Five Things That Help Create Real Teams

The word “team” is a perfectly good word that is in great danger of crossing the line that divides meaningful language from jargon.  We’ve probably all heard it.

“You have to be a team player”, they say.

“I am a team player,” they write on their resumes,

And, even CEO’s talk to the masses of the importance of being on the “team”

You get the idea.

The point is that we throw around this word “team” in a very cavalier fashion, maybe because it has that warm glow of inclusion about it.  Who knows?

So, what do we have to do to ensure that we are creating real teams?

Well, I have a few thoughts about that and here they are.

We are likely creating a real team when we ensure that:

Everyone on the team clearly understands its purpose

This seems a bit obvious but really, sometimes people come together assuming that they share the same idea as to why they’re there but  this isn’t always the case.  As such, it is always wise to ensure that the purpose and objectives of the team are commonly understood.  It might take a little extra time and patience to get there, but failing to gain this kind of clarity can result in people running around like chickens in a yard, accomplishing nothing.

Individuals on the team each know their roles in fulfilling the purpose

Presumably, when we form teams, we do it with some idea as to how each member can contribute.  However, it is always a good practice to give people an opportunity to say where they might make their best contribution.  After all, it stands to reason that we do our best work when we are operating from our strengths.  And, I expect we are that much happier about it too.  As well, knowing where we, and our skills fit into the fulfillment of the team’s purpose helps us keep on track.

Individuals on the team see their roles as being no more, or no less important than anyone else’s

To me, a true team does not involve hierarchy.  Yes, there is usually a team leader in the formal sense but the thing that is placed highest in the minds of all of the team members, including its leader, is the fulfillment of the purpose.  That means that the work becomes more important than any individual’s need to be, or be seen to be, the boss.

We pay attention to the team dynamic every time a new member is introduced

The nature and culture of a team is something of a sensitive thing.  The informed leader will appreciate that the introduction of a new member requires a period of adjustment, a little time to review team roles, skills and potential contribution.  It is a time of orientation for the new member and for re-balancing and re-connecting to the purpose for the rest.  It need not be a long drawn-out thing but without it, it is easy to lose the clarity required to get things done.

The team works together until its purpose is fulfilled.

It must be said that when one purpose is fulfilled, it is not unusual for teams to re-form and focus on achieving another goal.  In this way teams can stay intact for a long time, changing and transforming as new people join and others leave.  However, I think that in order to have a raison d’être a real team always needs to be able to easily connect to a tangible purpose.

Of course, nothing is simple. There are all kinds of teams… independent teams, interdependent teams, multi-disciplinary teams, sports teams, project teams, self-managed teams. Each has its challenges.  But, it seems to me that no matter how big or complicated the team is, to capably function as a team, these elements have to be present.

Otherwise, it’s probably a group.

And by the way… you don’t have to be a member of a team to fulfill a worthy purpose or accomplish good things.  But, if you say you are part of a team just know that it takes more than just saying it to make it so.

What do you think?



Filed under Leading Teams, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Five Things That Help Create Real Teams

  1. Well said, Gwyn. I regularly argue against the loose use of “team,” to the point of noting that true teams are not always necessary. Sometimes a “work group” of individual contributors is the best organization. Unfortunately, even when managers realize a true team is the best arrangement, they don’t take the steps needed to put in place the factors you list and others teamwork science suggests (such as turning unwritten rules into written ones). Talking about teamwork without doing the work required to create a team hurts group performance. So I plead with managers: either transform the group into a team, or stop calling it a “team” and move on to other ways to support your workers.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Equally well said, Jim.
      You make a great point too and that is that sometimes we actually don’t *need* a team to get a job done.
      Thank you for coming by and for sharing your experience.

  2. Good one. One thing we also miss when defining team is that team members dont have to be best friends and agree to each other all the time.. that is not a team at all. Team members do what is right for completing the goal or purpose and discussing and arguging is part of a normal team. No team is perfect and a team that can work with the imperfections are the ones that succeed. We are not creating a team with similar robots .. we are creating a team with different skills and strengths to complete a purpose.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Shilpa, You also bring up a good point. Sometimes I think we get it in our heads that because people are part of a team, they should always agree, or move smoothly through the process of reaching a challenging goal. To your point, in most real teams there is a lot of debate. As you point out, this is a healthy thing, as long as the focus of the debate is on the fulfillment of the team’s purpose. I suspect though that this takes a certain discipline since, as you say, teams are made up of fallible human beings not robots.
      Thank you for coming by and for adding value to the post!

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