Team Effectiveness

We’re in the midst of the 'rise of the team'. The way we work is dramatically changing, with the ever-increasing complexity of the knowledge economy, organizations moving to flatter structures and employees being dispersed across the globe. Forward-thinking organizations are dissolving traditional hierarchies and turning to networks of teams to power success.

As teams increasingly drive performance, organizations need to understand how teams are performing, what they’re doing well and how they can improve. The teams themselves also need access to this insight in order to drive change from within.

It’s more important than ever to gather reliable data to better understand how teams are tracking, as well as specific, actionable feedback to help teams improve.

In this People Geek Guide, we’ll look at:

  • Why your organization should assess team effectiveness
  • Four steps to establish a strong team effectiveness methodology
  • How to drive and support action for all teams

Why assess team effectiveness?

Teams are complex entities. They are more than simply the sum of their parts, with recent research showing that teams perform better than even the best individual contributors on challenging tasks.

Putting it simply, great teams are more than just groups of great individuals. They’re distinguished by collective behaviors, like the ability to collaborate with others across geographical, temporal, and, of course, interpersonal barriers.

Feedback that focuses either on the organization or the individual, while important, risks failing to capture the specific alchemy of a high-performing team.

A team effectiveness survey should:

  • Provide feedback to teams to drive their own development
  • Assist organizations in understanding the overall health of their teams

Four steps to establish a team effectiveness methodology

These four steps will prepare your organization and your teams to understand and build on team effectiveness:

  1. Set your survey up for success
  2. Get teams ready to give and receive feedback
  3. Utilize organizational insights
  4. Drive action at the team level

Step 1. Set your survey up for success

A little bit of homework goes a long way in setting up a survey that will provide meaningful feedback for teams. Look for a tool that:

  • Is backed by research
  • Is connected to team performance
  • Is customizable
  • Includes driver analysis in reporting
  • Makes sharing results easy
  • Has intuitive reporting
  • Provides aggregate results across teams

Backed by research

Not everyone is an expert in team effectiveness. But they don’t need to be. A well-researched template can do the heavy lifting for you by assessing key constructs that have been linked to team performance.

There’s a lot of research out there, from theoretical models through to more recent applied research, like Google’s Project Aristotle, which Culture Amp researched whilst designing Team Effectiveness.

A quality survey template should make the most of the leading expertise and have a large overlap with several models. The template should include items to assess the foundational components of the team, such as team structure, role clarity and capabilities of members. A good survey will also measure important team processes and environmental elements to round out the assessment.

Survey items should then go deeper to assess the individual’s experience within the team climate as well as the spoken and unspoken team beliefs.

Connected to team performance

A quality survey will include the team’s perception of how they are performing which can be cross-checked with external team performance data.

Customizable

While more organizations are implementing team-based structures the nature of the implementation, and what companies define as a team, varies widely. Teams may have no leader and incorporate shared leadership principles. They may be in the same office and timezone or on opposite sides of the globe. A great survey can be customized to reflect whatever teamwork looks like in your organization.

Driver analysis in reporting

Driver analysis is the key to creating actionable feedback at an organisational or group level. It lets you know what is most important for teams in your organization by identifying which factors assessed by the survey are most likely to move the needle on a particular outcome.

This means, for example, if you want to improve team experience, you can see exactly which changes will have the largest impact. This is what elevates a survey beyond just identifying what’s going well or not so well for a team. Driver analysis helps prioritize areas to focus on to make a real impact.

Aggregate reporting across teams

Aggregating results across all teams tells the organization-wide story of team effectiveness. Strengths and gaps quickly emerge, providing the platform for targeted organization-wide initiatives.

Leaders can also reflect on what the aggregate picture says about their role in leading effective teams. A broad lack of alignment between team and organizational goals could, for example, mean leaders need to communicate more or clarify the strategy for achieving the mission.

Results can be shared

A great survey design makes it quick and easy to transfer results out of the hands of survey administrators and into the hands of team members. This allows teams to quickly understand and form shared views on which behaviors are driving their effectiveness, where there are opportunities to improve, and what adjustments would make the most impactful change.

Intuitive reporting

In addition to sharing results easily, reports need to be easy to understand. Then teams will be able to spend less time getting up to speed on interpreting the data and more time where it counts – on taking action.

Step 2. Get teams ready to give and receive feedback

Choosing a team effectiveness survey is just the first step. The real value comes from how feedback is given and received. It’s essential to create an environment where individuals will be open to giving and receiving honest feedback. For a team effectiveness survey, this means:

  • Selecting teams appropriately
  • Properly preparing teams
  • Protecting confidentiality
  • Being clear on ownership
  • Being clear on purpose

Select teams appropriately

Not every team will be ready for a team effectiveness survey. The most stable and accurate (and therefore the most useful) assessment of team dynamics happens when a team is relatively established. What’s important is that the team has had sufficient time to establish the foundation of their team, and, most importantly, build trust. Without trust, team members may not feel comfortable providing honest feedback.

All teams go through stages of development. Tuckman’s well-known model provides a useful framework for understanding how teams usually progress. The model is now decades old, but still referenced in current research. The original model defines four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. While, in theory, all teams progress through these stages, different teams will take different amounts of time to move through.

Tuckman's team development model: storming, forming, norming and performing.

Adjourning is the final stage referenced in later editions of Tuckman’s model. All teams will eventually ‘break-up’ – project teams will often split after a fixed time and even longer term teams may disband if an organization restructures.

Properly prepare your teams

It can be difficult for team members to make assessments on themes they haven’t had time to think about. Prepare respondents during pre-survey communications by sharing examples of the different aspects of team effectiveness that will be covered in the survey. This nudge will remind them to take some time to think about their team experience prior to completing the survey.

Be clear on purpose

As part of preparing teams, be clear about the purpose of the team effectiveness survey and how results will be used from the start. This respects the time and effort team members put into the process and knowing how the results will be used encourages them to provide honest feedback.

Use pre-survey communications to clearly outline the developmental purpose of the survey and explain:

  • What will happen when the survey closes
  • When team members will receive results
  • What both individual team and aggregate results will be used for

Protect confidentiality

Even within the typically flat structure of teams, respondents often feel most comfortable providing honest feedback anonymously or confidentially. This means that teams below a certain size (i.e. 4) may not be able to participate.

As team feedback becomes the norm, you may be able to relax the confidentiality component. Team members will understand the power of providing and receiving feedback and that it is solely used for developmental purposes.

Be clear on ownership

Team effectiveness is the result of the dynamics of all team members – it’s not just about the team lead. It follows that real improvement will only come when the whole team is on board and collectively owns the survey process and results. Set the expectation up front that the whole team will be working together to act on their results.

Step 3. Utilize organizational insights

Aggregate reports can provide a wealth of data, going well beyond a simple high/low analysis. These two steps help to make the most of these organizational insights:

  • Identify a focus area
  • Identify segments for additional targeted support

Identify a focus area

Organizational-level results showcase the health of teams across your organization. Reflect on what organization-wide strengths and areas for improvement say about the organizational environment. A low organizational alignment result could prompt leaders to reimagine and clarify the goal setting process or revisit how they communicate the strategy. Similarly, a low result for questions around people having what they need to achieve their goals could spark a look at resourcing.

Identify segments for additional targeted support

Quality surveys will allow you to cut your data in different ways to build deeper insights and identify patterns that might be otherwise hidden. In addition to cutting by team, you should be able to explore your results by demographics such as tenure, gender, location and whether or not teams have received training.

A cut by department, for example, may reveal that all sales teams are weak in communication. You can then deploy targeted resources to those segments to build capability.

Or an alternate cut by training program may highlight the impact of team development initiatives and illustrate which teams still need coaching and support.

Step 4. Drive action at the team level

Real change comes when teams own their results and lead their own development with support from organization-wide initiatives.

Build team ownership and momentum by:

  • Sharing results
  • Coaching team leads
  • Supporting and guiding actions for development
  • Embedding team effectiveness into your culture

Sharing results

Each team should receive a tailored report relating specifically to their team. The tailored report is the foundation for team reflection on how they are performing in each of the components associated with an effective team.

Coaching team leads

Ideally, team leaders should guide members through the team results as a group and facilitate a discussion about strengths and opportunities for development.

Empower team leads through different resources – i.e. coaching, videos, articles or guides – to interpret and discuss the results with their team.

Provide support for development

Each team will have specific development needs and will need well-considered support. Extensive development actions won’t build ownership, while a blank slate can be overwhelming. In both cases, the result is often inaction. A basic template with plenty of room for individual team customizations tends to work best.

To spur brainstorming and ideas, outline some potential actions that teams could tailor for their specific needs. This will give teams something to work with and point them in the right direction. Then ask teams if they need additional resources from the organization.

Embedding team effectiveness into your culture

Once your organization builds a strong understanding of team effectiveness, make it part of your culture. This means making it part of the way you work every day, in formal and informal ways. It could involve connecting team effectiveness results to learning management systems, or even leveraging complementary strengths and weaknesses across teams by creating a team ‘buddy system’ to discuss actions and hold each other accountable.

Cadence of team effectiveness assessments

Survey cadence requires a delicate balance of providing time for teams to act on their development areas and powering ongoing improvements through up-to-date feedback.

As a general rule organizations should survey teams two to four times a year.

Cadence should also be informed by the stage the team is at. It’s essential the team is at a stage where the members can act on feedback. So, if a team will soon be disbanded – for example if a project is about to end – then there is little point in assessing effectiveness by this method. A different survey could be used instead as a retrospective assessment of what worked and didn’t work in the team - and for team members to take these learnings to their next teams.

Conclusion

The rise of teams is changing the way we work and how we provide feedback. Just like individuals, teams need support and development to grow. This growth however can only come based on an understanding of the team as a whole and the collective dynamics of teamwork.

A team effectiveness survey, which gives team members the opportunity to give internal feedback on the health of their team, can help build a shared understanding among team members of what they, as a team, are doing well and where they need to build capability.

In addition, aggregate results zoom out from individual teams to an organization-wide perspective on how teams are functioning across your organization.

Culture Amp’s Team Effectiveness tool is quick and easy to use, and delivers actionable feedback and great team and organizational level reporting.

Good data is just the beginning. Improvement requires teams to own their feedback and act together on their development areas. That’s how to make teams truly greater than the sum of their parts.

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