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An Introduction To Building Effective Teams

A manager’s role has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. This change stems from the realization that old management techniques and styles are no longer effective given the changes taking place in peoples’ attitudes about work. Today’s employees are in tune with what other companies are doing in terms of empowering employees with performance reviews and establishing teams to solve problems, refine processes, plan and make decisions about how particular segments of the business will be managed and other facets of managing the organization. The manager of the 90’s and beyond will need to be an effective builder of teams whether the team is his/her work unit or specialized teams formed to plan, refine processes, solve problems or carry out some other task.

  • Old management styles or techniques tended to be more controlling and dictatorial. The management styles and techniques that fit in today’s business climate will need to be much more facilitating in nature.
  • Managers cannot see themselves as the sole source for decision making although they will probably be the final authority in most decisions.
  • A facilitating management style includes coaching, encouraging, listening and teaching.
  • This is clearly the preferred style in today’s business climate.
  • Interpersonal skills are very important to this process. Effective team building starts with effective communication and facilitation. Many people who have risen through the ranks have been more task-focused than people/goal-focused. Making the transition can be difficult, if not impossible, for some people.
  • A controlling leadership style generally has adverse effects on a team’s communication effectiveness and morale. Remember that, in general, high morale = high productivity.
  • Subordinates of a controlling manager tend to be motivated by fear. While in the short-run, employees motivated by fear might produce well, they are often reluctant to express opinions that they perceive run counter to the manager’s and/or will attempt to hide problems. Upward communication diminishes and the information being shared becomes less accurate and less meaningful. In fact, team members will tend to select communication that heads off punishment since they are part of a punitive environment.
  • Power struggles, back-biting, excessive conformity, diminished creativity, withdrawal and other negative results can occur under the leadership of a controlling manager.
  • Controlling and facilitating leaders view authority differently. A controlling leader views it as power and usually will not share it. A facilitating leader looks at authority as something to be shared and used in a manner that will help empower the team.


The following chart illustrates the difference in leadership styles. If a manager/supervisor placed an “x” along each attribute continuum to best describe his/her style, an overall picture of leadership style would emerge. Take a few minutes to place an “x” along each continuum. Example: if you feel you tend to sell decisions or ideas to subordinates more so than tell them what the decision is, you would place an “x” closer to the “Selling” end of the continuum. The “x” can fall anywhere along the continuum.
Laid Back_________________________________________Demanding
Patient___________________________________________ Impatient
Long Fuse________________________________________Short Fuse
Soft Spoken_______________________________________Loud

Do your “x”s tend to be more to the right or more to the left? If they tend to lie more to the left, your style is more facilitative. If they tend to lie more to the right, your style is more dictatorial. A word of caution is appropriate at this point. Being too far to the left is just as dangerous as being too far to the right. A style that tends significantly to the left indicates that you could be too “soft” in your approach to managing people. There simply are times when being direct is important, for example. But it is how being direct is delivered that counts. Knowing what kind of style you present in the workplace is critical to effective team building. This exercise is intended to help you think about what type of style you bring to managing people.

  • Facilitating leaders generally produce better results because their team members are empowered. They will tend to use creativity and brainstorming to improve and perform at higher levels. They tend to become thinkers. Controlling leaders tend to suppress independent thought and creativity.
  • Almost without exception members of a team led by someone with a facilitating style will be more likely to support decisions (buy into them) and work harder to carry them out. Why?
  • Because they were involved in the process in some manner.
  • Does this mean that employees are involved in every aspect of every decision? Absolutely not. But when appropriate, the team is engaged by the manager to provide input and assist in planning and making certain decisions. -Because responsibility for implementing decisions is often shared, the talents and knowledge of all team members tend to be more fully utilized.
  • Conversely, teams led by more controlling styles tend to work against the leader because they want to have input, but the manager is unwilling to relinquish enough or any authority.
  • Your goal is to increase productivity and performance through enhanced employee satisfaction.

There are four keys to effective team building:

1. Lead with a clear purpose. The goals of the organization must be clear to all employees since these drive the focus of the various work units. But employees of any work unit or team must know why they are doing what they are doing. Therefore, each team must have well defined, actionable goals and expectations. In developing these goals and expectations, it is appropriate that team members have input into their development. These goals and expectations must be written and distributed to all team members. Here is an example of team goals for a warehouse and shipping team:

Goal 1 – Maintain at least a 95% customer service level.
Goal 2 – Achieve on time shipments 98% of the time.
Goal 3 – Achieve outstanding customer service ratings from our shipping surveys.
Goal 4 – Process and ship all orders received by 1:00 p.m. by no later than 4:00 p.m.

In short you need to develop a focus for the team. Communicating expectations for the team in terms of cooperation and teamwork is equally important. Here are some examples:

  • Be a team player. No one individual is more important than another. We have common goals and you are expected to be a part of a team. Remember, big team, little me.
  • Be highly responsive to fellow employees. When they request something from you, provide a time when you will get back to them if you can’t provide it immediately. Get back to them as promised even if you don’t have the information requested to let them know you are still working on it. Customer service starts with each other.
  • Never become confrontational or defensive with a fellow employee. Put your ego away and have a strong spirit of cooperation.Disagreement can be healthy but do so in a professional, respectful manner.
  • Hold all employees in high regard and show respect for all employees. Pettiness will not be tolerated. We are a team and will work as a team. Healthy exchanges of ideas and viewpoints are welcomed. But, do not put down fellow employees or talk behind their backs. These examples point out the importance of establishing clear expectations about how team members should interact and work together.

2. Empower the team. Ask more than tell and listen more than talk. This is a good rule to remember. Employees should feel as if their opinions matter. Ask for input. Charge the team with proposing solutions. Resist having the last word in every situation. Hold regular team meetings that are designed to create an open forum for idea generation and input to decision making. In general, get the team involved with the decision making process as appropriate. Reinforce good ideas and successes through sincere and well timed praise. Praise as soon after the event as possible. Be specific. One word of caution; false praise will cause any praise to lose its effectiveness.

It is critical that team members feel as if their input is being heard. To ask for input and constantly ignore it is a prescription for discontent among employees. When appropriate, get employees involved with decision making and allow them to help make decisions. It is important to let employees know that their opinions are important and they will be involved in many decisions. However, they will not have input to all decisions. Some decisions have timing, confidentiality or other factors associated with them that preclude managers from asking for input. Employees need to understand that up front.

3. Build consensus. In building consensus, the leader helps the team move toward general agreement. This does not mean that all employees will agree with a particular decision. That simply won’t happen very often. Disagreement is natural in a team setting. Your job is to direct the process so that these disagreements are positive, but open and honest. Get all issues on the table. Continually probe for additional input until you feel most or all of the issues have been brought forward. Allow employees to express their opinion, but keep the discussions on track if you are in a group meeting. Keep the conversation focused and moving. Stress the desired outcomes and results. Focus on team and company goals in helping to bring focus to decision making.

4. Direct the process. To be effective in directing the team and its efforts, you will need to give clear direction, intervene as necessary to resolve conflicts and to keep the team focused on goals, suggest alternatives if they haven’t been presented and in general provide the steering mechanism for the team. You provide the rudder to the ship. Your job is to direct the process toward consensus and buy in. Let employees know that no idea is a bad idea. Encourage open and honest communication. Integrating many personality types into a team environment can be challenging, but certainly not impossible. Remember that you are dealing with people. Your job is to observe very carefully how the various personalities on your team play off of one another.

  • Hiring decisions are critical to building an effective team. Ask yourself when hiring anyone if that individual will “fit” with the rest of your team. While that individual might have good experience, they might not have a personality that fits well with the rest of your team. This is a crucial factor in building a team. To hire someone with strong skills, but who otherwise would be a poor fit personality-wise is a mistake. What is gained in good skills is lost in the person’t inability to help perpetuate a high morale, high cooperation environment.
  • When you have an employee who is a barrier to effective team work, you must deal with that employee and clearly communicate the issues.
  • Because people are involved, there will always be conflicts in organizations. Handle conflicts carefully. Don’t stir up trouble that might not exist. When you intervene understand that you are not a referee. You are a facilitator in helping to resolve conflict. Listen to both sides of the issue first and put biases you might have about the employees aside. You might be tempted to side with one employee over another because of past history or personal feelings. Don’t!


  1. What, if any, “symptoms” have you observed within your organization or team that might indicate that your people are not operating as a cohesive team?
  2. If you don’t already have team-oriented expectations and goals, write down at least three possible expectations and three possible goals for your team.
  3. How can you more effectively bring your employees into the decision making process?