Take a minute and think about a positive team experience. What was it about that team that made things work well? Maybe it was your ability to get along or the trust that you built with other team members. Perhaps it was the clear focus on what you were trying to accomplish.  Chances are you can identify several important elements that contributed to your team’s effectiveness.  Sometimes you can luck your way into a positive team environment without being deliberate about it.  However, to ensure that your team is most effective, it is better to be deliberate than lucky. Taking time at the beginning of a team’s formation to sort out key issues can go a long way toward creating an effective team. Moreover, team development is an ongoing process, and it will take more than just dealing with these issues at the beginning of the team’s work.  As long as the team exists, you will need to dedicate time to talking about how you work together.

Before we begin, it is important to be clear about what we mean when we use the word “team”.   In his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni defines team as a small number of people – no more than a dozen – that:

  • Share common goals
  • Share rewards and responsibilities for achieving the goals
  • Set aside personal needs for the good of the group

Now that we are clear on what a team is, ask the question: Why does the team exist?

The answer to this question will serve as the team’s purpose – an essential first step for creating effective teams.  Why should you articulate a purpose?  Here are some key benefits:

  • It gives meaning to the work
  • It provides  common understanding and direction
  • It enables team members to function with clarity and focus
  • It serves as a beacon to guide the team through adjustments and changes

It is imperative to develop a short, but meaningful purpose statement.  One example for a team might be: To develop new media strategies for our product launch. Even if a team purpose has been assigned to you – handed down from an executive or superior, it is important for the purpose to be overtly articulated and discussed within the team to create buy-in and avoid confusion later on.

A good second step is to create team agreements that document how you want to work together. My experience is that there are four areas in which it is most important to come to agreement:

  • Participation – how do team members contribute?
  • Communication – how do team members interact and share information?
  • Conflict – how does the team deal with disagreements?
  • Decisions – how does the team make decisions?

It is best to work through each of these areas (and any other key ones that the team identifies) and capture your outputs in writing.  Once they are drafted, each team member can sign-off on the agreements to create accountability.   These agreements will have to be revisited on a regular basis – and will need to be honored and enforced by all team members.

The third step in creating effective teams is to be clear about roles that team members will assume. For starters, make sure each team meeting has a facilitator, a timekeeper, and a note taker.  These roles can often be rotated to give each team member a stake in the smooth and effective operation of the team.  When meetings conclude, it is imperative to be clear about the actions for which each team member is responsible.  Some teams use a regular format that makes it easier to keep the meeting agenda and minutes consistent.  This creates accountability and empowers people to contribute.  As a challenge, use the team environment as a place to stretch the roles that people are accustomed to.  If there is someone who always likes to do research, have him/her do something different and suggest someone who is less comfortable doing research assume that task.  This way, team members are able to develop new skills.

Creating a team purpose, crafting team agreements, and establishing roles will go a long way to ensure the effectiveness of your team. Remember teamwork is an on-going process. Talk about these items when your team is just beginning and constantly revisit what you developed together.

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