In earlier times, it was not hard to build a team. The Navy simply sent a squad ashore, rounded up some likely looking lads and hey presto – you have a crew! After time and under severe discipline they would become an effective team. In the civilian world career choices were only for the privileged.
However, such techniques won’t work today, and, even if they did, employee turnover rates would go through the roof!  So, what’s a modern manager to do?
First of all, we need to be clear what a team is

The common definition is

‘A group of people working towards a common purpose’

Well that could be the queue at the bus stop! Only when they decide that one will lie down in the road to stop the bus, whilst the others pile on, does it become a team, so we prefer the Harvard Business School definition below.

“A team is a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, goal, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”

The Wisdom of Teams – Harvard Business School
Let’s examine this:
‘A small number’ – Sports team are rarely larger than 15.  This tells us that human teams have a functional limit before you have to split them into sub units otherwise communication and motivation start to break down.

‘Complimentary Skills’ – The temptation with building a team is to hire people you get on with. This means they are likely to be like you. That may not be what you need.  The work of Meredith Belbin and others has shown that an effective team needs a mix of people with differing but complimentary talents and approaches. Some like to lead, some like to follow. Some like to generate ideas, others just want to get on with stuff.

To get a fix on what your teams preferences are have a look at our simple Woburn questionnaire (link at the end of the article) and share the answers in a team meeting.  Are there gaps? If so, how do you fill these? Do you need to co-opt or hire people at critical times or for special projects?

‘Committed to a common purpose, goal, and approach’ – Do you have clear team goal which is share and understood by all.

Is it supported by all and reinforced by strong and consistent communication across the team?

– Always involve whole team in decision making or problem solving sessions. This allows each team member to feel as if he or she has contributed and therefore has a stake in and ownership of the final outcome.   It builds commitment and reinforces the common purpose

 ‘For which they hold themselves mutually accountable”

People thrown together do not automatically make a great team.

Ask the team to work together to establish team rules & acceptable behaviours e.g., how often it is going to meet formally and informally, protocols for 1-1s, rules for meetings, and the like.

Remember that first day at big school?  Scary wasn’t it? You may not have known many people, the rules were new and the environment unknown.

People need time to get to know each other, to learn to get along, to develop interpersonal trust and build team spirit.  So a year down the line from that scary first day you were probably part of a group of friends with similar interests, outlooks and senses of humour – a common purpose, but there would have been different roles.



This process of team formation is often known as ‘Storming, Norming and Performing.  The diagram below shows how it works in an organisation.


Team Building

There are many tools and games to help build great teams. Here are a few ideas:

Ownership and involvement

– ‘no decision about me, without me’

Allow team members to build trust and openness by encouraging them to spend time together in an atmosphere that encourages open communication, bonding and the creation of shared team experiences. For example; regular away days across the organisation

Factors inhibiting good teamwork are identified, and removed.

Factors promoting good teamwork are adopted and recognised publicly-. And always make sure the team knows how far they have come, not how far they still have to go.

Some practical team meeting formats

To keep the communication going try these simple team meeting formats to save time and getter better engagement.

The 4 P’s

This is a format borrowed from project management which is designed to get decisions made and get actions completed rather than talked about!  Keep the length to 90 minutes.  If this is too short, run them more frequently.
Progress – go round the room and ask for updates from people who have been tasked with actions – they made have already reported direct to you but this may the first time everyone has shared their progress with the team.
Policy – here is where you make decisions about progress (or lack of it!). Keep it short sharp and to the point. Move people on if they wander, politely close them down if they go on too long.
People – here is where you talk about people, their performance and relationships (internal and external) and hand out praise where deserved
Points for action – the only minutes you keep. Record the action, the date for completion and who is responsible. Circulate this list within 24 hours; review it at the next meeting.

Scrum meetings
Here’s another – Scrum meetings – these are daily and follow simple rules – all the major retailers use these as do any organisation which had rapidly changing daily priorities.

The rules:
Same time, same place, 15 minutes maximum, everyone stands throughout, preferably round a white board or flipchart to capture notes. 15 people maximum

Start strictly on time. Impose fines for lateness (we use doughnuts as currency, one doughnut per person per minute- with 12 staff that’s a lot of doughnuts quite quickly!)

The Scrum master, who runs the meeting, asks just three questions of each person present

‘What did you get completed yesterday?’

‘What are you planning to complete today?’

‘Are there any obstacles in the way of getting those things done today?’

Solve the obstacles with the tem member outside the meeting.

You could run the meeting as a start the day meeting, or at a shift or rota changeover with both rotas present.

For team members it means that help is never more than 24 hours away if they have problems, and as a manager you are in touch with everything that’s going on, on a daily basis without taking up lost of time.

You may need to run different meetings with different groups such as GP’s and nurses, reception/admin etc.

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