How to Improve Team Effectiveness

Walking the Talk

While there is no doubting the impact that talented leaders and individuals can have on culture and business performance, a great team has an exponential impact on both. Indeed, it is almost impossible to over index the importance of having effective teams at all levels of your organisation. 

Improving your team effectiveness is about making your whole greater than the sum of its parts. Creating and sustaining this magic doesn’t happen overnight, but takes intentional focus, effort, and work.  

In this article we will look at the characteristics of an effective team, the business benefits of spending time on this, and actionable strategies for building the right mindsets, behaviors, and ways of working in teams across your organisation.  


What do we mean by team effectiveness? 

There’s plenty of research that demonstrates that while individual talent is essential, it's not sufficient to drive long-term high performance. You need to find ways to make the most out of the different knowledge, expertise, and experiences that your people bring. Team effectiveness is about bringing these people together and maximising their collective abilities, so they make a bigger overall contribution. It’s about individuals thinking and acting beyond their own defined responsibility and objectives, and working on projects that cut across their individual areas, thereby adding more value to the whole.  


A kind of magic 

The real magic in effective teams happens when the group come together and, through collaboration, generate results that are more than simply the addition of their respective capabilities. I use the word ‘magic’ on purpose because most of us will have worked in, or observed, effective teams, and you can sense the difference between them and ineffective teams. It’s both intangible – there is a different energy in the air that you feel – but also tangible, because you know it when you see it (and don’t see it), and these teams invariably outperform their less effective counterparts; usually significantly so.  

So, what lifts a team above their individual functional delivery to be able to do something much better together? 


What are the characteristics of effective teamwork?

Through our 30 years’ experience working with organisations, we have developed, tried, and tested our Team Performance Model that defines four elements of an effective team. 


1. Purpose and Goals

We always start by getting teams to think about their purpose is. This is about looking at:  

  • Why are they here as a team?  
  • What are they there to do?  
  • And what is their value add to the broader organisation? 


2. Roles and Accountabilities

From the answers to the questions on purpose and goals, we explore what kind of team they therefore need to be. What roles and responsibilities do they need to have, collectively and individually? Where are the interdependencies, and opportunities for greater collaboration?


Swimming team or soccer team?

The analogy I always use is – do you need to be a swimming team, or a soccer team? A swimming team may need to train together, support each other, and share some common resources. But everybody wins by doing their best in their own lane. So, the team needs to be set up to enable individual success.  

However, a soccer team can’t score unless everybody is playing the same game, facing the same goal, and understanding its shared objective.  

Your business strategy may require you to be a swimming team, a soccer team, or something in between. It doesn’t matter. The key is to clarify your purpose, and therefore how you need to be organised to deliver on that. That is why our work always starts by getting teams clear on this, because what effectiveness means for that team needs to be tailored to its goals.


3. Processes and Ways of Working 

This is about the ‘how.’ Here we are delving into:  

  • What type of processes does the team have? For what areas?  
  • How effective are these processes? Are they fit for purpose?  
  • Do people frequently go outside process, or are they compliant?  
  • How are the ways of working supporting (or not) the type of team they need to be?


4. Relationships and Trust

Teams are comprised of individuals, so strong relationships and high levels trust are non-negotiable if you want to be effective. So, we’re exploring:   

  • Do the team members trust each other?  
  • What degree of psychological safety and speaking up is there?  
  • What level of accountability is there, individually and collectively?


What are some common challenges for improving effectiveness at work?

We typically support teams at three stages of development: 


1. Team Formation

This happens when a leader is setting up a new team, for example they are new to a role or because the team itself has just been created. While not everyone may be new to the team, some are, and there is a need to reset and create their own identity.  

In this case, the emphasis is often on speed. The key problem to solve is – how can we get the team to high performance as quickly and efficiently as possible? 


2. Good to Great

These are established teams with no serious issues, but they need to take it to the next level of effectiveness to add the value to the business that they can, and should, be doing.  

For these teams, it’s about deepening trust, forging mutual accountability, and stronger alignment. The key is finding the difference that will make the difference.  


3. Course Correcting

This is for teams in trouble, who are experiencing tensions and challenges that are causing dysfunctional ways of working and hampering performance.  

Here, the focus is on support and constructive challenge, getting to the root causes of the issues, and rebuilding the team so they can move forward together and get back on track.  

Regardless of why a team comes to us, our support is tailored based on diagnosis, stakeholder feedback, and ongoing review. 


What are some proven strategies for improving team productivity at work?

1. Purpose and Goals

To be a high-performing team in this area you need to have clear alignment and strong commitment. Getting to this means:  

  • Identifying and addressing any disagreements, false assumptions, and misalignment.  
  • Gaining broad acceptance to a team vision. This vision should be co-created by everyone in the team so there is buy-in and skin in the game. 
  • Moving to full commitment, with everyone in the team fully aligned behind the team’s purpose and owning its goals.


2. Roles and Accountabilities

Improving team effectiveness in this area is done through: 

  • Unpacking confusion about roles and responsibilities, and where this stems from.  
  • Creating clarity and high personal accountability, so everyone understands what they are there to do individually, interdependently, and as a team. 
  • Focusing on delivery – the best performing teams feel a keen sense of commitment to following through and getting it right.


3. Processes, Ways of Working, and Effective Team Communication

Here it’s about: 

  • Looking at how you function as a team – for example, how often do you meet? How do you make decisions? How do you communicate with each other? Are you spending your time together in the most efficient way possible to achieve your desired outcomes?  
  • Once any weaknesses have been ironed out, put in place robust systems to ensure resources (time, people, money etc) are being used effectively.  
  • Aiming for optimisation, where all your ways of working are as efficient and effective as they can be. For example, you only come together when you really add value as a group.


4. Relationships and Trust

This is focused on: 

  • Analysing which relationships have broken down, to what extent, and why, so root causes are dealt with.  
  • Rebuilding relationships on solid, enduring foundations of clarity, trust, and accountability.
  • Deepening those relationships to drive a step change in performance.  


The business benefits of building effective teams

There are many benefits to improving your team effectiveness. Three key ones are:  

  1. Massive impact on business performance. While this can be hard to quantify, as I said earlier, the magic that effective teams create undoubtedly turbocharges your organisation’s successful delivery of its strategy.
  2. Saves valuable resources, including time and money. In effective teams, you don’t get duplication of effort, wasted budget, or tension between various parts of your organisation.  
  3. Change is faster and easier. Aligned teams make decisions quickly, execute on time, and maximise their efficiency. This focus and pace are essential when you are trying to change any part of your business.  

Why is team effectiveness important in culture change?

Team effectiveness is critical to culture change. There are lots of reasons for this, including:  

  1. Alignment. If you’re leading culture change, and you’re not aligned as a team, you're not sending a consistent message to your people. This will create suspicion, distrust, and hamstring your efforts.  
  2. Efficiency. Changing culture is done on top of everything else that you're trying to do in your business. So, the more efficient you are, the more capacity you will have to work on it properly.
  3. Accountability. Effective teams understand their personal and collective responsibility to role model culture change, which sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. 

How do you make the whole greater than the sum of its parts is a perennial question for teams in companies worldwide. There are no shortcuts, but there are successful strategies, and if you put intentional effort into them over the long term, they will pay dividends for your culture and performance. 

Contact us to start improving your team effectiveness. 

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