Building an Effective Team


Faced with increasingly and fiercely competitive market conditions, organizations are striving to find the most effective operational tools.

In the past decade, many companies have come to realize how crucial the implementation of self-managed work teams is to their bottom lines. Significant evidence exists that the utilization of teams improves the productivity of human resources and, thus, the way a company conducts business. Quite simply, self-managed work teams have been proven to work. With this awareness has come increasing demand for knowledge on how to form, maintain and manage the kind of cross-functional teams that succeed.

The purpose of this discussion is to reveal how your organization can establish the conditions for successful team behavior and results. This discussion provides a six step process that reveals how to best get a team started, define team goals, select the best candidates for team membership, establish the role of a team leader, secure the resources a team needs to succeed, and to measure and reward success.

For further information, see Becoming a Manager of High Performance Work Teams.

  1. Results to Expect?
  2. Getting Started

Results to Expect


Here are some results you can expect from high-performance teams:

  • Shared vision
  • Shared goals to achieve the vision
  • Team members help one another to successfully reach goals
  • A clear relationship between each team member's day-to-day work and your organization's vision and mission
  • Team members who are excited to try innovative, new ideas and are rewarded for doing so
  • Teams recognized for group performance in addition to individual accomplishments
  • Open communication between team members improves performance
  • Conflict is understood as relatively normal and viewed as an opportunity to solve problems
  • Productivity, along with morale, soars
  • Heightened productivity leads to long-term bottom-line improvements

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Getting Started


Defining The Problem

The steps for setting up conditions for team success are:

  • Choose a meaningful problem to solve, a goal to meet, a new idea to implement
  • Decide who needs to be involved or represented in order to achieve the highest team synergy
  • Establish goals
  • Provide time and space along with overall direction and vision—then let the team go to work
  • Provide resources along the way in the form of information, tools and financial investment.
  • Measure results and reward success

The following example, using a bicycle manufacturing company, will demonstrate all six steps.

A bicycle manufacturer wants to reduce the number of defects in a specific line of bikes. For this example, let's suppose they chose a mountain bike in the mid-price range because of its high sales volume and the cost of returns and repairs. Although the bike is selling very well, the retailers are complaining about the demand for repairs on the bike, and the service department has noted substantial revenue loss due to returns after a few months of use.

Here are the steps the owner, department leader or team leader can take to utilize a team approach on this project.

Step One:

Determine the improvements you want to see and state them in measurable terms.

Utilizing teams means you will be able to easily identify when goals are met. For the mountain bike firm, the team leader decides that the goal is to have zero defects. This will be measured by no returns or repairs due to problems generated by defects in the bike. Returns and repairs will only be generated by customer misuse or other customer-related issues.

The team leader should gather the return figures and the repair costs for the time prior to the team-improvement effort. The team leader now has a measurable goal to introduce to the team, as well as data prior to implementing team improvement with which to measure results.


Now it's your turn. What problem, company goal or new innovative idea do you want to achieve through a team effort?

List your ideas below:




How will you measure your team's success? What current data do you have that can be measured against following team-implemented changes?

State the goal for your team in measurable behavioral terms:




Step Two:

Decide who needs to be involved or represented in order to achieve the highest team synergy.

The general rule is that you want someone from every department that touches the product to be on the team. This includes production, sales, and after-sales staff. Teams must be small enough in number for efficient work and decision-making. An appropriate range is between 3 and 9, with the ideal number being 5.

The team leader needs to get buy-in from other department heads in order to pull someone from their departments to participate on the team. Be prepared to face resistance and to prove what's in it for other department heads to give up their valuable resources for the period of time needed for them to be an integral part of the team.

In our example, the mountain bike “zero defect” team leader recruited someone from design, engineering, the assembly floor, marketing, sales and after-purchase service. The cross-functional team represents every department that influences the making, sale and maintenance of the bike. More importantly, this team represents who will be impacted by changes to the bike. Remember, those impacted by change should be a part of the change process.

Another consideration in team make-up is the skill levels of those you are recruiting. A bicycle engineer may be very good at diagnosing engineering glitches but not so great at communicating them to a team and working with others to fix them. You want to recruit team members with the following skills:

  • Willingness to take a risk and put their ideas on the line in order to change an existing process
  • Willingness to hear and understand others' ideas in order for true synergistic outcomes to occur
  • Ability to convince others to make some changes
  • Ability to build good give-and-take relationships with other departments, teams, vendors and retailers
  • Ability to reach consensus

Step Three:

The first thing the team leader will do is ensure that the team has a concrete set of measurable goals. This step is done collaboratively with the team using five goal-setting criteria.

The criteria can be easily remembered using the acronym SMART:

  • Stated in behavioral, simple terms. (Zero defects in the mountain bike line)
  • Measurable. (Measured by no returns or repairs due to bike defects for one year after change implementation)
  • Actionable. (The cross-functional team can take action based on this goal)
  • Realistic. (The team decided that it was realistic to have no returns or repairs due to bike defects)
  • Timed. (The team decided that they can reach this goal in one year of measured sales after change implementations)

The zero defects mountain bike team is now ready to achieve its goal.

Step Four:

Provide time and space along with overall direction and vision — then let the team go to work.

This means that once goals are set and the vision is clear (zero defects for one year after change implementation), the team leader needs to let the team do what it does best.

What is the role of the team leader? The team leader should:

  • Hold regular, short, high-powered team meetings to ensure that the team is on the right track toward the vision (weekly may suffice, but daily early morning 15-minute power meetings are not uncommon).
  • Provide information and resources that the team may not be able to obtain on its own. The team leader should have access to those with power and control. Never give a team a project without access to the power and control they need to achieve success!
  • Facilitate team problem-solving when they encounter conflict as they work through the team development stages of forming, storming, norming and performing. This can be accomplished through skill-building and real-time application in team meetings.
  • Reward team performance and recognize individual contributions.
  • Keep the team free from distractions, such as crises in other departments, complaints from their immediate supervisor regarding their absence, etc.

The team leader also needs to work as team advocate as we will see in the following step.

Step Five:

Provide resources along the way in the form of information, tools and financial investment.

Here is how the zero defects team leader accomplished this step:

The zero defects team identified that the parts defects in the derailers and forks were the source of 90 percent of the mountain bike's returns and repairs. They decided to change the vendor that supplied the bike's derailers and forks to improve quality. When they attempted to challenge the parts manager's decision to stay with the current vendor, they met a force stronger than what they alone could tackle.

The team leader intervened and convinced the parts manager to change vendors using two incentives:

  • Money saved over time on replacement parts
  • Company-wide recognition she would receive for seeing what needed to happen and for cooperating with the team

The team itself did not have the power or influence to convince the parts manager to cooperate. They needed these resources from the team leader.

Remember, never give a team a goal without also giving them the power and resources to reach it.

Step Six:

Measure results and reward success.

After the team's ideas and suggestions are put into action, they, with help from the team leader, begin to measure their results. In our mountain bike zero defects example, now is the time to use the data collected from returns and repairs on this specific bike to compare pre-change data to post-change data.

Remember that the goal was to have no returns or repairs due to bike defects for one year after change implementation. This means that the team must build good systems for retailers, service and parts in order to keep track of returns and repairs. Once those measurement systems are in place, the team can evaluate its progress. The team should decide upon rewards, but many times these rewards entail a percentage of the savings from the team's innovation or idea for one year — divided among the team members. This not only incentives others to participate in teams, it also proves the company's commitment to rewarding innovative behavior. Other rewards include pizza parties or reward ideas generated by the team itself.

At this point, the team formally dissolves, and its members return to their departments. They continue to meet periodically to measure results and celebrate success. When implementing a cross-functional team in your own company, remember that they are only successful when they have full and deliberate support from management and a strong team leader.

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