How to Build a Strong Team

One of the best ways to exercise leadership in your business is to assemble a top-class team of people working underneath you.

Characteristics of High-Performing Teams

High-performing teams share a number of important characteristics:

  1. Clarity. Team members have total alignment around what you are trying to create and accomplish together.

  2. Commitment. Everyone believes in and supports the goal.

  3. Communication. Great teams openly discuss all the issues affecting the team. They don’t hold back when it comes to putting sensitive issues on the table.

  4. Absence of cynicism. Cynicism is a cancer that spreads throughout the organisation and kills the team.

  5. Diversity. Creativity does not come from sameness. Your team should reflect the customer base you are trying to serve.

  6. Conflict. When people are committed & passionate about what you’re trying to accomplish, they won’t always agree. Your challenge as a leader is to turn the conflict into creativity.

  7. Project-orientation. Projects have a beginning, middle and end. Most important, they have a score card.As a leader, you constantly have to battle the feeling among employees that many things get started but nothing ever gets completed. Drive home the notion that you do complete projects and tasks. Out of that sense of completion comes the confidence to take on new tasks.

  8. Scorecards. People need to know how they are doing. Make sure everyone is working off the same scorecard. 

Above all else, when building your team, strive to create an environment of ‘high-level adult play’: give people challenges, recognise their efforts and celebrate the wins. Talented people flock to that kind of environment.

Building a High-Performing Team

Build a high-performing team, best practice includes:

  1. Using a scale of one to 10, assess the individuals on your current team according to their technical contribution, team playing ability, communication skills, hustle factor and interpersonal relationships.

  2. Conduct a global rating of the team as a whole, using the same one to 10 scale.

  3. List the strengths and weaknesses of each individual and your team.

  4. Identify ways to build on the strengths and improve the weaknesses.

  5. Set a goal of having a “9+” team and coach the players to improved performance.

  6. As the leader, you have two primary functions: recognition and correction. Let your top performers know – specifically – what they’re doing that makes such a positive difference for the company and how much you appreciate it. Do the same with your good performers, but also let them know what they need to do to become truly excellent performers. Keep in mind that you can never give too much recognition.

  7. To correct mediocre performance, sit down with each under-achiever and create a written 90-day plan that states what they must do to improve. Review the plan on a weekly basis and document progress (or lack of) toward the goal. Before judging competency and commitment, however, always make sure you have clarity on the goals and objectives. People can’t perform if they don’t know what you expect.

Communicating with the Team

One of the best ways to build relationships with team members is to communicate with them on an individual basis. Regular monthly 1-2-1s with the people who work directly for you is a key factor for success:

  1. Schedule each 1-2-1 and stick to your commitments.

  2. Each 1-2-1 should last 30 to 60 minutes.

  3. Make it their 1-2-1, not yours. This is an opportunity for the people who report to you to talk about anything they want.

  4. Guarantee confidentiality.

  5. Ask a lot of questions and listen carefully.

Great 1-2-1s do not consist of lectures from you. Instead, they involve asking a lot of open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers. Be prepared to ask appropriate personal open-ended questions. By doing so, you will have an engaging personal conversation and will build the relationship. More important, your people will work very hard for you because you listen to them.

Managing the Team

To keep your team functioning like a precision instrument, try out the following:

  1. Conduct a team-centred strategic planning session. As the team leader, take your team away for a half-day, once a year. Conduct a SWOT analysis and ask, “Where do we need to be as a team 12 months from today?” One by one, have your people stand up and declare their vision for the team, then post their visions on flip charts around the room. Rather than dictating what they should do for the next 12 months, get your people to create the tactical plan to support the company’s strategic plan. Each person should leave the meeting with three to five major goals that they have publicly committed to. People will commit to implementing that which they help to create.

  2. Conduct quarterly reviews of your annual plan. Bring the team together once a quarter to ask (relative to the plan):

    • What goals have we accomplished?

    • What goals are in progress?

    • What goals are no longer relevant?

    • What goals should we attack next?

    Never do planning without regular reviews, otherwise you create deadly cynicism. Conduct an annual team review. Once a year, ask:

    • What are we doing that works as a team?

    • What are we doing that gets in the way?

    • What should we change?

    • What should we keep the same?


  3.  Use a scorecard. Never leave a planning session without creating a scorecard. Ask, “Other than sales and profits, what are the three most important things we measure consistently?” Answer this question for the company as a whole and for your area of responsibility. Make sure you have alignment around what you measure. Tie compensation to team performance. Create a direct, obvious and compelling correlation between compensation and team performance.

  4. Celebrate success. Celebrations represent symbolic compensation. Their purpose is to confirm completion. Look for methods to recognise, reward and reinforce performance in non-financial ways, such as cards and hand-written letters from you. There are three fundamental principles for celebrating:

    • Use more imagination than money

    • Get personally involved

    • Turn intensity into frequency – small & frequent are more effective than a big one once in a blue moon

Leadership is no longer about command and control. To build strong teams in today’s workplace, you have to sell and enrol. You have to win people’s hearts and minds. The mark of a great team leader is the ability to sell people on the exciting vision and enrol them in their contribution to making that vision a reality.

Making Team Decisions
Ultimately, all teams must make decisions. To improve this process conduct regular team decision-making meetings. Start these meetings by having each team member give a personal update. Then ask, “What decisions do we have to make as a team this week?” Make a list, prioritise the items and discuss them one at a time. Three things can happen at this point:

  1. You don’t have enough information to make a decision, at which point you stop the discussion, decide who needs to get the information and move on to the next item. Never continue discussing an item if you don’t have enough information to make a decision.

  2. The team makes a consensus decision in which everyone agrees with the decision.

  3. The team leader makes the decision after getting input from everybody.

  4. Once all the items have been covered, end the meeting. Do not bring up unrelated items.

When you do annual planning, have regular reviews of the team and individuals, and conduct 1-2-1s with your direct reports, it creates a ‘clock’ that literally drives the team forward. By engaging in these short, mid, and long-term activities on a regular basis, you shift from event-driven management to process-driven management. In event-driven management, the driving energy comes from the team leader commanding action with intensity. With process driven management, the energy source shifts to frequency – everyone showing up and doing what needs to be done day in and day out. The team performs at a much higher level and you spend far less time managing crises and putting out fires.