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How to Build Effective Teams

Updated on January 27, 2013

Building an effective team can be as simple as 1,2,3, if you follow the rules that govern how teams work. Knowing and applying these rules will ensure the team is assembled and managed effectively.

When building a team from scratch it is imperative that these rules be followed if you have any hope of creating an effective team. If you have a team that is failing, examine the rules and be brutally honest, you will discover that most of the teams that are failing are ineffective because some or most of these rules are being broken or ignored.


1. The team must have a common objective, goal or vision.

The goal is the most important component of the team. The reason the team was assembled was to accomplish or to reach the goal. Without a common goal there would be no reason to have a team. Without a common goal there is not team, just a group of people working in the same area trying to fulfill their individual goals. The team’s goal must be vitally important to the team, more important than their individual goals.

2. Team members must have the same basic ideals.

Don’t confuse this with similar way of thinking, the team needs diversity of thought. Basic ideals work deeper than that. i.e.: If you hire a sales team to roll a new product with the goal of getting as many accounts a possible, you need closers who thrive on the closing of the sale now. If you hire a sales team to manage accounts on the long term, you need members who are more customer service oriented. Those two teams have different ideals. The leadership of the team must decide which one to be. You can’t be both. And either of the salespeople placed in the opposite team will most likely fail, because basic ideals are deeply ingrained.

3. All teams must have a clear leader. (a committee is not a team)

The leader doesn’t have to be the smartest or most talented of the group. The one quality every leader must have is consistency. He must be consistent in his feedback, his rewards, and his punishments. His words must be consistent with his actions. By being consistent the team leader will be more effective than by having any other quality.

4. No single team member is more important than the team.

Regardless of the contribution, no team member is more important than the team itself. An over-talented or over-achieving member, who is out of control, can diminish or completely destroy the productivity of the entire team. This member must be brought under control or removed from the team.

5. Commanders must be identified.

The commander is the most trusted individual in the team. This is the person who you always notice others seek, to complaint or for advice. The commander is never a member of management. He or she is usually, but not necessarily, the most senior member of the team. For these two reasons he or she is viewed by team members as trustworthy. The commander is usually unaware of their awesome power over the team members (and that’s the way it should remain). You don’t have to gain the trust, respect, or persuade the whole team your new initiative is worth it. Gain the trust, and respect of the commander or persuade him or her that your initiative is worth it and the team will follow. This is the fastest way to gain control of the team. Manage the commander and you control the team.

6. Every team member must have a clear and specific position within the team.

Responsibilities and expectations for the position must be clearly defined. If two or more team members share the same responsibilities a clear and specific chain of command must be established. You can’t have two equal assistants working in the same location, one must be assigned seniority over the other.

7. Communications must be open.

No team member should fear ridicule or fear retaliation for speaking his mind. All ideas or concerns must be considered, even if they are not shared by the leadership of the team. If the team is afraid to speak out to the leadership of the team, team members will not report problems or mistakes, they will keep them to themselves until is too late.

8. Everyone is responsible for the performance of the team.

I had a porter who worked for me. He cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed the carpet, empty the garbage cans and Windexed the showcases. Every morning he would ask me how much we did yesterday and how much we needed today. During the day, if we needed a sale he would wipe the store frantically from top to bottom. He believed that a clean store was the key to making sales. When I separated from the company, five others asked to come with me, he was one of the three I choose to recruit. No matter what the position, each team member is directly responsible for the performance of the team. Each position was installed to help the team achieve its goal. Each member must feel the vital importance of their position to the team.

9. Rewards and Punishments must be handed out impartially.

If a team member is rewarded or given thanks for performing any actions, other team members who performs the same action must be rewarded or thanked in the same manner, regardless of their position, seniority, or contribution to the team. If a team member is reprimanded or disciplined in any way, any other team member performing the same action must be reprimanded or disciplined in the same manner, regardless of their position, seniority, or contribution to the team.

10. The unity of the team must never be compromised.

No one outside the team can be allowed to have more influence over the team than the team members. No one within the team can be allowed to form cliques or make other members feel excluded.

11. Team members must trust one another’s ability to perform their position.

They don’t have to like each other, they don’t even have to be civil to one another. But they must be able to trust on their team mate’s ability to perform their specific position, and must rely on each other when it comes to reaching the team’s goal.

12. No one is allowed to turn against the team or against one of its members.

All confrontations must be resolved, but they must be resolved away from the eyes and the ears of the team. When one of the team members is confronted or attacked, the whole team feels confronted or attacked. You don’t take a team member aside to spare his feelings, you do it to minimize the effect of the talk on the team.

13. Members must be made to feel accepted, included, and their position secured within the team.

This is obvious when we are welcoming new members, but it is not so obvious when an existing member is promoted, given new responsibilities, or is failing within the team.

14. Loyalty belongs to the team.

Team members must not only be loyal to the team and other team members, they must be loyal to everything that has to do to the team. No member can be allowed to badmouth the team, its product, its image, other members, or anything to do with the team. They can disagree with the team, but once the decision to proceed in a certain path is made, complete loyalty and effort is expected.

15. The team must evolve, must change.

Everything changes and so must the team. Change forces people to grow. People come and people go and as they come and go the dynamics of the team change. To expect the team to remain the same for ever is insanity. Even when the team members remain, as time passes, they change and become other people, again changing the dynamics of the team. It is futile to try to keep the team from changing because of previous successes. Embrace change, it will only make the team better.


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