Buzzwords regularly come and go in the field of human resources (HR), but one term that is never far from the thoughts of human resource practitioners is “team-building”.

The reason is simple: You can have the best people and give them the best training possible, but if they do not interact effectively together, they will never achieve their full potential.


Why do teams exist?

Something magical happens when you unite individual, disparate parts into a collective whole. If done well, the whole can achieve far greater outcomes than the individuals could on their own. And being social creatures, people are naturally happier and more engaged if they feel they are part of a team of like-minded colleagues.

The ultimate team-building aim of a team leader or manager is to get all team members working towards a common objective. Having a clear sense of purpose helps motivate the team to continually strive to improve.

It helps the team focus on the most important activities. It also helps team members  to appreciate the importance of their role — and each other’s — in the team achieving that objective. All of which builds team unity.

Throughout my career as a business improvement consultant, entrepreneur and business owner, I have explored ways to improve team performance.

The recent spate of neuroscience breakthroughs provided a fascinating insight into how individuals can improve their effectiveness in developing new skills.

The two are closely linked — if your team is going to continually improve, individual members need to build skills. This is far easier to achieve and, most importantly, embed into changed behaviour in the workplace if done within a supportive team environment.

Simple systems work

To help others benefit from my leadership and team-building experience, I condensed the concepts into a set of practical, repeatable steps that was broad enough to serve the needs of as many people as possible.

These steps can be applied to just about anything. When such a system is used at all levels of the organisation — from front line employees through to the chief executive officer — amazing things can be achieved.

I have refined the process into a simple five-part system. The system can be implemented in different ways depending on whether you are building a skill, a team or a business. Let’s look at each of the five parts when the system is used to increase team performance:

1. Vision

High-performing teams need a common vision — a compelling picture of the future that the team can work towards. It should be short and emotionally meaningful to the team members.

Visions are aspirational. They represent a perfect scenario or “team utopia’’ that will be difficult to reach. Using the vision as a focus for developing goals and action plans ensures that the team remains focused on the activities that are most relevant and important.

2. Goals

Smaller, short-term goals help teams stay on track to achieving their overall vision. While teams will always have targets thrust upon them, it is more empowering if the team can also set themselves more attainable milestones along the way that help motivate and provide a sense of achievement.

Goals also provide clarity about what the team will focus on in the short term. Goals should be “smart”: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

3. Feedback

Feedback is a vital component of the system. It provides external information that enables the team to objectively assess its performance and continue to improve. Get feedback on the team’s performance from both internal and external stakeholders in a regular, systematic fashion. Always ask what could be done to improve the score.

4. Gap analysis

Periodically, the team should compare where it is now (determined by the feedback received) to where it wants to be (goals). The team then needs to identify the causes of any gap and determine possible solutions.

Separate the causes into two groups: those within the control of the team to fix, and those outside the team’s control. Avoid wasting the team’s energies on things outside your control. Gaps within your control will form the basis of your actions.

5. Action

Having sought feedback on team performance and identified gaps between current and desired levels of performance, the team can now develop an action plan to tackle the causes of the gaps that are within its control.

Typically these action plans are developed, discussed and agreed to as part of a regular team meeting. Action plans should be simple and pragmatic and designed specifically to bridge the gap between the team’s goals and their current performance.

Clearly denote what the task involves, who is responsible, and by when it is to be completed (be sure to set realistic timeframes). Tasks should be displayed prominently to remind all team members of their obligations.

This simple five-part system has helped hundreds of teams the world over to achieve great things. It works across industries and functions, and it does not incur the expense and lost productivity that team-wide training can. Most importantly, it gives your team a framework on which to develop and reinforce the behaviours that will drive performance to the next level.