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Steps in successful team building


The Chartered Management Institute provides some principles to rely on when setting out to work with a team.

This checklist explores the essential aspects of planning, setting up and maintaining an effective team for specific projects or assignments.


Teams are not the same as other groups; they need to be planned, built and maintained. A number of people who happen to work together in the same place may not operate as a team, and may not need to. A team has a distinct characteristic - it is a group working together to achieve a common purpose and may be composed of people drawn from different functions, departments or disciplines. Increasingly, teams are groups which are set up for a specific project, are empowered to steer and develop the work they do, and are responsible for their achievements.

Benefits of team building

Successful team building can:

- coordinate individuals' efforts as they tackle complex tasks

- make the most of the personal expertise and knowledge of everyone involved, which might otherwise remain untapped
raise and sustain motivation and confidence as individual team members feel supported and involved

- encourage members to spark ideas off each other, to solve problems and find appropriate ways forward

- help break down communication barriers and avoid unhealthy competition, rivalry and point-scoring

- raise the level of individual and collective empowerment

- support approaches such as TQM, Just-in-Time management, customer care programmes, and Investors in People

- bring about commitment to and ownership of the task in hand.

When Teams may not be the answer

There are circumstances where teams may be unsuitable - for example, they may not fit in some organisational cultures where there are rigid reporting structures or fixed work procedures. A team approach can be the wrong approach, especially:

- where one person has all the knowledge, expertise and resources to do the job on their own

- when there is no real common purpose, and a group is called a team, wrongly.

Action checklist

1. Decide whether you really do need a team
Just because it is fashionable to talk about team building, it does not mean that every job needs a team to complete it. It may be that a single skilled person working on their own and properly supported can achieve the task more effectively than getting together a group of people and making them into a team. Consider the need for a range of expertise and experience, for shared workloads, and brainstorming and problem solving. In such cases a team will be your best option.

2. Determine the objectives which need to be achieved and the skills needed to reach them
Be clear about the broad outcome of the project. Identify the technical and team skills you need and bring together individuals with that range of skills. Whatever the range of personnel available to you, the key is to pick people with a mix of different skills. These include team skills, personal skills and technical abilities.

3. Plan a team building strategy
Invest time at the outset in getting the operating framework right so that the team will develop and grow. There are various areas which need to be considered:

- a climate of trust - where mistakes and failures are viewed as learning experiences, not occasions for blame

- free flow of information - to all those who need to integrate their work with business objectives

- training - in communication, interpersonal and negotiation skills, and to handle the tasks required and to adopt responsibility for them

- time - for coordinating activities, developing thoughts and monitoring progress, and for regular meetings

- objectives - in step 2 above - need to be clearly understood by all team members. This is increasingly a case of involving team members in setting the objectives rather than dictating prescribed objectives to them

- feedback - everybody needs to know how well they are doing and if and where improvements can be made, with a focus on the positive aspects and ways of dealing with the negative ones.

4. Get the team together
It is important at this early stage that you don't actually try to solve the problem you are confronted with. At the initial meeting you should aim to start to build the team as a team. Discuss and agree the outcomes the team is to achieve. Clarify the common purposes and ensure everyone knows what their personal contribution to the team's success is, its place in the project schedule and its importance to the project's success.

5. Explore and establish the operating ground rules
There will be a need:

- for open and honest communication, so that everyone can say what they think and feel without fear, rancour or anger

- to listen to others, including minority or extreme views
to agree which decision-making, reporting and other processes will be adopted for the life-span of the team.

6. Identify individuals' strengths
Carry out an audit of individuals' strengths so that the team as a whole can benefit from all the skills and expertise available. Consider bringing in someone with team building experience to help with the initial phases, especially if the team's task is major and important.

7. Include yourself as a team member
Your role is as a member of the team - not just the boss. Clarify that everyone in the team has an important role and yours happens to be the team leader. Act as a role model and maintain effective communication with all members, especially listening.

It may be of benefit for roles to remain fluid, adding to the flexibility of working relationships, without team members losing the focus of their individual strengths or objectives. An effective leader may decide to cede project leadership - albeit temporarily - to another, when specific skills are required.

8. Check objectives
Check the team's objectives regularly to ensure that everyone still has a clear focus on what they are working towards, both individually and as a team.

9. Time meetings with care
Inessential meetings are a bane, but if there are too few, the project - and the team - can lose focus. Meet regularly but with purpose:

- to provide an opportunity to ask 'how are we doing'

- to review progress on the task

- to reflect on how the team is working.

If any gaps or problems arise from the review, plan and implement activity and corrective measures.

10. Dissolve the team
When the team has accomplished its tasks, acknowledge this. Carry out a final review to see if objectives have been achieved and evaluate the team's performance, so that individuals may learn, improve and benefit next time round. If all the objectives have been met the team can be disbanded.

Dos and don'ts for successful team building


Establish that you actually need a team.

Take the time and trouble to manage and facilitate the team's development and activity.

Establish as a team the common aims, objectives and success criteria for the task, project or process.

Clarify regularly who is to do what, by when, as their contribution to the team's targets.

Remember that you can't win a team game on your own.

Communicate freely with all members of the team.

Manage team meetings so that everyone has their say and feels involved in the decision-making and planning processes.

Disband the team when objectives have been met.


Expect a new team to fire on all four cylinders from day 1.

A team is an entity in its own right, like a new employee needing induction and development.

Exercise tight management control and squash creativity.

Let the team feel too exclusive, in case it shuts out other parts of the organisation.

Let individuals take the credit for the team's achievements.

Dominate, however unintentionally - even unconsciously.

Useful reading

People and self management
Sally Palmer
Oxford:Butterworth, 1998

Teamwork: success through people
London:Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 1997

High performing teams in brief
Michael Colenso
Institute of Management Foundation
Oxford:Butterworth Heinemann, 1997

Managing people successful teams:workbook and audio cassette:Certificate in Supervisory Management NVQ level 3
Institute of Management Foundation
London:Pitman, 1995

Successful teambuilding in a week
Graham Willcocks and Steve Morris
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995

Thought starters

What excellent (and awful) teams have you worked in and what made them so good (or bad)?

Does your natural management style fit a team approach or do you need to adjust - maybe let go and trust individuals more?

Do you use teams to best advantage?

Are you absolutely clear what you want your team to achieve?

Have you thought through ways to resolve conflict if and when it arises?


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