High-Octane Teamwork & Team Building: 12 Experts Share Advice
A great leader glues a team together through a compelling vision, clear goals and shared values.
This ensures people deal positively with one another even if they aren’t naturally compatible or hold similar viewpoints.
Here are twelve experts unpacking insights on effective teamwork and purposeful team building.
They offer best practices and sound principles on how to build winning teams and answer amongst others the following questions:
- What are some of the things that ensure successful teamwork?
- How can one incorporate unique personalities and different functional roles into a winning team?
- What is the purpose of team building?
- How important is leadership and relationships for building a high-performing team?
- How does one measure efficient teamwork?
How to Boost Teamwork & Team Building: Advice from 12 Experts
- Communication is number one.
- Know and balance the capabilities of team members into a cohesive whole.
- Develop trust and authentic relationships on the team.
- Be willing to show vulnerability toward one-another.
- Deal with issues promptly through feedback and discussion.
- Encourage civil debate and disagreement.
- Reward team members for collaborating.
- Build team cohesion through a shared definition of success and how to achieve it.
- Group around differences and diversity, not similarity.
- Spend time doing things together away from the workplace.
- Team members need to feel like leadership has their back.
- Require accountability for everyone on the team.
Introductory Pointers on Teamwork & Team Building
- Team players cannot be clear about their roles if the leader doesn’t provide clarity on what they should accomplish together.
- Shared core values will guide and shape team behaviors and strengthen relationships.
- It’s impossible for everyone to like one another, but one can still have productive working relationships.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Ken Blanchard
1. Teamwork: Communication is Number One
Jon Hill, Chairman & CEO, The Energists
Effective teamwork is when a group of individuals pools their collective strengths to complete a task more efficiently than any of them could have done on their own.
An effective team is inevitably greater than the sum of its parts.
While there can be a group leader overseeing the work, the influence of each individual should be clear in the end result. If it’s just one person assigning tasks to the others that’s delegation, not teamwork.
In an effective team, all members are able to contribute their unique skills and input.
Communication is number one.
Team members have to be able to express their ideas to each other and that means open, honest communication between the entire team.
Part of this comes from the team members and their ability to communicate clearly, but it starts with the manager/leader establishing an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts.
Secondly, team members need to be able to check their egos at the door.
I’ve seen many teams fail because there is one overbearing voice dominating the conversation.
An inflated ego also makes people less receptive to criticism and less willing to consider other viewpoints and ideas.
I see team building as a way to establish the groundwork of communication and collaboration.
I find it’s most useful for bringing together new teams, though I’ve also employed team-building exercises for longer-running teams that are having difficulty working together effectively.
In many cases, I think the results speak for themselves.
An effective team completes projects/tasks efficiently and to a high standard of quality.
You can also learn a lot by observing the team in action.
Watch how the team makes decisions and solves problems.
Is everyone communicating and contributing in an effective, productive way?
If you’re unable to observe the team in action, you can survey the team members to get their opinions on how the team is functioning.
Prior to The Energists, Jon Hill was Vice President Marketing & Technology at Schlumberger. He brings to bear extensive experience in start-up, turn around, divestiture and M&A phases of the business evolutionary cycle in companies of all sizes in various markets around the world.
2. Know and Balance the Capabilities of Team Members into a Cohesive Whole
Prof. Ray Peters, MBA Director & Professor of Leadership, Nicholls State University
The key here is knowing the capabilities of each team member and then balancing everyone’s knowledge, skills, and abilities into a cohesive whole.
This includes understanding each team members working style and personality type.
An unbalanced team can lead to high levels of conflict, especially when team members are focused on individual self-interest.
While constructive conflict is welcomed and encouraged, personality conflicts are not.
For example, a team of strong extraverts may all compete for speaking time and exposure, minimizing constructive work.
All functional teams need to be held accountable for results, or what’s the value of having the team.
Clear deadlines and desired results must be fully communicated and reinforced with regular progress reviews.
In the end, the team’s success in achieving the stated objectives will determine the effectiveness of the team.
Ray Peters is the MBA director and a professor of leadership at Nicholls State University. He has more than four decades of industry experience and spent 18 years as the Vice President of Human Resources & Marketing at RoyOMartin. He also serves as a leadership consultant.
3. Team Building: Develop Trust & Authentic Relationships
Tyler Butler, Founder & CEO, 11Eleven Consulting
Successful leadership is the cornerstone to teamwork.
The best leaders are those who inspire people and bring disparate opportunities together to create winning results.
Natural leadership qualities would certainly include compassion and integrity and the ability to inspire others and garnish respect from those who work with you.
However, it is the team building skills that truly enable the success of a great leader.
Without these imperative skills leaders risk unintentionally limiting their teams productivity or even alienating individuals, creating an unhealthy and unhappy work environment.
Leadership is not about authority, but rather about fostering an honest and transparent environment where trust is present.
Employees who trust their leaders are far more likely to have success than those who question those they report to.
The most effective way to develop trust is by building authentic relationships with those on your team.
The best leaders will look to communication and understanding in an effort to explore what motivates and inspires each particular person.
Having a full understanding of each person’s skill sets and what they like or dislike can be very helpful in tailoring your approach and conversation style to inspire maximum impact and results.
And knowing how to match employees competencies with their expertise increases productivity and job satisfaction.
Taking time to really understand how each person thinks and seeking ways to empower them to be leaders themselves is key in developing talent.
The best leaders are mentors, mediators and relationship builders as they facilitate others to be their best.
Through this process a leader encourages teamwork and fosters an environment where everyone feels they can be their full selves, sharing openly and allowing for feedback, brainstorming and problem solving to occur.
By having team goals and a shared vision teams can be brought to together to accomplish amazing things.
This process is organic and as such a leader must allow things to naturally evolve and serve to facilitate and guide their team along the way towards a successful outcome.
Tyler Butler is working to connect communities, companies and causes through partnership and collaboration. Her unique view brings about innovative and powerful ideas that have lasting effects and facilitate world-class teams. She has been featured in Forbes Entrepreneur magazine as an Outstanding Woman in Business.
4. Teamwork: A Willingness to be Vulnerable
Amie Devero, Strategy Consultant & Executive Coach, Amie Devero Coaching and Consulting
It’s important for the team members and the manager to understand how different people work, what their personalities are comfortable with and where they thrive.
While I am not a big advocate for personality testing instruments, they can be useful for people who are not as self-aware.
But a manager can honestly just ask people (while they are together) to describe themselves within broad categories.
For example, ask each individual to describe their ideal workday. Does it include lots of meetings, activity, people? Or is it spent deeply working, coding, writing?
A big piece of what makes a team effective is having real trust between team members.
That means that they all have to be able and willing to show vulnerability toward one-another.
To create the safety that requires, I also recommend asking each team member (in a meeting) some basic questions so that people learn about each other.
They can be as non-threatening as where they grew up, whether they have siblings, what their best job was like. And what made it great.
I also like people to share what they consider to be the strongest talent and what they think is their biggest weakness.
It’s important that the leader not let them get away with vacuous answers (my biggest weakness is my perfectionism, eg). When everyone knows just this basic information, they are better equipped to work with each other and accomplish team goals together.
There should be key metrics for the team. They should measure results that can’t be produced by any one member of the team or any one sub-group.
So, for example, if a team is multi-functional and includes sales people and marketing people, the team goal can’t just be sales.
It would have to be (eg) lead flow and possibly prospect engagement as well as percentage of leads that get closed as sales. Ensuring that the metrics use all the team’s assets will prompt the team who work together toward shared goals.
Amie Devero has more than 25 years experience as an executive coach and management consultant. In that time, she has led public seminars for over 20 000 people, provided 1:1 and group coaching to thousands of sales and business development professionals, and provided C-Suite executive coaching to business leaders of everything from Fortune 50 companies to sole proprietors.
5. Teamwork: Deal with Issues Promptly Through Feedback & Discussion
Dr. David Chaudron, PhD, Managing Partner, Organized Change Consultancy
A manager, if possible, should carefully select team members so they have the social skills, necessary, are motivated to perform the work, and have a technical skillset that the group needs.
S/he must also decide if they should integrate individuals at all – Those with a necessary skillset may be individual contributors and don’t need to be integrated.
When issues arise, they should be dealt with promptly, either in feedback to individuals, or feedback and discussion with the team.
The first way to measure team effectiveness is behaviorally.
If a team is performing well in the long run, they are more likely to have good team processes. Good group processes include:
- Open communication about conflict.
- A clear understanding of roles and relationships.
- There are few “black holes” where tasks weren’t done because “somebody” else should have been doing them.
A second way to measure perceptions of team effectiveness is with an anonymous survey.
This can be combined with interviews, and then analyzed and fed back to the group for discussion of issues raised.
David Chaudron has thirty years of practical experience working with international firms spanning many industries. He specializes in teambuilding, assessment, leadership development and strategic planning and is the author of various books including “Nailing Strategy Jelly to your Business Tree: Plan the Future, Develop a Plan, Manage Change”.
6. Teamwork: Encourage Civil Debate & Disagreement
Grace Judson, Leadership Geek, Speaker & Consultant, Grace Judson
Leadership is crucial to effective teamwork, but it has to be the right kind of leadership in order to build a truly high-performing team.
Having a range of personalities, mind-sets, and approaches is a real benefit for creativity, problem-solving, and coming up with better ways to approach projects and tasks.
The challenge, of course, begins when discussion and debate devolve into unproductive argument and conflict.
And this is where the leader must set ground rules – basic operational rules of conduct that are embedded into the team culture.
These ground rules would include such things as:
- No “ad hominem” comments – no comments about anyone’s personality or life-style. Instead, all debate or questions should be directly concerning the content of someone’s idea or suggestion.
Debate and disagreement are welcome, as long as it remains civil.
- Decisions are not by consensus. While the leader should invite comment and discussion and even pushback, the leader is also responsible for the final decision, and all team members are expected to align with that decision once it’s made.
- Every voice is valid and every voice gets a chance to be heard.
Trust between team members is essential, and it comes from a leader who values and enforces civility and respect for everyone.
Grace Judson is a leadership geek with a side of MacGyver-like resourcefulness, dedicated to helping new managers become good leaders. She is the author of The Five Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics.
7. Team Leadership: Reward Team Members for Collaborating
Jani Jackson, M.Ed., Founder, Develop Your Team
The leader’s role is crucial in creating an environment where teamwork can thrive. The leader determines which behaviors are encouraged and rewarded.
Are team members rewarded for collaborating? Or are they encouraged to compete against one another?
When competition is rewarded, team members are more likely to look for ways to stand out as individuals, and may be less likely to share ideas or information with others.
The leader has the opportunity to create psychological safety, where team members trust that they can speak openly without fear of negative repercussions.
The open communication that occurs in this environment allows for healthy conflict and stronger commitment among team members toward achieving their goals.
Leaders create this type of environment by being open to ideas and feedback, and by creating this expectation for the team culture as well.
Every team is made up of individuals who have unique characteristics, experiences, and perspectives. That diversity creates the potential for a highly-effective team.
For team members to work together effectively, they must first be clear on what they are trying to achieve.
They must also build a strong foundation of trust.
Trust is built when team members have the time and space to get to know one another, build relationships, and learn to appreciate their individual qualities.
Along with building a foundation of trust, another factor critical for team success is learning and celebrating each other’s strengths.
The more team members work in their areas of strength, the more successful they will be.
Team members can support each other to overcome areas of weakness by leveraging the diversity of the team as a whole.
Jani Jackson is the founder of Develop Your Team, providing innovative solutions for teams striving to achieve peak performance. Her programs use experiential learning methods to improve team dynamics, decision-making, engagement and overall performance.
8. Team Building: Cohesion Through a Shared Definition of Success
Dr. Jennifer Yugo, PhD, SPHR, Managing Director & Owner, Corvirtus
One of the most powerful ways to build team cohesion is through culture.
This is a shared definition of success and how it should be achieved.
When operationalized effectively, there are clear promises employees fulfill – and promises they expect from leaders and the organization.
These promises can be written, taught, and enforced.
They could include key drivers of performance and engagement including providing clear direction, never turning your head on a standard, and working to support a meritocracy where the best idea wins.
Another foundational part of teamwork is who you hire: who becomes a member of your team?
How you hire determines whether or not new team members have the traits, abilities, values, and work styles needed to thrive.
This starts with defining what performance looks like and the qualities required to reach it.
Tools like validated, evidence-based pre-hire assessments, structured and pre-determined interview processes, and work sample tests can be powerful: but only when validated and shown to predict performance.
Jennifer Yugo owns and leads Corvirtus, a talent management consulting firm in Colorado Springs. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Bowling Green State University as well as an active Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification.
9. Teamwork: Group Around Differences & Diversity
Sally Foley-Lewis, Productive Leadership Expert, Speaker, Author & Mentor, People & Productivity™
Having a team of like-minded and similarly skilled people might feel good in the short term however the gaps will soon show and the shortfalls will create issues.
Behavioral style and personality style assessments, e.g. Belbin Team Roles, DiSC, etc., help teams identify the different ways people might communicate, respond and react to a range of situations.
The best teams actively look for and group themselves based on differences and diversity, not similarity.
The doppelganger effect is common, it’s when people recruit people based on likeness.
The secret to success with a group of people being different is to understand and value the differences rather than be frustrated by them.
Taking behavorial and personality assessments as a team are great, the value however is in having a professional and thorough debrief to ensure everyone understands how to use the knowledge effectively for the team and the work to be done.
My view is a little contentious. I don’t call team days out playing skirmish/paintball or having a picnic team building.
There is nothing wrong with these days and they do provide a space for people to socialise and bond however when these days are used to fix a team issue they run the risk of wasting time and money: those unaffected by the issue get a day pass and those affected by the issue just get lip service and usually don’t look forward to having to be in a social setting with people they currently have an issue with.
True team-building is understanding that team formation goes through stages, such as Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
They work on creating an environment where they understand and value respective roles, agree on how to disagree, they also celebrate each other’s and the teams wins.
Any team-building exercises that have a debrief are the most successful ones.
The learning is most often in the debrief.
Problem solving fun activities tend to provide a context of challenge that will enable the teams to use – aka test – their team skills.
Trust is key to the success of a team: when teams lack trust amongst themselves or in their leader the relationships will be superficial. Issues will most likely be skirted, avoided or buried out of fear.
Leaders not only talk a good talk of trust and team focus they must also believe it and do it.
Teams observe their leaders far more astutely than leaders realise. Actions speak much louder than words.
A strong team will persevere but with sustained unhealthy levels of stress. The success of any organisation through a crisis comes down to how strong their informal relationships are, rather than any formal lines of authority.
When internal networks are healthy, ie relationships, teams can move quickly to action and achievement.
While most organizations will measure success by the bottom line other ways to measure success of effective teamwork can include, for example:
- How quickly results emerge.
- How few issues arise or how quickly and cost effectively issues are resolved.
- Retention, attrition and turnover.
- How willing people are to rejoin a team for other projects.
Sally Foley-Lewis has spent the last 20 years developing people to be more productive through building their team and people skills and being more effective with their task management. Particularly working with team leaders in large corporates, middle managers, associations and public agencies, as well as employers in small to medium sized businesses.
10. Team Building Activities: Spend Time Together Away from the Workplace
Nigel Berman, Founder & Chief Wild Officer, School of the Wild
There are lots of theories about personality types and understanding different individual working styles and behaviours.
It can be very conceptual and hard to translate into real life – we take a different approach.
As Patrick Lencioni said, the foundation of all teamwork is trust.
Without trust, team members become afraid to be open with one another.
This wastes time and energy as team members will invest in defensive behaviour instead – such as not speaking up in meetings, always being resistant to new initiatives, or feeling reluctant to assist each other or ask for help.
Learning to understand colleagues’ different styles is important – we believe.
The best way to start building trust and understanding is by spending time doing things together away from the workplace, where you also have the chance to reflect on how things are working and can have honest and authentic conversations.
It’s important to get away from the workplace and do something where there are no distractions and where it’s not about performance or a test, where you can all relax, get to know each other better, connect as human beings, and see the person beyond the role, ie beyond ‘work colleague.’
We do this by bringing teams together around a campfire in nature – there are all sorts of inherent benefits: from significant boosts to wellbeing and creative thinking, and better team relationships, that naturally arise – partly because nature is a great leveller. Making it easier to have honest and productive conversations, this leads to better teamwork.
How do you measure efficient teamwork?
Hard to measure but ultimately it comes down to performance and how each team measures that ie KPIs.
Pulse checks and 360 reviews can also help – asking team members to self-report – anonymously- through surveys on how they feel about each other, their work, their productivity and stress levels.
One key measure is the answer to the question: would you recommend this organisation as a place to work?
Better to capture stories and narratives alongside metrics when doing this, because metrics don’t tell the whole story and often just lead to more questions.
Nigel Berman founded School of the Wild to combine a love of being in nature with experiences that bring organisation and teams together. He is passionate about meaningful conversations that inspire change and has facilitated leadership and team sessions for a variety of corporates, NGO’s and digital agencies.
11. Team Building: Team Members Need to Feel Leadership Has Their Back
Cauveé, Inspiration Engineer®, Cauvee LLC
I believe that effective teamwork has a combination of bonding, fun, relationship building, accountability, task execution, and celebration of exceeding/reaching goals.
Effective team work requires team builders.
Team members need to associate in and out of work settings so that they can build a rapport and trust to effectively work together and communicate.
Leaders on teams need to have the best interest of the team at heart, and the members need to feel/sense that.
The team needs the following roles:
- Visionaries & idea builders
- Minutia, logical, and sequential thinkers
- Operators or project managers
- Task doers
You have to have Vision, Management and Execution on any team.
Personality wise you need bold visionary and/or technical alphas aka High A personalities mixed with executors that are Low A personalities aka team players.
The purpose of teambuilding is to build or establish camaraderie and trust.
If you’ve ever played a team sport, you learn during practice how everybody else plays, their strengths and weaknesses.
There’s a lot of team building games and exercises out there that can accomplish this. My favorite team builder game was Taboo for wit and creative thinking.
Additionally, teams can do something as simple as happy hours, sporting events, etc. to build rapport.
Leadership is everything! Leaders need to be a part of the team and not above the team. If someone on the team falls down, the leader needs to step in and help.
Team members need to feel like leadership has their back.
Communication, and better yet, full transparent communication is absolutely necessary!
Team morale has a certain type of energy that you can feel.
When you walk in the room and team members are enjoying their work, executing tasks that impact the bottom line, and are excited are signs of measuring team camaraderie.
It’s always a great strategy to use anonymous polls to get feedback, and leadership need to do regular weekly one on ones with team members to get a sense of how things are going.
If the team member doesn’t feel like the leader can be trusted, he or she will not divulge all the information necessary to get a real sense of productivity/camaraderie/effective teamwork.
Cauveé consults and coaches on leadership & culture, corporate & personal brand strategy, operation efficiency, project management and marketing and sales. He gave a TEDx talk called the Rise of the Inspiration Engineers®, is published in Influencive, Thrive Global and Referral Rock and featured in the Huffington Post as a strategist to watch.
12. Teamwork: Require Accountability for Everyone on the Team
Sandra Mohr, Dean of Academic Resources & Administration, NECO
Leadership is essential from all team members.
It is understanding and working together on shared goals and vision.
I may be the leader of a team but everyone needs to bring their leadership to the table to support a successful team reaching goals. With such a diverse workforce it is normal to have people who come to any team with a variety of ways to approach a situation.
I have found it important to get everyone on the same page and working together with shared goals and see success as the team being successful.
This requires accountability for everyone on the team and the expectation that people will support and work with each other to achieve goals.
Helping the team feel like they play a role in goal setting and the plan to achieve what is being worked on has proven to be successful in teams that I have led in the past.
Sandra Mohr serves as the Dean of Academic Resources and Administration at the New England College of Optometry. She is known for being a change agent in higher education institutions through engaging multiple stakeholders and investing in modern learning environments for the 21st century.