team success

10 Tips for Fostering Team Success

By Johnny Duncan

You may not refer to your organization as a team, but every individual depends on, collaborates with, or reports to others. One person’s work impacts the work of their counterparts, and that’s the foundation of teamwork.

This connection can have positive or negative implications for the work being done, as corporate coach, trainer, and speaker, John Maxwell once stated: “Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”

Although at Maxwell’s quote seems to imply a leader’s team is something of static value that they’re simply handed, the creation, development, nurturing, and training of a successful team hinges on the level of skill and effort behind its leadership.

Helping them do what they already do

In a 2013 survey of more than 23,000 workers, two-thirds of employees reported that their work required increased collaboration over the past three years. The survey report, Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment, also showed that 57% of respondents did more work with those in other geographic locations and 60% worked with at least 10 people each day. An intentionally organized team with clear roles, responsibilities, and a vision has several distinct advantages over a group of people stuck working together.

As technology and the world of work continue to evolve, successfully building environments conducive to teamwork will continue to be a crucial leadership competency. To get you started on the path toward fostering more successful teams in your organization, here are 10 tips:

1. Begin with hiring and onboarding

Take your time to hire not only the most qualified person for the job, but also someone who will compliment your organizational culture. In a recent Forbes article, Kinesis, a marketing and business consultancy firm located in Portland, Oregon, was highlighted as a company that took this directive to heart. 

The company created a hiring exercise, My Dream Employee, aimed at bridging the gap between HR, marketing, and culture. After completing this exercise, the company involves current employees in a hiring process that includes one-on-one interviews as well as meet and greet with the employees the candidate will be working with.

This sort of attention to detail and care in the hiring process can make a big difference in both the candidate and employee experience. 

A natural extension of a great hiring process is a strategic onboarding process aimed at getting new employees up to speed with their job and the organization, while providing the scaffolding they need to build strong coworker relationships right away.

2. Reveal purpose and vision

To foster team success, a leader needs to reveal a vision and purpose for the group and the work at hand. Although they’re often referred to in the similar contexts, purpose and vision are not one in the same. 

Vision focuses on where the organization or team wants to be within a given timeframe. According to a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, the vision says what the organization wishes to be like in some years’ time. For example, the Swedish company Ericsson, a provider of communications equipment, software, and services, defines its vision as being “the prime driver in an all-communicating world.”

Purpose focuses on why the organization wants to achieve that vision. In an interview for the Bonusly blog, Imperative’s Arthur Woods explained that there are no so-called purposeful professions. Although it may be more self-evident in some professions, there is purpose to any work, and a great leader illuminates that purpose in every project. 

By revealing vision and purpose, leaders can help to inspire team members to work together toward a common goal everyone’s invested in achieving.

For a fascinating deep dive into the topics of purpose, vision, mission, values, and how they're defined, check out Graham Kenny's Harvard Business Review article on the topic.

3. Encourage differing viewpoints in a safe environment

As leaders, we need to encourage open dialogue from team members and let them know that it is okay to disagree and speak their minds.

Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns said in an interview that one of her first goals after taking over the helm of fledgling Xerox was to get rid of what she called “terminal niceness.” She said that she wanted her direct reports to be more forthcoming about their feelings when they assembled as a team, rather than having to deal with private meetings that only created an air of secrecy and restraint among the team. 

While it’s important to maintain openness and transparency in group communications, it’s equally important to do so within an environment of psychological safety.

In a fascinating 2016 New York Times article, Charles Duhig shared how after years of analyzing interviews and data from more than 100 teams, Google found that the drivers of effective team performance are the group’s average level of emotional intelligence and a high degree of communication between members.

The best leaders excel in balancing transparency, candid feedback, and psychological safety within their team’s work environment.

4. Never rest on your laurels

Once a leader experiences team success, they tend to take a break or back off the pedal of team development. This should never happen. As Lou Holtz once stated, “After winning, most teams become individuals; most teams become complacent.”

You may have built an outstanding team, but that’s just the first step. Long-term team success demands a continuous process of team building, optimization, and development. Once your team has gelled and is working together smoothly, keep the rhythm going by reinforcing these other nine points.

5. Embrace diversity

Diversity is a meaningful competitive advantage for any team. To support innovation, you need a team of diverse genders, skill sets, knowledge, ethnicities, life experiences, cultures, and personalities, just to name a few. In her Forbes article, Ruchika Tulshyan illuminates the business impact of diversity, citing research that found gender-diverse teams are 15% more likely to outperform non-diverse teams and ethnically diverse ones are 35% more likely to outperform.

It’s easy for a homogenous team to miss key items that would appear obvious to a more diverse team. Diversity provides a broader vision and a stronger team. 

Rather than focusing on culture fit in the hiring process, consider cultural growth, and how each new hire might be able to strengthen team culture through the things that set them apart, rather than their similarities.

6. Develop a clear vision

As David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom point out in their Forbes article, 5 Must-Have Attributes Of Every Successful Team,” if business leaders would strive to get their employees to emulate Little League teams, their team success would be greater. 

Little League teams collectively share the vision of winning a game, but they don’t freelance it. They know that in order to win, each player must know and understand their role on the team and how it relates to the roles of the other players. This clear vision that every team member must possess doesn’t happen by osmosis. It must be communicated, disseminated, reiterated at least weekly and for some, daily.

But what is the vision? It can’t be what you or other leaders decide it should be for the organization and then simply share that wisdom with all team members. It must be a collaborative effort to identify the vision. For the Little League team, the vision is shared by all because the desire for winning is already there. But how do we get everyone to embrace the same vision for our businesses?

In the Harvard Business Review article “To Lead, Create a Shared Vision," James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner found that

“[c]onstituents (employees), want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations. They want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled.”

To create and develop a clear business vision, encourage input from all team members. If your organization is large, have the employees form a committee representative of all departments who meet once or twice a week until that vision is hammered out and embraced by all.

7. Break down barriers

It is easier than ever before to communicate with one another. Modern communication and collaboration technology have brought team members in closer contact than ever. But in order to reach the ultimate efficiency in collaboration, there must be an agreed upon system that allows the team to communicate efficiently and effectively.

Tools like Flowdock offer group and private chat as well as a team inbox which brings together notifications from other channels like Twitter and Asana. Slack is an extensible cloud-based collaboration tool that gathers all of your team communication in one place, supporting open conversations between all team members.

No matter what tools you decide to use, consider how effectively they’ll facilitate communication and bypass the departmental and hierarchical silos that impede collaboration.

8. Leverage team member strengths and weaknesses

Your team members bring a variety of talents, skills, and abilities to the table. There is no getting around the fact that some members will be stronger in some areas than others. But since your goal is to achieve collaboration and cohesiveness in the team, you will need to identify all member’s strengths and weaknesses as best you can and find a way to get those individual skills working together in harmony.

In his recent Entrepreneur article, Dave Mattson suggests that you try to think of individual abilities as unique cogs in your team machine and visualize these cogs positioned correctly so that the machine runs smoothly. Your goal is to build a well-oiled machine that is successfully productive. And as with a machine, you may have to adjust certain team member roles to keep the machine at optimal performance.

9. Ensure clear, constructive communication

A study by MIT’s Human Dynamic Laboratory found that good communication is essential for a team to be successful. The study uncovered some simple truths about effective teams: 

  • Everyone on the team both talks and listens.No one dominates the conversation.
  • The interactions are energetic with a lot of face-to-face communication
  • People connect with one another directly and not just with or through the team leader
  • Side conversations are carried on within the team
  • People from time to time go outside the group and bring relevant outside information back in

Business leaders should encourage open communication for the good of the team. In addition to encouraging open communication, great team leaders continually work to elevate the quality of communication their team is participating in, both internally and externally.

10. Show appreciation for the team and individual members

Everyone craves acknowledgement and appreciation. Take the time to simply say thank you for a job well done. As LaFleur Founder Chip LaFleur is fond of saying, “recognition is not a limited resource.” Give recognition frequently and be authentic in the recognition you give.

By recognizing your team’s contributions, you can fuel the fire for more successful team projects and inspire all to work together for the stated mission, vision, and purpose.

To take it a step further, provide an environment where everyone in the team is empowered and encouraged to recognize their teammates’ contributions. This not only provides the contributors with the recognition they deserve, it also provides key insights into the things teammates value. That’s priceless data for leaders, and other members of the team.

Taking it further

Performance management strategies that help business leaders with team-building continue to evolve and every leader would be wise to seek out new developments on a regular basis.

High-functioning teams don’t simply appear at work, they must be created and encouraged by a company’s leadership. In the SHRM piece titled, “What About Teams?” the author, Marjorie Derven found that team performance management requires moving from the top-down approach to goals that create a shared stake in business outcomes from multiple functions.

At a minimum, team performance management needs to take into account these overlapping needs:

  • Organization—Align work processes at the team level, focused on key objectives, such as efficiency, effectiveness, operational excellence, and innovation.
  • Team—Include overall team process, relationships and results, equal participation, and output.
  • Employee—Address individual needs to ensure that team members are fully contributing, engaged, and meeting personalized needs for development.
  • Talent management—Enable organizations to understand existing trends impeding or advancing team performance to be better able to make predictions about future performance.

In Conclusion

Good teams provide good returns — but not only to the company coffers.

According to a ScienceDirect study of 133 factory teams, higher levels of interpersonal sensitivity, curiosity, and emotional stability resulted in more-cohesive teams and increased prosocial behavior among team members. As a result, more-effective teams were composed of a higher number of cool-headed, inquisitive, and altruistic people, and this revolving scenario continues.

If you're ready to take the next step toward building a stronger team culture, check out our latest guide: 

The Leadership Survival Kit

Written by Johnny Duncan

Johnny Duncan

Johnny Duncan is an author and consultant with over 22 years experience helping to provide solutions to small businesses with the people side of business.

Originally published on February 21, 2018 → Last updated August 21, 2018