Developing and sustaining a high-performing, collaborative, innovative and dynamic team is a challenge. It’s not simply finding the right people; it is sustaining those individuals, empowering them as a team and helping them define how they will execute their tasks. We will walk you through how to build a team that you can trust and empower.
Steps to Team Development
There are many “best practice” suggestions for how best to build your perfect team, whether for a project or building your company-at-large. We offer a simple, straightforward methodology that anyone can execute.
The team first has to learn to trust one another in order for dynamic and creative thinking to take hold. In order for fluid communication and innovation (the result of dynamic and creative thinking) to win the day, your formula of people and the manner in which you set the stage for the team, will determine if it is successful over the long term.
1. Develop Purpose Before Team
Defining the scope of your project is not always as simple as it seems, but it is the first, most important task to complete. A nebulously defined project will lend itself to vague outcomes and scope creep which yields poor outcomes, over-charged budgets, and timelines that are often exceeded. Before building teams, your purpose needs clear definition.
2. Cultivate Leadership
Developing your leadership team, other than defining what your goals and objectives are for your team, we feel is the single most important step. Knowing how to lead and manage people will be critical to your project. Within this single step, as you select your leaders, you will also be identifying and selecting your overall framework and its primary pillars.
The leadership team you select determines the following:
- Your technical approach to work
- Problem-solving methodologies
- Team members themselves, which in turn define the style, energy and speed of the project
One of the many tasks within this step will be determining whether or not you select the most experienced leaders or managers in your company or less experienced managers who may have better matching and specific skill sets for the job at hand.
In some cases selecting leaders is best done by reviewing the employee’s body of work which gives you confidence that he or she would be perfect for the opportunity. In other situations, selecting a leader for the potential that you see in them, and not their overall performance to date, is the better method to take. It depends largely on details such as how much time you have to complete your task and whether or not you have capable and able mentors waiting in the wings.
If you are considering another use of the term “team” as in building your organization, we suggest a mixture of both. This sets up your organization from a strong present and future and you begin growing your own future leaders.
Considering Diversity in Team Development
We also suggest, as your leaders are selecting team members, that you give quite a lot of thought to team diversity. When considering team dynamics, assembling a diverse team is crucial—as well as business savvy.
It is up to you to determine what “diverse” means to you. Diversity means to us that we consider cultural diversity, racial diversity, religious or philosophical diversity, age diversity, gender diversity, team members with disabilities, considering learning styles, to name a few. Note that this is not a checklist, only a guide to be mindful of as you assemble your dynamic team.
3. Clearly Define Roles And Their Objectives
Once you have wisely selected your team you need to then assign duties to individuals whom you have recruited. There are a number of ways to complete this task, but first identifying who your subject matter experts (SME’s) are will be the best beginning step. If you have SMEs on your team, then assign corresponding tasks to these SMEs that fit their channel or focus.
If you feel that you simply have a team of smart, capable people, who are not SMEs necessarily, then begin asking yourself who has the experience in what area(s) and what are their growing interests. Note that it is common for team assignments to alternate and evolve.
Throughout project work, or the team’s life cycle, different people will move in and out of multiple roles for coverage, cross-training and to edit or audit each other’s work. This “cross pollinating” mindset offers a rich experience for your team members and a more thorough and best-in-class outcome for your project and/or organization at-large.
4. Build Team Engagement
Developing, engaging and motivating your team of employees by creating an organization that employees feel good, comfortable, and safe in is critical. People, now more than ever, are more likely to leave their employer if it is not addressing this matter and meeting their needs relating to engagement.
In a recent Gallup Poll, it was reported that more than 60% of employees are willing to leave their jobs at any point when they do not feel actively engaged by their employers. In our research we have found consistent methods that have been successful for other companies when keying into critical areas.
Whether this is a work-from-home situation, a job-share, or simply flexible work hours, employees love this option as it gives them choices. Flexibility also means scope of the position. If there are ways to merge duties from other roles or alternate daily tasks to create alternative duties from day-to-day, team members also may feel as though they are engaged through flexibility and exciting variations to their roles.
Always Be Authentic
Being straightforward and honest with your team is the best way to increase trust and partnership. Leaders who can share as much of the scope of the project, as well as its challenges, will win the day over the long term.
Leaders can strengthen relations with employees by allowing, and even encouraging, their people to take on tasks outside of their normal duties. This practice helps the team overall, but to also grow their own skill sets.
Ask For Authentic Feedback
When leaders put themselves out there and ask for feedback from their team members it models the behavior that we desire to see in others. As we coach, guide, and supervise our team members, they also want to see their leaders be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
Sustain a Pleasant Working Environment
Although this cannot always be done in a way that we would desire (especially if your business takes you and your team outdoors) do not ignore this detail. Employees want to enjoy their office or outdoor setting as much as possible throughout their workday. This “enjoyment” or engagement commonly leads to sustained high performance. Also consider ways to increase team engagement through team building and training. Team building exercises can go a long way to sustaining unity and drive to finish a combined goal.
5. Define What Success Looks Like
Everyone has their own definition of success. Unless your team understands, in clear and in no uncertain terms, what the company’s definition of success is and how to reach the goal, your team and their project could end up anywhere. Since there is more than one version of success, your company’s target needs to be visible to all.
The single best way to ensure that clarity of success is enjoyed by all, is to work diligently to articulate a compelling vision. This can be done through a few simple steps.
Put It in Writing
Placing your definition of success in writing provides an accessible method for employees to refer to on their own to regain clarity and to answer questions throughout the project. This step also helps anchor the important pieces of the project so they do not evolve.
Ensure That Leaders Can Accurately Interpret the Goals
Leadership team members are the folks who not only need to clearly envision success but who also motivate, redirect, and engage your team members throughout the project. Leading teams is not just about supervising and directing, it also includes coaching and defining vision and purpose throughout a project. Once again, your leaders set the tone for how the team will move forward.
Although the above two steps are critical, without check-ins there is no true way to ensure that your team is on track, on budget, and on time. Additionally, employee engagement can best be done person-to-person, throughout the project.
Understanding Different Types of Workplace Teams
There are primarily five types of workplace teams that companies utilize. Although some companies make use of all types of teams or just one or two, in one way or another, these team concepts outline common ways to address project management, company growth, and employee engagement.
Standardized teams are developed for long-term needs that the organization has. These teams can also be departments such as human resources, accounting, quality assurance, to name a few. These teams are primarily divided by their function or how they serve the organization.
As the title suggests, project-specific teams are generally assembled to complete a large project such as an I.T. platform upgrade or a company rebrand. Team members usually come from different groups and have different functions and expertise and who are assigned by the project manager to activities for the project. Whether team members are brought in for a portion of the project of for its entirety, these cross-departmental SMEs are what make this team special and help drive the project to completion.
Cross functional teams are teams where people from different work teams, or departments, are assembled to achieve a program task. The members of this team are commonly subject matter experts (SMEs) from different parts or departments throughout the organization. Examples of this include accounting, purchasing, transportation, and sales. This team is designed to create or improve complex goals that impact the entire organization and its business practices.
The self-directed team unites when needed and generally on their own accord. These teams are not typically tasked with a specific, time-based project but, rather, implements changes or completes a project or body of work intermittently or on an as-needed basis. An example of this type of team in action is when policies need updating or practices changed and a mixture of staff who typically governs their particular areas, makes the improvements needed.
Again, as the title suggests, leadership within companies rarely comes from a single person. Strong, diverse and dynamic companies know that leadership teams offer a comprehensive approach to guiding teams and the company-at-large through good times and bad. Sustained, real growth happens when you have multiple leaders partnered together who are driving a unified mission and focus.
Honorable Mention: Virtual Teams
Although not a purpose-driven entity, this particular team is noted here for two reasons. First, the team members are not located within the same physical location (in fact, they are commonly located across the country or globe). Second, the increasing popularity of virtual team dynamics is rapidly growing in the workforce today. Fast Company reports that remote working opportunities have grown 91% in the last 10 years and that now at least half of America’s workforce works from home at least some of the time.
Stages of Team Development
The best way to break down how a team operates and knowing what to expect when a team is actively executing their mission is to look for the following stages. Note, not all teams or companies utilize this common terminology, however the Tuckman’s stages of group development is a reliable way to refer to these stages.
Tuckman’s four stages of team development has long defined what it looks and feels like to operate within team construct. Although there are many terminologies to describe this process, Forming, Storming, Performing and Norming drives home the process.
As the team is formed, individuals are getting to know each other as well as their role on the team. HR plays a big part within the stage as they invite and encourage new team members to settle in (either to the organization or to the newly formed team).
This transitory stage often includes establishing boundaries which often involves challenging others, including supervisors at times. Mostly, this is what it looks and feels like as team members settle into roles. Smart leaders manage this conflict with a light hand and patience.
After individuals have worked through the initial stage of learning each other and working on roles, the team now begins to fully develop. Team members begin to appreciate each other’s gifts and areas of expertise. They begin working together in ways that assist goal achievement. Leaders begin asserting their ability to unite the team and focus them on the objectives at hand.
During this stage, the team is fully functional and is executing at, or close to, full capacity. The focus is now on project goals without much consideration to team dynamics. Team members begin to feel comfortable and communicate openly with the leader as well as with each other. Leaders are able to assess progress and can determine how progress is unfolding.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Building a Team
How large should teams be?
The size of your team depends entirely on the size and type of your project. A large I.T. upgrade project may require more SMEs to complete the project. Smaller, shorter-term projects may only require a few people with the right set of skill sets.
How do you select the right leader for your team?
Once again, depending on the type of project you are planning, your supervisor(s) has a lot to do with the success of a project. Commonly, selecting supervisors with firsthand, specific experience relating to the purpose of the team and its goals is one way to select your leadership. The other common methodology used is to determine who, of your most experienced managers, is available for project leadership.
Should I hire additional employees for project teams or should I add staff to help cover employees’ duties so they can assist with team goals?
Many small companies are faced with this dilemma. When you have limited staff, spreading your people resources can be a very challenging concern to overcome. Augmenting the project team or your staff that addresses long-term business needs can complicate things. As long as you are able to spare the expertise and flow of the team, bringing on temporary staff to free up SMEs to lead projects may be the right decision for your team. Carefully assess the pros and cons and thoughtfully strategize through the various options before executing your plan.
Knowing how to create effective and dynamic workplace teams is a challenge in every organization and for every leadership team. As we have highlighted, there are a number of attributes that sustain a strong team over time. Team development is a process and not a destination; you should always curate your team in order to keep them engaged and motivated.