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‘Building blocks’ of high performing teams and how to develop these in your organisation.
Good teamwork doesn’t just happen. Conscious effort is needed to help groups of individuals work together as a team. Teams can experience difficulties working together at times, but this is a normal aspect of group or organisational life. Good team performance and positive team relations need to be developed and maintained and certain features or ‘building blocks’ enable teams to work together well. Before looking at these you might want to reflect on your own experience of team work.
To understand what makes a good or difficult team think back to teams you’ve been part of. These could be teams at work, as a volunteer, in education, sports or social groups. Which stand out as a good team? What made that team good? Do any stand out as ‘bad’ teams? What made that team difficult?
The building blocks for developing teams
There are 11 main building blocks to developing and maintaining a team that works well together and achieves high performance. These are briefly listed then each one is described in greater detail below:
- clear objectives
- balanced roles
- effective processes
- good communication
- appropriate leadership
- support and trust
- openness and conflict
- mutual cooperation
- individual development
- sound inter-group relations
- regular review
Let us look at how each building block can be developed in a team. It’s helpful to identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses as a starting point to see which are the priority areas for development.
Use the team effectiveness checklist (Word, 51.5kb) to identify which building blocks your team needs to work on. This will help develop a plan that builds on strengths and improves area of weakness.
Developing each building block
There are mutually agreed aims and objectives, everyone has a clear understanding of these. To develop this:
- Review the team’s mission and objectives. This will sit within your organisation’s overall strategy and plan.
- Hold a team planning day (you may want to try a simple team planning exercise).
- Produce a user-friendly team plan.
- Write a brochure publicising the work of the team.
There is a good balance of skills, abilities and aspirations. Team members have a clear understanding of each individual’s role in achieving overall team objectives. To develop this:
- Analyse the roles people take, and discuss ways they can develop their role.
- Provide opportunities for development such as delegation, job rotation, project work, rotated chairing and leadership.
- Include team roles (link to team roles page to come) in individual development plans.
Find out more in Team roles.
There are good processes for making, communicating, implementing and reviewing decisions. There are effective information systems and co-ordination of resources. To develop this:
- Review existing procedures. Formalise anything you might need to (for example a structure for team meetings, a team induction pack).
- Agree how you will set the team agenda. Produce this in plenty of time.
- Have clear minutes that act as a reminder and inform people who weren’t there.
- Link team processes (such as team review) to individual appraisal and personal development.
- Produce an easy reference list of team procedures.
Meetings are productive and there is effective communication up, down and across the organisation. To develop this:
- Discuss how to make full use of different communication methods – electronic, message books, notice boards, phone, team meetings etc.
- Include a brief ‘check in’ at team meetings. Each person has two minutes to tell others what is a priority for them at the moment. (Any ‘issues’ that arise can be put on the agenda for the current or future meetings, or dealt with outside the meeting).
- Include an information slot at team meetings.
- Give individuals responsibility for liaising with key groups or agencies and keeping the team informed of any important issues.
- Invite people from other teams and agencies to address the team on matters of common interest.
The team trusts the team leader and feels that it is led in an appropriate way. To develop this:
- Hold a team discussion on your understanding of leadership.
- Encourage different team members to take a lead on specific projects or tasks.
- Give each other feedback on leadership and other qualities.
- If you are formally the Team Leader look at your leadership style in supervision and ways you can develop.
- Assess your stage of team development and adapt your leadership style according to the relevant stage.
People help each other by listening, evaluating, offering ideas, encouraging experimentation and giving support. To develop this:
- Allow time to discuss different individual perspectives and develop shared values.
- Develop open communication - what is said publicly should match what is said privately.
- Provide opportunities for joint problem-solving, sharing work and learning.
- Act the way you’d like to see others act – for example, share your concerns, listen well, give constructive feedback.
- Find opportunities for social contact – such as coffee, lunch, sandwiches after team meetings.
- Encourage team responses to individual problems.
- Encourage people to share achievements and show appreciation.
- Celebrate team achievements.
People express themselves openly and honestly. There is a willingness to work through difficult situations or conflict constructively. To develop this:
- Develop team ‘ground rules’ that value being open and giving constructive criticism as well as praise.
- Find a good balance of being supportive and being challenging. (An overly supportive team can become too cosy with little learning. On the other hand too much challenge can feel threatening.)
- Facilitate some ‘getting to know you’ exercises. See Team building events for more on this.
- Jointly appraise team performance.
- Give positive feedback and constructive critical feedback.
- Make sure feedback is evenly distributed and not aimed at only one or two people.
- Openly discuss differences before they develop into major conflict.
- If there are major conflicts invite a third party to facilitate discussion.
- Allow people to express frustration or anger openly and respectfully. Otherwise it can come out indirectly.
There is a readiness to be involved and committed. Individuals’ abilities, knowledge and experience are pooled and used by the team. There is acceptance of each others’ strengths and weaknesses. To develop this:
- Provide opportunities for the whole team to have an input – for example in team planning.
- Enable different team members to work together on larger projects.
- Clarify each person’s role or input on joint projects.
- Encourage experienced people to support or coach less experienced team members.
‘Mistakes’ are faced openly and used as a vehicle for learning. Individuals are given opportunities to develop new skills and experience. To develop this:
- Pick up on team related issues in one to one supervision and appraisal.
- Make sure each team member has a learning and development plan linked to team and individual job objectives.
- Recognise and reward achievement.
- Make sure training and development is included in team plans.
- Use team meetings as an opportunity for learning and development.
- Use your own and external expertise to hold team training days.
The team enjoys good relations with other teams, departments and agencies, each valuing and respecting the other. To develop this:
- Hold a team ‘open-day’.
- Develop joint projects and planning where it could be helpful.
- Hold an occasional joint team meeting.
- Have a joint social event.
- Ask other teams for feedback on your team’s performance. Give feedback to them if they ask for it. Remember to start with the positive if they do.
- Appoint team members to liaise with other teams or agencies.
- Provide opportunities to shadow members of another team, and vice versa.
The team regularly reviews its performance and goals and alters its priorities and practice in the light of review. To develop this:
- At the end of each team meeting hold a five-minute feedback session on what has been helpful or unhelpful.
- Develop processes for reviewing how far you are achieving team objectives and standards.
- Invite other teams, external agencies or service users to comment on the team’s performance.
- Bring in a third party observer to comment on team performance.
Putting the building blocks in place
A mature team might have all the building blocks in place, whereas a new team, or one going through changes, is likely to have gaps. This is partly because teams also go through stages of development. Recognising and understanding these stages can help the team move through them.
If you need support with team development activities you may want to engage a skilled facilitator to work with you. Think about organising team building events or working through the stages of team development.
Have your say
Have you tried any of these methods, or any other methods in your team? What worked and what didn’t?
Why not share your experience on the Building teams forum.