Defined: the action or process of causing a group of people to work together effectively as a team, especially by means of activities and events designed to increase motivation and promote cooperation.
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson, President, New York Knicks
A team is the force of people who bring their collective skills and energies to bear on a shared goal. Team members work in coordination and collaboration, sort out issues and conflicts and overcome challenges, to accomplish that goal. This arrangement would appear to be straightforward enough for any assembled group of talented people to operate within for accomplishment of any outcome realistically matching their particular skills, resources and opportunities. However, teams do not ideally coalesce and produce so easily as that. Bonding and holding together a group over the time necessary for it to achieve excellence requires leadership talent in relationship building. That's a fundamental characteristic that eludes a great number of failed and mediocre teams. It is only for those rarer teams, who do successfully bond and fully commit to unified functioning, that great goals are achieved.
Leaders Skilled in Building Teams
- Inspire toward common goals
- Promote open and free-flowing communications
- Foster a sense of belonging in team members
- Build teams with diverse experience and perspectives
- Prioritize team morale
- Strengthens bonds and nurtures team cohesion
- Establish the company's values as the team's values
- Facilitate communications and collaborations between employees
- Encourage collaboration
- Appreciate the value of each individual to the team
- View success as the team's success
- Prioritize the good of the team
- Celebrate milestones and rewards group accomplishments
What Prevents the Ability to Build Teams
- Disregard of need to actively bond team members into a cohesive unit
- Favoritism and unhealthy forms of internal competitiveness
- Failure to inspire the group toward a sense of a common purpose
- Cultivating a cliquish team that does not readily bond with new members
- Underestimating the importance of group morale
- Excessive emphasis on team-building exercises and lack of focus on productive outcomes
- Failure to recognize individuals' challenges or needs
- Lack of leadership development among group members
- Does your “team” merely execute on your decisions and orders? Or do their ideas count?
- In your mind, and in your speech, is it “your” team, or “our” team?
- What is your personnel turnover rate over the past year? Two years? Five years? What is the most common reason for leaving offered by departing employees during exit interviews?
- What is your team's record of achievement under your leadership over the past month? Three months? Six months? The past year? The past two, three and five years? Is it low, average, above average or excellent?
- What comments have you most commonly received about your team leadership from employees and supervisors over your career, to-date? Are these mostly very positive, negative, indifferent, constructively critical? How do you connect this feedback with your past and current teams' successes and failures?
Tips for Building Teams
- Clearly articulate individual and team objectives and goals and expectations for productivity, quality, and development.
- Match tasks to individuals with the best fit of knowledge and skills, experience and expressed developmental interests.
- Deliver routine clear feedback to individuals and the team as a whole, and provide coaching and plans for improvement, as needed.
- Routinely seek ideas, comments, and information about issues from team members individually and as a group.
- Encourage collaborations and mutual support among team members.
- Brainstorm with your team on ways to increase productivity and quality.
- Monitor operations, and establish a means of measuring and reporting on progress.
- Ensure full engagement of all team members. Set challenging, but reasonable development goals, and empower employees to make decisions and fulfill their potential with the company.
- Correct serious performance issues promptly, and provide timeframes and for required improvement.
- Encourage and facilitate two-way communications. Make work a safe space for people to admit errors and failures, and to seek help for improvement and problem resolution.
- Celebrate and reward group and individual accomplishments, and foster a team culture that values an employee experience that is grounded on recognition of achievement.
- Be aware of conflict, hear all sides of disagreements, identify common ground, and guide parties to work together toward win-win solutions.
Developmental Action Plan for Building Teams
- LEARN: Read the article, “Builds Teams” in the LEADx library.
- LEARN: Read the book (or LEADx Summary), Committed Teams, by Moussa, Boyer and Newberry.
- LEARN: Read the article, How To Create Executive Team Norms–And Make Them Stick, on HBR.org.
- REFLECT: Can you improve the 3 foundations of trust? Use the Leadership Self-Reflection: 3 Foundations of Teams worksheet, in the LEADx Library.
- REFLECT: Do you invite all team members to share their ideas, answers, and opinions? Or do certain team members (you?) dominate?
- SCHEDULE: a team meeting in which you will administer a strengths profile, or review strengths as a team if this exercise has already been done.
- SCHEDULE: A strong cadence of communication. For example weekly daily stand-ups, weekly team status mtg, monthly goals review, quarterly 1/2 day review/celebration/social bonding.
- APPLY: Focus on engaging everyone in your team meetings. Ask introverts to share their opinions. Have everyone weigh in on decisions. Give your thoughts last.
- APPLY: Strengthen interpersonal connections with a social lunch, an off-site celebration, or begin each weekly mtg with everyone sharing personal good news.
- APPLY: Individually ask team members if there are any team conflicts that need to be resolved; resolve them.
- APPLY: Lead your team in an exercise to overtly identify 3-5 norms (e.g., response times to emails, full attention, deep work time vs mtg time, no interruptions, etc.)
- MEASURE: Trigger an engagement survey to measure teamwork, or use 1-on-1's to ask your team if their sense of belonging and input is going up or down.
Additional Points for Thought
Team leaders who develop an atmosphere of fear and intimidation tend to preside over work groups that are less like teams and more similar to oppressed groups of unwilling people who sense a lack of alternatives. The best leaders build teams based on relationships of mutual respect and trust. To be the latter kind of team leader is not complicated. It primarily involves recognizing all employees as valuable to the team's mission, respecting their ideas and questions, and being mindful that people have personal needs, challenges, desires, and feelings. Lead by example of kindness, helpfulness, and encouragement. Foster an atmosphere of open communication, and prioritize cooperation and inclusion. Do keep in mind that relationships between team members are just as essential as their individual relationships with management. Endeavor to help team members see their peers as people who share their goals and value their relationship of mutual support for one another.
Suggested Additional Resources
- Johnson, W (2018, May) Build an A-Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve, Harvard Business Review Press, ISBN-10: 9781633693647, ISBN-13: 978-1633693647, ASIN: 1633693643.
- Fussell, C and Goodyear, C (2017, June) One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams, Portfolio, ISBN-10: 0735211353, ISBN-13: 978-0735211353.
- University of California, Berkeley Human Resources (2019) Guide to Managing Human Resources, Team Building, Steps to Building an Effective Team (Chapter 14), UC Berkeley, Retrieved on 4-18-19 from: https://hr.berkeley.edu/hr-network/central-guide-managing-hr/managing-hr/interaction/team-building/steps.
- Mills, A (2019, March) Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership, Harper Business, ISBN-10: 0062876155, ISBN-13: 978-0062876157.
- Pentland, A (2012, April) The New Science of Building Great Teams, Harvard Business Review, Retrieved on 4-19-2019 from: https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-new-science-of-building-great-teams.
Suggested Internet Search Terms
team building, how to build a team, teamwork, belbin team roles, cliftonstrengths, OKRs, SMART goals, accountability, team norms, team dynamics