How to build an Effective Team: focus on just 3 things

18 April 2017 -

“BuildingTeam"

By and large, teams reflect their management. So being an effective, proactive manager increases your team’s chances of achieving success.

Tina Benson, guest blogger

However, being proficient in managing yourself is one thing, inspiring and developing those qualities, essential for success, within a diverse team can be quite another, significant challenge. One secret strategy for building an effective team is to focus your attention on just three key areas – leadership, ownership and relationships – to transform a struggling team into an effective one.

1) Leadership

Managing an effective team means being an effective leader, so at the start of every meeting, project or review period, lead from the front in:

  • Contextualising the team contribution - Effective teams understand their role within the organisation, so contextualising the team’s contribution within the company’s overall aims and prospects is a must for team managers.
  • Clearly defining team goals - An effective team is one which knows exactly what the goals are, so that key steps towards achieving these are followed and processes developed. Taking the lead in defining these goals and helping the team to understand their role in achieving the right outcomes underpins effective leadership and management. 
  •  Laying ground rules for team work - Once goals are in place, the ground rules for efficiency and success can be outlined. Depending on your sector, these may include a focus on areas such as work style, how deadlines are to be monitored and managed, plus networks for collaboration and communication. 
  •  Communicating effectively - Managers need to communicate information to the team, whilst also facilitating good communication within and between teams. Of course, effective communication also includes listening, so managing meetings efficiently so that contributions are listened to and considered also helps to build effective teams and team-working processes. “The special thing about England’s World Cup-winning team of 2003 is that we were very honest with each other,” said team member Jason Robinson speaking to the The Telegraph about the teamwork which lead to England’s 2003 World Cup success. “In any high-pressure environment, everybody has got to feel able to contribute to the success of the team or it will all fall apart. That means everybody’s opinion is important. We had some very strong characters like Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio, but everybody’s opinion was valued and everybody was free to speak.” 
  •  Interesting and inspiring the individuals - That “no I in team” mantra is in direct conflict with the invisible I in the team - your whole cohort of Individuals with different strengths, weaknesses and ways of working. Managing individuals to ensure their maximum effectiveness in the workplace means recognising individual strengths and making appropriate matches when skills need to be supported and developed. If the team is under-strength in any area, don’t think deficiency, think development by interesting and inspiring the team in new skills, strategies and ways of working.
  • Delegating and problem solving - Along with playing to the team’s strengths, ensure that delegation is used efficiently to facilitate what’s needed in the current phase of work. When challenges arise, encourage the problem solvers, inspire the creatives, but don’t fall into ‘same-old’ patterns of delegation: give team members the chance to experience other roles, and develop their competencies and contributions within the team. Or, as Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson puts it, “From a young age, I learned to focus on the things I was good at and delegate to others what I was not good at. That's how Virgin is run. Fantastic people throughout the Virgin Group run our businesses, allowing me to think creatively and strategically.” 
  • Accentuating the positives A key leadership role is to ensure positive performance. Yes, being an effective manager does mean being able to problem-solve and delegate as needed, but the most efficient managers of fully effective teams are stage managers: essentially ensuring that the team is fully equipped and well-rehearsed to take the limelight and shine. 

2) Ownership

Taking ownership of tasks is vital for success, at all levels:

The team’s manager

Taking ownership and ensuring the team knows you’re not only at the forefront, but you also have their backs covered and are fully prepared to speak up for them when needed is a way to instil confidence in the team. Just as they need to be sure about the project aims and process for success, ensure too that they are clear about the unconditional support you offer them.

“We all say we want team players, but many leaders forget to act as part of the team,” said Larry M.Elkin of Palisades Hudson Financial Group speaking to Royale Scuderi of American Express’s Open Forum. “It is not only important that your workers trust each other: It is vital that they trust you as their leader.”

The team

Ensuring the team is aware of its context within the organisation can give them a sense of ownership, as well as value, and helps to ensure that their contribution is recognised.

Individuals within teams

When team goals are discussed and delegation takes place, ensure opportunities to identify to individuals the key role they play in supporting the team’s successful achievement, giving them the chance to take ownership of tasks. Where skills need development, creating common goals to develop skills sets also allows ownership of professional development and progress, which also contributes to overall team achievement.

3) Relationships

The bottom line of an effective team is in relationships and how the team are perceived. In short, the team should always be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so relationships need to be strong.

Caterpillar's philosophy on working together states: “We are a team, sharing our unique talents to help those with whom we work, live and serve. The diverse thinking and decision making of our people strengthens our team. We respect and value people with different opinions, experiences and backgrounds. We strive to understand the big picture, then do our part. We know that by working together, we can produce better results than any of us can achieve alone.”

Strong leaders of effective teams might achieve this through:

  • Using consensus and collaboration to build a cohesive community when discussing plans, goals and working practices. Although consensus does tend to imply that some individuals within teams will have to ‘settle’ for something they have doubts about, communicating effectively can help to keep everyone on board, by ensuring opportunities to express doubts or alternative view-points. Although it may not be easy, consensus achieves commitment and clarity as well as clear working processes, plans of action and productivity.
  • Managing problems professionally, by facilitating resolutions and communicating clearly when misunderstandings arise. 
  • Making team-building an on-going part of team management. Revising team-building regularly, rather than being something that’s only done when morale drops or staffing changes can pay dividends through positive impact. 

For example, the recent Does Team Building Work? study demonstrated that team building activities can have a positive impact on relationships and the way teams:


  • Communicate – building the team’s communication skills in an informal setting, such as a team event day, can be as effective as formal in-house training and far more palatable or accessible to the staff concerned. Additionally, as the quality of communication in informal settings can be an important element of overall team effectiveness (MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory Study), offering the team opportunities to communicate effectively in a wider working remit transfers directly into improved communication back in the workplace. 
  • Contribute and collaborate – effective, reliable contributions are essential when working in task-related teams and group task event days support the practice of collaboration and contribution both within teams and the wider remit of departments. 
  • Socio-emotional bonding- team building activities offer a user-friendly way to shake up the social side of the team, providing the chance to build new relationships, diminish cliques and get everyone functioning with the team in mind. Bonding in this way encourages teams to be supportive of each other, so that individual and team stress is minimised.

But just as building an effective team means acknowledging that all members of the team are individuals, it’s also recognised that not all team-building events are equal – no single activity or event is going to suit everyone.

To achieve the best mix for bringing out the best in your team, offer motivating, fun activities and competitions, rather than forcing bland corporate ‘share and care’ upon staff. Meaningful team building activities which recognise the importance of quality working relationships for team effectiveness and can offer high levels of engagement and positive work impact include:

  • Team Volunteering 
  • Team involvement in a charity activity 
  • Physical activities and challenges 
  • Outdoor events and activities

Finally, team building days aren’t just a way to build effective teams through CPD and skills development - although they certainly offer plenty of potential. Experience and event days are also provide a great way of rewarding and encouraging teams. Of course, bonus schemes also offer rewards, but these tend to be faceless and of limited (literally) value. Instead, rewards where the team come face to face with each other and their managers can offer far more incentive, plus allow teams the chance to let off steam, ‘play’ and learn together in a relaxed and informal setting which is a rich ground upon which to sow team spirit, participation and motivation - all essentials for building an empowered, effective team.

Tina Benson is Managing Director of Team Tactics, which she founded in 1996.

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