else and helping the other people around them to be better. Are they going to bring something that will help the other people around them grow as well? I look for that when building a team.

This post was a collaboration between

Nick Roberts, Tom Livingstone, Renata Pasternak

  • Nick Roberts

    Nick Roberts

    VP of Marketing at MotorK

    More posts by Nick Roberts.

    Nick Roberts
  • Tom Livingstone

    Tom Livingstone

    Head Of Marketing at Talentful

    More posts by Tom Livingstone.

    Tom Livingstone
  • Renata Pasternak

    Renata Pasternak

    Global Marketing Lead of HSBC

    More posts by Renata Pasternak.

    Renata Pasternak
How to build high-functioning teams