by Gwyn Williams and Bruce Milroy

In a nutshell

1. What is a team?

A team has been defined as a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

  • Banding together in teams is very much part of our ancient, primeval history and therefore there is vast evidence of the benefit of working in teams.
  • A team is any number of individuals from three to 12. In terms of team size, six to 12 members is the ideal. Fewer than six may not provide a sufficient range of ideas and more than 12 tend to split into subgroups that are likely to undermine the concept of team working.
  • Generally speaking, it is accepted that teams outperform individuals.


2. Why build a team?

Teams make a difference because they only come about when the task at hand is too large (scale) or difficult (complexity) for one person to complete alone.

  • Collectively, a team can create an environment that allows a sharing of diverse views, ideas and skills that ultimately results in an output that is stronger, better and more coherent than any one individual member of the team could have produced.
  • By spending time together, having common experiences, and clearly understanding the strengths and weaknesses that individuals bring to the team, you can take the team to a higher level of performance.
  • Without due attention to team process – the mechanisms by which the team acts as a unit and not as a loose collection of individuals – the value of the team can be diminished or even destroyed.
  • The functioning of the team itself should be viewed as an important resource whose maintenance must be managed just like any other resource.
  • This management should be undertaken by the team itself, so that it forms a normal part of team activities.
  • It is the leader’s responsibility to create an environment in which the team assumes this accountability and has the capability to self-manage its development.
  • Good team building establishes a sense of home and of belonging to something worthwhile, with a particular style and identity.
  • It increases motivation, engagement, participation, skill development, performance, productivity, leadership and communication.


3. Teams can be scary!

As a new team member or leader, it’s important to consider the types of questions people are likely to be considering, both at a conscious and sub-conscious level. In an organisational environment, there is a high likelihood that people won’t be asking these questions out loud – but that doesn’t mean they’re not pondering the possible answers. The questions tend to concern conscious and subconscious fears:

  • What exactly will be expected of me?
  • What risks am I willing to take here?
  • Will I feel pressured and pushed to perform in some way?
  • Will I be disliked, rejected or thought stupid?
  • Will I be the most powerful and important, or will others be seen in a better light than I will?


4. Overview of team development stages

Dr Bruce Tuckman published his Forming Storming Norming Performing model in 1965. He added a fifth stage, Adjourning, in the 1970s. The model is regularly used to understand where teams are in their lifecycle.

  • Recognising the characteristics and needs of the team at each of these development stages can give the team leader a significant tool for moving the team towards higher performance.
  • It is crucial for the leader to recognise the characteristics being displayed, and understand the team’s changing needs and the leadership behaviours that will best serve the team and, if necessary, enable it to move to the next stage.
  • A group might be happily Norming or Performing, but a disturbance – such as a new leader or, indeed, any new member, or a new project that is significantly different from the former task – might force them back into Storming.


5. Stage 1: Forming (or childhood)

Forming is the stage when the group first comes together, though a group may revert to forming when a new leader takes over (or even when a new member joins).

  • The key issues centre around acceptance, trust and personal well-being.
  • Group members set about gathering impressions and data about the similarities and differences among them and forming preferences for cliques.
  • Rules of behaviour seem to be to keep things simple and to avoid controversy. Serious topics and feelings are avoided.
  • Introductions should include previous experience, what each person wants from the team and what has worked or not worked for them in the past.


6. Stage 2. Storming (or adolescence)

This is a time when individual members feel comfortable enough in the team to begin to challenge decisions. They test the boundaries of authority by arguing their point, standing their ground, and sometimes actively seeking an argument with others in the team – just like teenagers do with their parents.

  • Factions form, personalities clash, sub-groups come to the fore.
  • Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and the precise criteria for evaluation.
  • The team leader must concentrate on establishing a good, productive atmosphere, cementing solid interpersonal relations between the team members and keeping them focused on a common vision and the tasks and goals agreed.
  • Don’t fight it! If individuals appear cynical, take the time to listen to their concerns and understand why they feel the way they do.
  • Involving someone early in a process can create an emotional engagement and make them feel more valued and appreciated.


7. Stage 3. Norming (or early adulthood)

In the norming phase, interpersonal relations are characterised by cohesion. The in-fighting subsides and individuals and cliques begin to recognise the merits of working together. Harmony becomes the norm.

  • The most significant improvement is that people start to listen to each other.
  • The major task function of stage three is the data flow between group members: they now share feelings and ideas, solicit and give feedback to one another, and explore actions related to the task.
  • Now is the time to put in place detailed plans, expected standards of work and methods of frequent communication.
  • Creativity is high.
  • The leader can begin to step back, be less directive, and encourage others to assume leadership, as appropriate
  • Members may begin to fear the inevitable future break-up of the group, so they may resist change of any sort.


8. Phase 4: Performing (or maturity)

This stage, which is not reached by all groups, is the culmination, when the group has settled on a system which allows free and frank exchange of views and a high degree of support by the group for each other and its own decisions.

  • In this stage, people can work independently, in subgroups, or as a total unit with equal levels of effectiveness
  • There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale and energy is high, and group loyalty is intense.
  • What members of the group need from their team leader is clarity on the boundaries that they can operate within, and permission to be flexible and creative in order to complete the task.


9. Phase 5: Adjourning (or retiring)

Concluding a group can create some apprehension – in effect, a minor crisis.

  • A planned conclusion usually includes recognition for participation and achievement and an opportunity for members to say personal goodbyes.
  • When teams don’t go through a process of disengagement, members can often feel ‘unfinished’.


10. Attributes of a high-performing team

Does your team exhibit the following characteristics?

  • A high level of inter-dependence among team members
  • Team members have developed mutual trust
  • The team is clear about goals and establishes targets
  • Team member roles are defined
  • Each team member is willing to contribute
  • There’s an environment of healthy contention and communication
  • Team members can examine failure without slipping into personal attacks
  • The team has a capacity to create new ideas
  • Each member knows he can influence the team agenda
  • The leader has good people skills and is committed to a team approach.


11. The team leader’s role

An effective team leader will

  • Create a positive climate with a shared vision
  • Help develop a set of principles
  • Liaise between the team and upper management
  • Encourage team member growth
  • Be fair
  • Be supportive
  • Give direction where needed


12. Running a team or group session

Any meeting should be considered as a teambuilding event, even the regular weekly or monthly meeting. Whenever and wherever the team gets together, think about the implications and possibilities in relation to helping the team perform. You may also organise other, more formal activities, exercises or group events, as well as other social activities such as ten-pin bowling.

  • For more formal and carefully-considered exercises and games to tackle team issues or develop specific skills, such as leadership or communication, we would suggest that you use an outside consultant who specialises in team building.
  • You should meet on at least a monthly basis; you certainly shouldn’t leave more than three months between meetings, even in exceptional circumstances.
  • Prepare carefully for each meeting and make sure everyone else who needs to also has time to prepare.
  • You may start by giving team members a chance to express their thoughts about how the team is progressing and any unresolved issues.


13. Ideal conditions for teambuilding

To build an effective team, the leader must have good people skills, be committed to developing a team approach, and allocate time to team-building activities. Team management should be seen as a shared function, and team members given the opportunity to exercise leadership when their experiences and skills are appropriate to the needs of the team. Team building works best when there’s

  • A blame-free, trusting, supportive and interactive environment
  • A high level of interdependence among team members
  • Clarity around goals and targets that are stretching but achievable.


14. When to get in an external consultant

Allowing a dysfunctional team to continue can lead to costs through duplicated effort, redundancies, recruitment and production delays. A facilitator may help with

  • Establishing a team vision and setting goals
  • Team and organisation objective setting
  • Effective team meetings and team problem solving
  • Dispute resolution and mediation
  • Root cause analysis
  • Breakthrough thinking
  • Establishing a change strategy and change management
  • Business planning
  • Team review and feedback sessions


15. Common approaches to teambuilding

There are many approaches to teambuilding and your choice will depend on what your outcome is for the team and on what is available by way of time, budget and facilities.

  • Teambuilding events are extremely popular and can be enormously beneficial in the early stages of team development, creating a bond and a sense of trust between individual team members.
  • Events are normally designed to take people out of their ‘comfort zone’ by encouraging them to take part in activities which are more challenging than a regular office job.
  • Other events are run simply to provide fun, adrenaline-packed activities that enable to team to relax, enjoy themselves, get to know each other, and feel rewarded for their efforts.
  • Possible social events might include going to the local pub, taking part in a pub quiz, doing something for a local charity or community, taking part in a charity event, or going to the races together.
  • Questionnaires can be a useful way to stimulate a conversation in the team and encourage the members of your team to talk about how they feel and suggest ways that the team could improve the way it works.
  • Models, such as the FIT model or the John Adair model, can be used to inform and encourage discussion within a team about how the team is functioning.


16. FIT model

The FIT (Functioning Integrated Team) Model breaks down the performance of teams into the key elements that differentiate high-performing teams from the norm.

  • It’s critically important that members of your team understand what the whole organisation is trying to achieve; what the team is trying to achieve, and how this particular team helps the organisation to achieve its goals.
  • Once the team is clear on its purpose and why it exists, you should spend time thinking through what the team actually produces as an output. If your team provides a service or is a pure management team, outputs can be hard to identify, but are definitely worth some thought.
  • As team leader, it’s your job to make sure that you understand what the team is trying to achieve (team purpose); what they actually produce (team outputs), and how they will be measured (performance measures).
  • Get the team to consider whether they have the inputs they require in order to do a good job.
  • You also need to consider the core work and support processes required for the team to achieve its goals and objectives in the most effective way.
  • What are the core tasks and goals the team aims to complete, and in which order of importance are they held?
  • Individual objectives should link up with the team’s objectives and the organisation’s vision.
  • The processes of making decisions and then communicating them effectively and consistently are absolutely vital to the success of any high-performing team.
  • It’s also important that you, and all the members of your team, are clear about the team structure, roles and how you are going to cope with any problems over locations.
  • Taking time to clarify what is valued in the team is an essential aspect of creating a well-formed and bonded team.
  • As part of your role, you should review the performance of individuals within the team, and then offer them constructive and helpful feedback on how you see them and what they can do to help improve the performance of your team.
  • If your financial incentives are out of alignment with your team philosophy, then creating a high-performing team is almost impossible.
  • You may not be able to influence pay and bonus awards, but you can think of personal ways to reward and motivate your team.
  • You need to create a culture that is involving, engaging and inclusive – the kind of culture that most people want to work in.


17. John Adair model

John Adair describes a team as having three key needs:

  • Task – the need to accomplish something (in other words, what the team will do)
  • Group – the need to develop and maintain harmonious working relationships (how people relate to each other)
  • Individual – the personal needs and aims of team members


18. Case study

A case study illustrates how a senior management team, which was already performing well, set about performing to a higher standard.