Essential Tips for Building Effective Teams in the Workplace

As companies grow, so do the difficulties in building effective teams. Consider these 3 key factors as you try to optimize your team’s effectiveness.

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Teams play an increasingly important role in modern workplace dynamics

Today’s employees spend the majority of their time — upwards of 80% — working in teams. Naturally, business leaders want to learn and master methods for building effective teams. Collaborative work can benefit organizations in several ways. For starters, it allows for flexible division of tasks and responsibilities, heightens creative problem-solving, and instills a sense of camaraderie among employees.

But problems can arise when people work in teams. Unfortunately, some of these issues can ultimately outweigh the benefits and have a negative impact on your business success. To avoid this, we must carefully look at the elements that prevent a group from becoming a great team.

Given that much of our time at work is spent within teams, it’s a good idea to explore certain factors that can affect productivity. 

It’s important to start with the basics as we work at building effective teams. In this article, we’ll look at some of the key characteristics associated with high performing teams. 

Team size

When developing a team, your first inclination might be to consider what characteristics, qualities, or skills you believe are essential for your team members to possess. While these are important, remember: They should not overshadow a crucial first step in determining team composition. And that first step is to evaluate team size.

On the one hand, teams with too few members can lack diversity in perspective and in variety of skill. This can stifle creativity and problem-solving ability. On the other hand, as a group grows, the social dynamics can become increasingly complex and unwieldy. That can pose serious challenges for the entire team.

Teams with too few members can lack diversity in perspective and in variety of skill. This can stifle creativity and problem-solving ability.

For example, one problem teams face as they add members involves a decreased ability for team members to coordinate and communicate effectively with one another. As the size of the group grows, the number of possible connections or “links” among team members explodes. Consider the following formula that shows the number of links within a team as the number of individuals on the team increases.

Number of links (where N = number of people) = N(N-1)/2

According to this formula, a team with 4 members has six unique links to maintain, whereas a team with 8 members has 28 unique links to maintain. A team with 16 members has a whopping 120 unique links to maintain! You can see how this can easily and negatively impact team performance.

As the links between team members increases, it becomes more difficult for members to work effectively. For instance, it becomes harder to distribute or share resources, coordinate task responsibilities, and exchange information and ideas. It also makes it more complicated to build strong interpersonal relationships. So, while intuition suggests that adding members to your team will be a great way to increase its productivity, this could backfire. You just might reduce your team’s ability to succeed.

An alternative

So, on the surface, talent acquisition might appear to be the logical answer. However, in many cases, it’s not. Instead of focusing on the number of team members you already have, look to instill a team leader. This individual can coordinate, set ground rules, and perform other tasks to help your team make great accomplishments. Realigning team member responsibilities can often do more to build an effective team than focusing on bringing in new members.

Team cohesiveness

Cohesiveness refers to the degree of bonding or camaraderie that’s present in a team.

Some teams are transitory in nature. Team members work together temporarily toward a specific goal. Other teams, have a more permanent or long-term role within an organization. Shaping those teams in a way that maximizes cohesion among members should be a top priority.

Cohesiveness refers to the degree of bonding or camaraderie that’s present in a team. You can think of cohesiveness as a sort of social glue that holds the team together. Members who belong to cohesive teams tend to experience greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Moreover, cohesive teams tend to perform better than their less cohesive counterparts.

In a nutshell, cohesive teams are happier, more productive, and are better empowered to meet team goals.

What determines team cohesiveness?

Teams tend to become more cohesive over time. It develops as team members get to know one another and find ways together to accomplish goals. Cohesive teams have effectively learned how to balance shared responsibility.  Even among highly diverse teams, members tend to establish a sense of mutual trust and commitment. They converge on a shared set of norms the longer they are together.

But this doesn’t mean you should disregard the unique characteristics or predispositions of team members as you begin focusing on team composition. Research, for example, suggests that deep-level attributes, such as team member personality, can affect the extent to which teams are able to find common ground and be productive. This happens regardless of how long they have been working together.

For example, using a sample of NBA teams, one study focused on the presence of narcissists. These individuals are excessively self-interested and entitled, and possess an inflated sense of self-importance within their teams. The researchers found that narcissistic team members compete for status and behave highly self-interestedly. Ultimately, they harm their team’s ability to coordinate and be productive.

Importantly, the more familiar teammates were with one another (that is, the longer teams were together) the worse these effects became. In other words, teams with highly narcissistic members tend to become less cohesive over time. The narcissists’ negative qualities (selfishness, arrogance, etc.) begin to outweigh their positive qualities (charisma, confidence, etc.).

What this means, then, is that you can’t always rely on time to solve the lack of solidarity within your team. Instead, it’s important to be mindful of individual members’ characteristics and behavioral tendencies early on, as it might eventually generate interpersonal conflict within the team.

Team leaders who work closely with their colleagues can identify these kinds of problems early — before they start to hinder what could otherwise be a successful team.

Team conformity 

Finally, building an effective team requires an understanding of the optimal balance of conformity within the team. Conformity refers to the extent to which individual members’ thoughts and behaviors align with the norms and behaviors of their group.

There’s often a negative connotation associated with the term conformity. Some people associate it with a lack of individuality and the suppression of dissent. In reality, conformity is neither intrinsically bad nor good. In our everyday lives we can think of numerous situations where we conform and the results are beneficial to both to ourselves and our group. The practice of stopping at red lights and stop signs is an example of positive conformity. Likewise, for teams to function optimally, members often need to converge on and abide by certain norms, procedures, and goals.

However, there are situations where conformity can be detrimental to team effectiveness. Perhaps most notably, conformity can lead individuals to want to avoid “rocking the boat.” As a result, team members refrain from speaking up about important, potentially dangerous, or unethical issues in their work unit. The causes of such toxic forms of conformity can include fear of repercussions from team members and a false belief that others in the group do not share the same concerns. This can result in groupthink. Historically, groupthink has led to disastrous results in global conflicts and other scenarios. These are situations you want to avoid in your organization.

Balancing a healthy level of conformity without it stifling your team’s productivity requires that you build a climate of psychological safety within your team. One way to do so is to establish that routine debate is welcomed and can occur within the team. As research suggests, debate encourages members to speak up and share their dissenting views and opinions. 

If you encourage a positive attitude towards debate, it spurs idea generation and inspires team members to be attentive to others’ views. This also can get them to think of things in different ways and re-evaluate their own beliefs.

In short, here’s what you need to know about building strong teams and achieving successful teamwork. Focusing on these three factors boosts your ability to build effective teams and get a strong start:

  • Adding team members does not necessarily equal a stronger team.
  • Cohesiveness is a key indicator of team effectiveness.
  • Conformity within the team can be both positive and detrimental.
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