The essentials of building an effective team

by Andy Nguyen
what makes an effective team

It is literally impossible for every employee to deliver a ‘rockstar’ performance every workday. And no single individual can contain all the knowledge, skills and capacity required to achieve a company’s goals.

You need effective teams—groups of people who can get along with each other, contribute meaningfully, pick up the slack as needs or availability changes, and keep each other accountable. Let’s explore what makes an effective team and useful tips to help you enhance team collaboration in your company.

Know this: great teamwork is more relevant than ever 

Team effectiveness can be defined as the extent to which a team unites and leverages the different talents of its members to successfully accomplish an objective. 

That’s important in today’s modern workplace for the following reasons:

  • Distributed, global workforces are more common—with hybrid and remote working—meaning you can’t rely as much on communication cues or rapport-building through in-person interactions.
  • Diversity and inclusion is recognised as a strength, which requires being able to harness the ideas of people with different backgrounds and opinions. In other words, teamwork without the perils of groupthink.
  • Cross-functional projects have risen in popularity, as both SMEs and large corporations attempt to overcome silos and enable organization-wide initiatives or positive end-to-end customer experiences.
  • Fierce competition in many industries means that team effectiveness can be a key differentiator, especially if your edge in the market hinges on delivering expertise, services, specialized processes or custom solutions. 
  • Continuous learning is a priority to improve employee skills and engagement. Great teamwork allows for peer-to-peer learning, and self-development through experimentation and problem-solving.

Knowing what makes an effective team, and proactively enhancing collaboration at work, is also vital for avoiding dysfunctional and damaging team dynamics. 

When different departments or people within a team can’t (or won’t) cooperate, it rarely has a neutral impact. It often creates a fractious work environment where resentment and disrespectful behaviors can undermine or delay work outputs. 

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Key characteristics of effective teams

Effective teams are not simply people capable of working harmoniously together. When a group’s combined efforts make a more powerful impact or deliver greater value than individuals working alone—you have an effective team. 

Effective teams tend to display these qualities:

  • They communicate well: Members of effective teams listen to each other, freely share ideas and information, make each other feel safe to ask questions, challenge ideas (respectfully), or ask for help when they need it.  
  • They keep their eye on the goal: By discussing responsibilities and goals, and seeking clarity when needed, effective teams stay on track. They’re good at checking-in with each other, managing their own deliverables, and offering feedback on progress. 
  • They share wins and losses: When a mistake occurs and finger-pointing starts, it’s the sign of an ineffective team. While effective teams hold each other accountable, they also support each other to address and learn from mistakes without trying to settle personal scores.
  • They remain flexible and optimistic: Effective teams are more easily able to absorb setbacks, and pivot when unexpected changes are needed—because they’re more committed and confident they can overcome challenges. 
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Sense-check: Not every task requires teamwork

Whether a team is capable of being effective also depends on whether teamwork is required.

Keep in mind:

  • Coordinating groups of people for a long period is often tricky—the downsides can include wasted time, duplicated effort and confusion or conflicts that delay progress. 
  • Sometimes an individual will do a better job, faster, by working alone. 

When is a team better?

When a task is difficult and multifaceted—it benefits from having multiple people generating ideas and working in tandem to find and develop possible solutions.

Recent research from academics from Wharton, MIT and Purdue University finds that “Groups are as fast as the fastest individual and more efficient than the most efficient individual when the task is complex but not when the task is simple.”

People who delegate work need to determine where work sits on what we’ll call the ‘complexity-to-expediency’ spectrum. 

  • Is this a complex, creative task that needs to be completed to a higher standard with collaborative input from multiple people? 
  • Is this a simpler job that can be broken into discrete tasks without much overlap, for individuals to complete efficiently?

Speaking of people who delegate, let’s take a closer look at leaders’ roles.

Leadership can “make or break” team effectiveness

Leaders strongly influence each team member’s ‘mental model’ of what the desired outcome of teamwork is. When leaders are clear about the purpose and practical path to success—team members feel empowered and assured.

In particular, leaders can remove ambiguity and roadblocks for teams by:

  • Rallying employees behind the company vision and strategic goals;  
  • Defining the specific processes and constraints employees must navigate;  
  • Offering practical access to resources and timely support and feedback; and
  • Delegating authority or championing team initiatives to the C-suite. 

The availability of accurate organization-wide performance metrics—like those captured by using Time’s Doctor’s employee monitoring app—can determine whether leaders are able to build and cultivate effective teams, or not. 

Here’s two examples of why:

Leaders decide the composition of teams 

Through hiring, organizational and reporting structures, and selecting people to work on certain projects. Therefore, leaders need the ability to identify who belongs in a team. This would typically be based on their skill-set, performance, and personality. 

Having in-depth metrics about which individuals and teams are high-performers or struggle with certain tasks is a powerful tool for leaders to build an effective team—or allocate work to the right existing team. Time Doctor also helps you gauge team productivity in relation to the specific kinds of projects and clients they’ve worked on before.  

Visibility of individuals’ work patterns via Time Doctor reporting is also useful, because it helps you coordinate group work (or say, in-person days for a hybrid team) with more confidence that employees will be receptive and productive. 

Teamwork at the leadership level matters

Time Doctor’s productivity insights also help leaders self-assess and ‘get on the same page’ to manage the broader team by reviewing objective data. Teamwork among leaders is an oft-overlooked area—but it’s essential. 

Companies with effective leadership teams are more profitable than businesses with a few standout individual leaders, according to recent research by consulting firm Bain and Company. When leaders behave as a cohesive collective—and act as role models for what it means to work together well—it can boost your company’s bottom line. 

Additionally, workforce analytics from Time Doctor that offer team-level insights helps senior executives spot management-related discrepancies between the performance of different departments or projects. That supports coaching and development of managers/team leaders, strengthening how they, in turn, cultivate effective teams.

Strategies for enhancing team collaboration

Start with these seven simple strategies to increase the quality of team collaboration in your workplace.

  • Showcase people’s strengths: You should be promoting your talent as internal resources that can be accessed by other employees. Can you make info about employees’ responsibilities and expertise more visible, so people know ‘who’s job is that?’ and ‘who has this knowledge/skill?’ Use internal communications to help your team know and trust each other more (and share examples of great teamwork!).
  • Encourage social interaction: Collaborating is easier when you have a friendly relationship with someone, and you feel part of a community where interpersonal interactions are safe—and won’t be seen as ‘slacking off’. Support informal group activities like work sports teams or fundraising efforts.
  • Define processes for teamwork: Do you have systems and rituals you expect your employees to embrace when they work together? For example, a kick-off meeting to discuss goals and roles, weekly check-ins, specific project or time tracking software, standard turnaround times when making a request of others, clear escalation rules if teams have issues. 
  • Keep input purposeful: Employees can have a small role across multiple teams, both internal and external via various professional networks. It’s important they’re not spread too thin. People should understand the value they bring to a piece of work and have adequate capacity and opportunity to contribute—otherwise, you risk overwork and disengagement. 
  • Apply collaborative techniques: Face-to-face interactions, whether they’re virtual or in-person, do not guarantee collaboration. In addition to giving people the chance to work closely together, ensure gatherings are purposeful—incorporate specific brainstorming, creative exercises, facilitation, evaluation and team-building activities. 
  • Equip employees to self-manage: Effective team members know what’s expected of them, and feel equipped to get work work done so they don’t hold up progress. Invest in systems that make it easier to provide equal access to information, track work progress, and enable flexible, autonomous workflows (e.g., Time Doctor’s self-directed time tracking tool).  
  • Nurture proven teams: If people find a lot of satisfaction and success in working together, your company can benefit from keeping those teams together across subsequent tasks and projects. Consider how you can provide resources or bigger opportunities that help the team develop (just as you might develop individuals).

Make your team more effective 

Teamwork is critical for reaching major milestones as a business, and the camaraderie and growth that comes with effective teams reinforces your culture and talent development efforts. 

Gain an objective, data-informed view of your team’s productivity with Time Doctor to support your efforts to build an effective team. The best way to know if Time Doctor can help is by booking a free demo.

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