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The CEO’s Guide to Building Great Teams


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High-performance work teams are essential to driving organizational results. Simply put, great organizations have great teams. Moreover, as most enterprises today rely on teamwork, it stands to reason that achieving anything of consequence requires good collaboration.

Effective teamwork results from building great teams, and great teams create a significant business advantage. That’s because effective teams are central to improving customer experience, increasing employee satisfaction, driving innovation and boosting operational performance.

Two key reasons why teamwork can accrue these benefits for enterprises are that “a group of individuals brings complementary skills and experience that exceed the abilities of a single individual and teams support real-time problem-solving and are more flexible and responsive to changing demands,” according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

While there is no question that high-performance teams provide many business advantages, it is essential to recognize that building these teams goes beyond traditional approaches such as a ropes course, a potluck get-together or bringing in bagels every Monday. Instead, organizations can build better teams that create tangible differences by adopting the following five-pronged approach.

  • Build team skills
    Effective teamwork requires basic skills. Communication, delegation and collaboration can help avoid frustration and unhealthy conflict, which erodes team performance. Providing tools and frameworks to help employees hone these skills is critical for development and can mean the difference between high-performing teams and underperforming teams. Practice using these tools and frameworks will help employees become better communicators, delegators and collaborators.
  • Create psychological safety
    Psychological safety is defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking, instilling a “sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. This confidence stems from mutual respect and trust among team members.”
    Building strong teams with a culture of psychological safety starts at the top of an organization. Research by McKinsey found that that “fostering psychological safety at scale begins with companies’ most senior leaders developing and embodying the leadership behaviors they want to see across the organization.”
    Psychological safety that allows for open dialogue – meaning team members will be honest with each other about what they do and don’t like – is arguably the most crucial aspect of team building. Google’s research showed that psychological safety was the most important predictor of team success.
    Authentic team building occurs when teams talk about real things. Real things like – do we have enough trust to listen effectively to each other? Does any part of me feel threatened or insecure when the team starts talking about my team’s failure to hit a deadline? Talking about real things starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness and openness allow teams to truly collaborate. This creates a climate where employees are willing to be vulnerable, share half-baked ideas and admit when they don’t have the answer.
    For leaders to model psychological safety, they must be vulnerable. This vulnerability might show up in admitting that a goal is unachievable and asking that it be modified or allowing other people to help and offer suggestions even when leaders are supposed to have all the answers.
  • Use self-accountable communication
    Every leader wants to have a team of people who always look for how they can contribute to organizational success. A critical part of team success is built through self-accountable communication, which involves a future-focused mindset that asks what individuals have done to contribute to the situation and what they can do now to create the solution they want.
    Self-accountable communication:

    – keeps communication flowing openly as each person focuses on their own contributions, where they truly have control
    – builds trust as each person practices personal accountability
    – moves the group towards solutions and away from finger-pointing that destroys trust

  • Be specific with communication
    When leaders find the same patterns of team conflict and dysfunction consistently showing up, it is often due to a failure to be specific enough in communication. Specific communication builds stronger teams by focusing on the particular action/request rather than complaining or pointing out dislikes. In addition to making specific requests, it is valuable to be specific with commitments. One exercise for developing commitment specificity is to have each employee at the end of each team-building initiative make a specific behavioral commitment that addresses how they can contribute more effectively.
    To make sure a commitment is specific and behavioral, it is helpful to ask yourself: “Would a videotape of the team interactions would show this behavior?”
    If the answer is no, that means they are not focusing on a specific team-focused behavior. Write down these commitments and follow up with team members on them regularly.
  • Make it part of a routine
    Building high-performance teams also means finding ways to keep these concepts top of mind with employees. Most people will forget 90% of what they learn in a matter of 30 days if there is no reinforcement.
    To keep these team-building best practices top of mind, find a way to make these concepts a regular part of the conversation. Dedicate five minutes to talk about the weekly content at the beginning of the weekly staff meeting. Dedicate a lunch hour for people who want to dive deeper into discussing how to integrate the content from the week into their lives.

In today’s knowledge economy, great teams are pivotal to powering a diversity of thought, innovation, creativity, and problem-solving to help organizations accomplish goals and objectives. The key to architecting great teams is building skills, creating psychological safety, using self-accountable communication, being specific with commitments, and making team-building a regular part of the operational routine.

Written by Dr. Laura Gallaher.

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