Intellectual Capital

Effective team building

Best practices leading to improved results

In today's business world of highly matrixed organizations, increasing numbers of geographically dispersed and virtual employees, and volatile, uncertain and complex conditions, it's more important than ever to pay attention to team development. Failure to build teams with intention can lead to minimally acceptable performance at best, with less than optimal bottom-line results.

An effective team-building process (sometimes called team optimization) can help a team move its performance to the next level.

It's fundamental for a team to know its purpose within the organization. Team members must understand their roles on the team and how their work supports the larger purpose. The team needs to understand where it is in its development process. And the team should identify what is and what isn't working in its group processes.

Pitfalls to avoid

If companies allow group processes and group dynamics to happen by chance, teams miss opportunities to develop, be intentional about moving through the development stages, collaborate effectively and find synergies.

Teams also sometimes forget to reset when there is any type of change, such as when someone joins or leaves the team, the team is given new responsibilities or a new team leader is assigned.

Finally, teams sometimes believe development is a once-in-a-while or once-a-year activity. The problem with that approach is team dynamics are always in play, so team building needs to be an ongoing process.

Seven critical steps

Overcoming these and other pitfalls to build the best teams possible requires following seven crucial steps:

1. Define the team's purpose

The more concretely the purpose can be defined, the more successful the team is likely to be.

2. Determine high-performing characteristics needed to deliver on the team's purpose

Different team strengths may be required for different team purposes.

3. Assess current team development needs and team performance against high-performing team characteristics

This provides a basis for comparison so a team can determine how well it's doing and how it can improve.

4. Understand the perceptions of others—foster 360-degree feedback

Even with the benefit of a high-performance benchmark, teams can lose their way. Honest feedback from others is vital to keep the team on track.

5. Clarify gaps

Gaps come in many forms—knowledge, skills, will, capacity and performance. It's important to identify both what kinds of gaps exist and how they're impacting the team's ability to deliver results.

6. Prioritize opportunities

Just as individuals with complex jobs must establish priorities, so too must effective teams.

7. Create an action plan

Even the most effective team's efforts to accomplish its purpose will come to naught without a carefully developed plan to make it happen.

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