A FORCE FOR GOOD hub | How to build great teams and celebrate their achievements
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How to build great teams and celebrate their achievements

By Steve Reynolds
Chief Executive Officer – APT

Successful staff recognition and engagement is simple in theory yet far more complex in its application.  Like any good recipe, it’s the delicate balance of ingredients that will determine the quality of the dish.  Much the same with managing and recognising staff; it requires a balance and blend of ingredients, or components, to be present in the right quantity and at the right time to optimise the engagement between a team and its leader.

Now, I am the first to admit I am no Michelin star chef, however, I have learned over the years that managing and building strong teams, probably like being a great Chef, takes ongoing commitment and a constant reflection and adjustment of what is working and what isn’t.  Empathy, humility and a healthy serving of vulnerability make us human, and therefore enable to understand the emotion that inevitably accompanies any relationship.  A professional relationship, whilst having different boundaries, is still a human one.

Building a highly effective team starts by recruiting the right people into the team.

Having the ‘right’ people from the get go is essential for the team to flourish and be successful.  Energy is then invested on positive interaction within the team, rather than carrying or addressing poor performance and / or a poor fit.

Staff need to feel that they are in an environment free from punitive consequences to every error.  We all make mistakes, and as long as we learn from them, a culture of failing fast and moving on together, sharing the decision, and the outcomes, good and bad, enables staff to feel confident that they are supported in their roles.  Staff should be encouraged to push the boundaries and share new ideas and ways of working to achieve a better result.

A great team is still made up of individuals.

What generally makes them a great team is a shared purpose and common direction.  But they are still individuals, with individual wants and needs and will respond and value things differently.  The key to a successful approach is to balance subtle differences whilst remaining broadly consistent in the approach; avoiding the risk of showing favouritism and giving staff preferential treatment.  Some staff like and need regular feedback and very public recognition, whilst others find this kind of attention can be uncomfortable and unwelcome.  Some staff value flexibility and the space to get on with their work, others like structure and a more prescriptive approach.  It’s important to identify and respond to these individual characteristics to ensure that our staff don’t just feel like a number, but continue to feel like individuals, even when part of a larger team.

The APT Travel Group has one of the best staff retention rates in the travel industry; the average length of service is over 6 years, and with a global team of approximately 500 staff, this is a significant achievement.

It is a very diverse workforce, with a global footprint and offices in North America, Europe, Asia, South America, New Zealand and Australia, yet still manages to achieve an informality and personalisation with its staff.  Some of these staff have spent their whole adult career of 30+ years with the business.  They have been very much a part of the journey sharing the good, and not so good times, feeling valued and having a voice along the way.  Being a family owned Company has given them a feeling of inclusion, and a sense of belonging to a wider family unit.  The McGeary family have remained active in the business and shown great respect and appreciation for the input and commitment of their staff.

Group Managing Director Chris Hall has been with the APT Travel Group for over 16 years and that continuity helps build loyalty and longevity amongst staff.  He is accessible and genuinely interested in the staff, their interests and wellbeing.

This culture of care and respect for staff by owners and senior managers permeates through all of the APT Travel Group businesses, and is augmented by a range of initiatives, events and mechanisms to recognise, reward and encourage great staff performance and the retention of the best talent.  Annual business awards for staff, which are nominated by the staff include the “Can do Award”, “Community Award”, Above & Beyond Award”, “Best Team Award”, “Delight the Customer” and “Outstanding Perfumer.”  The Employee of the Year Award is voted on by the senior management for the staff member who has consistently displayed the characteristics that have seen them perform strongly in their role and commend the highest respect from their peers and seniors alike.

Business Development Managers, Sales and Customer Service Centre staff are recognised monthly by their peers and managers, as “Rock Stars” with a wall of fame showcasing the names of high performers and previous winners of these accolades.

These staff can also win all expenses trips to various APT Travel Group destinations for topping the tables in their respective sales teams.
It’s not all about the money though…

Of course, everyone wants, and rightly expects, to be paid a fair wage and rewarded financially for the job that they do and the responsibility that they take on.  It’s not all about the money though, and whilst there are generous sales incentives and rewards for those staff that can influence the results, there is also a strong focus on proving a workplace that supports diversity and flexibility.  Many of the staff at the APT Travel group are parents, and have returned from maternity leave to continue their careers whilst balancing family and domestic responsibilities.

Flexible hours, job sharing and a commitment to enabling and actively promoting a healthy work life balance can often be just as important as the monthly pay packet.

Clear career progression pathways and a pro-active approach to preparing staff for their next role or promotion are also important enablers for a healthy staff culture and strong staff retention.  All roles at the APT Travel Group have a career path mapped out, to enable staff to see the opportunities ahead of them, if they are motivated and want to progress their career.  Senior roles are highlighted, and future internal prospects are identified and nurtured, preparing those staff who have been identified as the next generation of leaders to move into these roles, fully prepared and up-skilled, should these roles become vacant in the future, for any reason.

The APT Travel Group is Australia’s most decorated NTIA cruise and tour operator with 12 NTIA category awards in the last 6 years, more than double the next most awarded travel Company in the same period.  These awards, and the successes of the business are shared with staff, and the sense of pride to work for such an awarded Company is evident throughout the group, and without doubt contributes to the level of engagement and staff retention.  After all, who doesn’t want to be on the winning team?

Building a great team doesn’t happen overnight…

It can however be undone overnight, and so it remains a key focus, with APT Travel Group staff surveyed annually and action plans drawn up based on the feedback and highlighted areas for improvement.  The APT Travel Group boasts an enviable Net Promoter Score of 9.1, based on customer feedback, and the internal satisfaction score measured in the annual staff survey sits not far behind.

So, in summary, to build a great team, and recognise key performing staff requires commitment, not just from a few, but from an organisation as whole, throughout all layers of staff and management.

Wins are there to be celebrated, and setbacks are shared, and learnings taken as a positive from the experience.  Staff are treated with respect and widely engaged across the business.  The APT Travel Group has been a great place to work for over 90 years, and the staff are a major reason why the business has been so successful, continued to innovate and evolve, and has therefore thrived for so long.






Steve Reynolds, Chief Executive Officer – APT


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