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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
How to build an effective team
Chloe Hamman, Director of Product People Science at Culture Amp

Chloe Hamman

Director of People Science, Product, Culture Amp

Many organizations are moving to flatter team-oriented structures, so it's essential to understand what makes teams cohesive, productive, and thus effective. What do we mean by an effective team?

Well, we believe an effective team is a team that performs well and contributes to the overall success of the company. Such teams should also provide every team member with an environment where they can do their best work, develop, and feel a sense of belonging and pride.

Culture Amp created Team Effectiveness to help organizations nurture teams. Team Effectiveness assesses the essential factors of effective teams, such as:

  • Psychological safety
  • Interpersonal sensitivity
  • Dependability

In this article, we share three ways to start building a foundation for effective teams using these effective factors. You can apply these to your own team, whether you're a manager or a team member.

Three ways to build the foundation for an effective team

1. Establish trust

The best exercises for building psychological safety and interpersonal sensitivity are those that increase trust between team members. Activities focusing on building emotional intelligence – particularly self-awareness and awareness of others – are a great place to start. A group discussion exploring team preferences and styles can be of great value. Understanding your preferred ways of working and how they might differ from your teammates is incredibly helpful in building understanding and empathy.

Each team member answers the questions in a group, and others simply listen (or take notes if they like).

Questions might include:

  • When (and how) do you prefer to give and receive feedback?
  • What is your preferred method of communication?
  • How do you prefer to disagree?
  • What time of day do you feel most productive?

For more tips, Amy Edmondson has an excellent TEDx talk covering how to build a psychologically safe workplace.

2. Build dependability

Establishing ground rules of engagement can help foster both psychological safety and dependability. Ground rules don’t have to be lengthy or elaborate, but they should fit your unique team’s situation and be accepted by all members.

Examples might be:

  • Speak your mind during meetings, not after
  • Encourage team members to share information with one another
  • Have at least one other team member review reports before submission
  • Prioritize customer-related tasks before internal tasks
  • Debrief projects within one week of completion

Another strategy for building dependability is having well-run daily or weekly team stand-up meetings. This facilitates visibility and support for team members’ current projects, challenges, and successes rather than "keeping tabs" on members. This way, team members hold each other accountable collectively, and help is more likely to be offered and requested. You can also use a team Trello board if your team prefers a written version of tasks to reference.

3. Strengthen communication

Maintaining awareness of verbal communication within your team can be done continuously. Practice avoiding phrases that assign blame, such as “Why did you do this?” and instead focus on solutions. For example, “How can we work together to ensure this goes more smoothly next time?”

It’s also important to be aware of what your non-verbal communication is saying by focusing on body language. Non-verbal cues such as eye-rolling, folded arms, or even subtle scowling (which many of us are unaware we do) can signal to teammates that their contributions are being judged or not valued. Try using open body language and giving your full attention by not using your phone or laptop during conversations. These simple (and often missed) gestures can rapidly build trust in a team.

Building effective teams is an ongoing process

Understanding what factors make an effective team makes improving how people work together easier.  As you’re working to build trust, dependability, and communication in your team, create a regular cadence on which to gather feedback to track progress.

Using a survey that measures team effectiveness will highlight where you’re making great strides and where there should be more focus. You should also look at how you enable teamwork within your organization – things like developing team-based goals – to further support effective teams.  

What’s next

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