Essential Steps for Building a Strong Team

Develop a strong team by planning first and actively working towards productivity.

It takes a strong, intuitive leader to build a motivated, productive team.  A leader that can consistently build productive teams is worth hanging on to.  Team building is not easy and requires a leader who understands people, listens, can see and develop strengths, mitigate conflicts, select applicable motivators and keep a team engaged and helping each other.

Working toward productivity.

Whether you are taking on an existing team or developing a new team,  it’s critical to devote time and energy to establishing how you want your team to work and not just what you want to do. The first few weeks are critical. “People form opinions pretty quickly, and these opinions tend to be sticky,” says Michael Watkins, the cofounder of Genesis Advisers and author of the updated The First 90 Days. “If you don’t take time upfront to figure out how to get the team working well, problems are always going to come up,” says Mary Shapiro, who teaches organizational behavior at Simmons College and is the author of the HBR Guide to Leading Teams.

Starting a team out right.

1) Introduce team members and give time to get to know each other

It is surprising to me but I have been in teams with people I did not know and the team leader never took the time to start by having each team member introduce themselves and tell a bit about themselves. And, it might seem elementary, but name cards help take one stress off the list which is remembering everyone’s name.

2) Try an ice breaker

It is worth the time to consider an ice breaking type of game or exercise that opens up the team to learning a little more about each other before jumping in to the task at hand.  Keep the activity relevant and on topic.

3) Set operating guidelines for the team

These are those “housekeeping details” that you, as the leader, set up to make sure efficiency and success. They include the simple such as (Be on time for meetings, no cell phones, or whatever you need to add to establish a positive, collective, respectful team environment) and general guidelines (Every team member has the opportunity to offer ideas and suggestions in an environment of open discourse).

4) Understand that each team members ideas are valuable and should be treated as such.

Respect is important for team members to feel they can share and be helpful.  Open sharing and feeling needed and helpful will open the group up to more creative ideas and solutions.  And, remember that there is no such thing as a stupid idea. It might sound off beat at first but you never know what another team member can add and another and fleshing out that idea-it might be the best one

5) Set team aims

Make sure that the team has a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished; what are the objectives, timeframe, responsibilities, and understanding of what success will mean for this team.  If you think of team sports, such as football, the prime goal is to win but also to demonstrate a support of team members and good sportsmanlike conduct even when things are not going their way.

6) Encourage trust and cooperation among employees on your team.

Remember that the relationships team members set up among themselves are every bit as important as those you establish with them.  As the team begins to take shape, pay close attention to how team members work together and take steps to improve communication, cooperation, trust, and respect in those relationships.

7) Encourage team members to share information.

Reiterate how important each team member’s contribution is and prove how all of their comments work together to move the entire team closer to its goal.

8) Follow your words by actions.

As the leader, follow your own guidelines and rules and model this type of interaction. Be authentic and do what you preach. Talk is cheap and easy, authentic follow-through is more difficult.

9) Facilitate communication.

Since communication is an important factor in successful teamwork, also understand that miss-communication is easy especially when dealing with cross cultural teams and varied personalities. Actually, miss communication can happen with any team no matter how homogenous the members. Set an example by being open to suggestions and concerns, asking questions and offering help, and by doing everything you can to avoid confusion in your own communication. Use visual communication examples where applicable.  You don’t have to be a refined artist or for that matter an artist at all to visually communicate an idea or message.

10) Encourage real listening.

If this team is made up of employees from the same company they may be  afraid to disagree with one another and this fear can lead your team to make mediocre decisions. Encourage thoughtful debate because that opens the group up to more creative ideas and solutions and therefore get better results.

As said before, leading a team is not easy so learn along the way, make adjustments, be flexible and enjoy the process.