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By Keith Barnwell

 Teams work well when the teamwork works

Why do some teams function much better than others?  Why do some companies seem to have that certain something that makes them tick. When you walk through the door you instantly feel that these people know what they’re doing and enjoy doing it.  Well, there are a range of things that help create an environment where teams can function at their very best.  As the leader, it’s up to you to ensure these things are in place, and remember, people often leave leaders rather than companies!  Your behaviours have a direct effect on your people, so if your team or company isn’t performing as well as it should, first take a good long look at yourself!

So, what can you do to ensure your team is working?


A clear vision: It starts with a meaningful and common purpose, the ‘why’ that Simon Sinek talks about in his excellent TED presentation, a shared understanding of what it is that they come in each day for. If you want people to give their best, you need to give them a purpose, beyond just receiving their salary.  Everyone needs some meaning to what they do and the more you involve them in setting the vision, or the why, the more they’ll buy in to it and believe in it.

Good communication: How many times do we hear about the importance of communication?  The truth is that sometimes we lose sight of it amongst the constant flow of minutia that fills our normal day. It’s vital for teams to have good open communication channels, both formal and informal.  Formal team, one-to-one, and performance meetings are common in most teams, or should be, but these should be supported by more informal gatherings, where team members have an opportunity to share current priorities and concerns.  Be creative – look for new ways to keep lines of communication open, and remember it involves you, the leader, actively listening as well as talking.  Sending memos and emails from behind your closed door is not communicating!

Trust:  It is hard to define just how important trust really is.  A team is nothing more than a whole series of relationships; between the leader and the team, between the members of the team, with other teams, customers, suppliers and on and on.  Like in all good relationships there has to be trust; trust that you each mean what you say, will do what you say you will, and will be there to support one another when you need to.  Again Simon Sinek puts the point over well in his TED talk “Why good leaders make you feel safe”.

Respect: Good teams have people who respect one another and demonstrate this in their behaviours. They’re polite, helpful and generous with their time, willingly sharing knowledge and skills amongst those they work with.

Awareness: Understanding one another is vital for team performance. Team members need a good level of self-awareness and an understanding of the natural differences between people. They should understand that a team is stronger as a result of these differences, embracing the strength that diversity brings.

Fun: People are more productive in an atmosphere of relaxed professionalism.  As the leader, you set the tone, and a good sense of fun and humour helps create an enjoyable environment. We spend a large part of our lives at work – why not at least ensure that people don’t spend it feeling unhappy or, even worse, feeling stressed or perhaps depressed.

Mutual accountability: In the best teams each individual is expected to meet their commitment and work towards the common purpose they’ve all agreed.  Everyone should feel empowered to talk openly if they feel this is not happening.  And you, as leader, should be ready to be held to account by your team members.

Collaboration: Good teams have an ethos of knowledge sharing and a collaborative approach to achieving collective goals. They establish common ground and ensure no internal barriers stifle effective co-operation. Let your motto be ‘Knowledge is power, but shared knowledge is powerful’.

Conflict: Conflict happens, and it’s no good hiding from it. The best performing teams understand how to use conflict positively and productively.  They ensure that it never gets out of hand or becomes personal or abusive.  People should feel safe to disagree and argue with others when they feel strongly about an issue. They must also be aware of the effect disagreements can have on others.  Different personality types react very differently when faced with conflict; some need an element of conflict to perform at their best while others may find it extremely unsettling.

Constructive feedback: Positive and negative feedback is an important tool to successful teams. They understand the difference between constructive feedback and praise or criticism and use feedback to help one another develop and grow. In the best performing teams the ratio of positive to negative feedback is as high as 5:1.  It is the responsibility of the leader to set the tone, both in the giving and receiving of feedback.

Sound processes: It may sound boring but without sound processes, which are constantly updated and refreshed, it’s difficult for teams to perform effectively. Having and following established processes enables people to spend valuable time on more creative things rather than ‘reinventing the wheel’ each time they undertake more routine functions.

Skills blend: All teams need a range of skills and capabilities, depending on the environment they’re in. Whatever the mix, they need to appreciate each individual’s strengths and what they bring to the whole. The best performing teams place a high value on each person’s contribution and constantly look to develop new abilities and techniques to meet the challenge of staying ahead of the game.

Constant learning: Good teams don’t hide away from making mistakes, nor do they look to blame when it does go wrong.  They are constantly learning and share these lessons freely.  They grow and evolve, look for new ways of doing things, and embrace and adapt to the use of new technologies. And this includes the leader!

Celebrating success: Effective teams celebrate their individual and collective successes. They’re rightly proud of their achievements and find novel ways of saying ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’. They also spread the message throughout the organisation to show what can be done when teams perform at their best.

Does this sound like the team or company you’re leading? I’m sure as you read, you’re thinking “If only I had time to do all of these things”.  My answer is – take the time to do these things and you’ll have time to do so much more than you imagined was possible.  You’ll have created an environment where people can work to their full potential, where people want to be, and where the results they achieve will be amazing – and it will all be down to you!

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership.