Effective Team Building

Teams have existed in some form for as long as humankind and many books and articles have been written about how teams work. Most people have been on teams with mixed results. Teams can have a tremendous impact on an organizations performance, yet many organizations do not exploit them fully. Understanding teams is a crucial skill for managers to fully exploit the use of teams in their organization.

Why Build a Team?

Real teams are not just a group of people thrown together by management. High performance teams need to be built with a purpose in mind and have proven to increase an organizations competitive advantage. Motorola for instance relied heavily on teams to surpass its Japanese competition in producing the world’s lightest, smallest, and highest-quality cellular phones (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993, 15). Other companies which rely on teams include Ford and 3M. Creating a high-performance team oftentimes results in an unbeatable competitive advantage.

Teams are not just for large organizations. All organizations need to be able to react swiftly and decisively to threats and opportunities. Building a diverse, cross functional team increases any organizations ability to respond strategically and tactically.

Another advantage of building teams is creating less dependence on experts, either internal or external. This leads to the benefit of allowing an organization to become self-managed. An organization can not become self-managed if it does not allow individuals “to be active co-creators, not passive recipients of the design process” (Purser & Cabana, 1998, 215).

Steps to Building a High-Performance Team

Merrelyn Emery provides one example of effective team building titled, “Participative Design.” Emery’s approach assumes the best designs come from employees who are under review. The Participative Design process combines a team’s individual perspectives and experience into a concrete knowledgebase, owned by the team, not forced on it by upper management.

The Participative Design Session is usually two days and involves anywhere from 24 – 36 people. The session consists of three phases; analysis, redesign, and implementation (Purser & Cabana, 1998, 216).


Susan Heathfield stresses the ultimate goal of team building is “striving to improve results for customers” (Heathfield, 2007, 1-3) and suggests 12 Cs for building a team:

  • Clear Expectations – Are expectations communicated effectively?

  • Context – Team members must know why they are on the team.

  • Commitment – Team members have to be motivated to be on the team.

  • Competence – Do all team members feel the team is comprised of competent people?

  • Charter – A team needs a charter and assigned responsibilities.

  • Control – A team needs to be empowered to bring about the results described in the charter.

  • Collaboration – Team members need to understand team development, roles, and responsibilities.

  • Communication – Team members need to communicate with each other and the organization effectively.

  • Creative Innovation – The organization must truly want change to be affected from this team collaboration.

  • Consequences – Both rewards and risk must be clear and the team members must feel accountable.

  • Coordination – Teams must understand the leadership hierarchy and ultimate customer.

  • Cultural Change – The organization must recognize the differences between the traditional business hierarchy and the team building model.

How Cultural Diversity and Demographics Impact a Team

Culturally and demographically diverse teams can lead to greater creativity and innovation. Diverse teams “leads to a better diversity climate (as measured by employees’ assessment of that climate) and greater levels of support for diversity-related initiatives” (Naff & Thompson, 2000, 12).

One interesting study by Rogelburg & Rumery (1996) assigned groups a male-oriented task. As the proportion of males increased, the decision outcome was better. However, the overall winner was a team with one woman. Another study by The American Management Association (1998) found ethnically diverse teams to have better performance outcomes.

Diversity is not always good for a team. People prefer to work with people like themselves and are less attracted to working with people unlike them. Group cohesiveness can suffer and a negative climate can be the result. When cohesiveness is weak, job satisfaction and performance can also suffer.

Relational demography, pioneered by Ellen Berscheid, Elaine Walster, and Donn Byrne, proposes that an individual’s demography affects a team. An individual with similar demographics is more likely to fit into an existing group than an individual with different demographics (Naff & Thompson, 2000, 4). This is important for a manager to understand especially in the context of adding new individuals to an existing team. Already existing teams have their own cultural identity and team cohesion may suffer if caution is not taken when adding individuals.


Scores of books have been written on effective team building and many methods exist for building teams. No matter which method is ultimately decided on, an organization must accept the changes in organizational culture which will inevitably occur. Managers must also understand the problems and opportunities diversity and demographics have on a team.

Building a high-performance team is an ongoing process. A good start for any manager is to:

  • Encourage team cohesion by creating tasks which require interdependence on other team members.

  • Make sure the team is empowered to complete the tasks they are being asked to do.

  • Hold the team accountable and create an incentive policy which holds the team accountable.

  • Have clear, consistent objectives and open communications.


American Management Association (1998). Senior Management Teams: Profiles and Performance. Management Review, 87, 37-44.

Heathfield, S. (2007). Twelve Tips for Team Building: How to Build Successful Work Teams. Retrieved October 29, 2007, from humanresources.about.com/od/involvementteams/a/twelve_tip_team.htm

Katzenbach, J. R., & Smith, D. K. (1993). The Wisdom of Teams. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Naff, K. C., & Thompson, R. C. (2000, August). The Impact of Teams on the Climate for Diversity in Government: The FAA Experience. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from http://www.hf.faa.gov/docs/508/docs/cami/00_27.pdf

Purser, R. E., & Cabana, S. (1998). The Self Managing Organization: How Leading Companies Are Transforming the Work of Teams for Real Impact. New York: The Free Press.

Rogelberg, S. G., & Rumery, S. M. (1996). Gender Diversity, Team Decision Quality, Time on Task, and Interpersonal Cohesion. Small Group Re-search, 27, 79-90.