5 Things You Can Do To Build A Better Team

By Alexis Phillips


Find the compelling mission – and you will find common ground.

This is relatively straightforward with a project team and may not be so obvious with, for example, a team of regional directors.

And yet, the compelling mission is what teams align around when the going gets tough; it is the commitment that is more important than individual results.

What you can do:

Work with the team to articulate the team mission. For some teams, this will mean looking outside the box of the standard business measures.

Ask this question, “at the end of the year if we were a high performing team, what would we accomplish together? What would “winning” look like with this team?

Listen with the ears of the team – it is personal and it is not.

The best teams value the contributions of different talent. There is an appreciation for the differences.

They are vital. Different people are tuned to different frequencies, see things differently. All of these voices in the system are essential, even the unpopular or marginalized voices—sometimes especially those because they provide a fair warning or the next direction the team needs to take.

What you can do:

When there is disagreement on the team listen for the fraction that is useful and feel free to discard the rest.

Look beyond the skill of the messenger to deliver the message and look for a version, however small, of the message that is a contribution to the team.

This is not for the sake of achieving consensus; the disagreement may not be resolved. This is about hearing the voices and respecting the differences.

You can even make that person the banner carrier, the steward of that voice on the team.

Conscious Contracting – make the ground rules clear and specific

On most teams the ground rules for “how things are done around here” learned by observation and very subtle punishment and reward.

There are often vast gray areas. This is especially prevalent when it includes decision making and conflict on the team.

The result is caution, holding back. For teams to perform at their highest potential it is essential that there is clarity of expectations.

What you can do:

Very consciously create the team contract. What is the culture we want to create? What will we declare as our values?

What are the rules of engagement when there is differences of opinion? How will we design giving and receiving feedback? What is the behavior we want to see? What will we not tolerate?

Increase Positivity – Decrease Negativity

Research shows (John Gottman PhD) that sustainable relationships survive and thrive on positivity. It doesn’t mean sitting around the campfire singing “Kumbaya”.

It does mean encouraging appreciation and acknowledgment on the team, creating agreements to not tolerated toxic communication styles, and getting to know team members as human beings beyond their function.

This builds a healthy bank account of good will that teams draw from when there is stress or difficulty.

What you can do:

Begin or end a meeting with an appreciation for contributions of the team members. Create team agreements and hold each other accountable to reduce toxicity in team communications.

Start a Conversation

Beyond the very necessary and functional exchange of information, there is an opportunity to actually build a team.

For the most part, that functional communication moves tasks forward but does not engage people on the level that builds the team.

A conversation about the team builds the team and it can be as simple as the question, “on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 outstanding, where would you say this team is when it comes to trust?” “What would we need to change to make it a 10?”

It can also be a very direct effort to deal with the troublesome topics that exist under the surface—those topics that everyone knows about and no one is speaking about.

What you can do:

Set aside time specifically for team conversation. It doesn’t have to be the hottest topic on the team.

Intentional conversation can feel risky and yet it is the very vulnerability that builds trust and makes the next conversation easier.

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