10 Best Practices for Effective Team Building

As we approach the quarter pole of the 21st century, industry-altering innovation is the new norm.

As companies restructure to be leaner and more adaptable, hierarchical staffing structures—where people have well-defined, highly specific duties—are giving way to flatter ones. Cross-functional collaboration and teamwork are the new keys to success.

To develop and execute strategy that drives profit and increases client retention, human teams must be built for maximum effectiveness. Good teamwork requires a tricky balance, but here are 10 best practices that can help you realize shared objectives:

1) Establish trust. The foundation of any lasting relationship, professional or personal, is trust. In a professional setting, team members have to know others will deliver on promises, support shared goals, pitch in during challenging times, and maintain open communication.

Doing so often requires making yourself vulnerable and not trying to come across as perfect or putting on a show to guard against people getting to know the “real you.” Strengthen the team bond by placing your trust in team members—and trusting them to do the same.

2) Understand yourself. Achieving self-awareness about your strengths, limitations, motivations and tendencies will help you contribute most effectively to the team. It lays the groundwork for taking on the tasks for which you are best suited and eliminating behaviors that hinder achieving shared goals.

3) Understand others. Just as you have a personal work style, so does everyone on your team. Instead of expecting others to operate according to your style, seek awareness of their strengths and limitations.

By learning about each other’s intrinsic motivations and work styles, team members can understand why people do what they do—and reduce unproductive conflict.

4) Define roles. It takes different types of personalities to make a team run effectively. Some people are better communicators, some have brighter ideas, and some are more efficient and organized.

By defining responsibilities beyond specific tasks and thinking about team roles holistically, a team can maximize the talents of the individual members, while forming a single entity with the power to achieve great things.

5) Set ground rules. As a group, you understand team strengths as well as potential pitfalls based on the mix of personalities and work styles. Rules may relate to how members communicate, how they establish and meet deadlines, and how they handle obstacles.

With ground rules in place, members better understand how to navigate challenges and accountability. Remember: Ground rules should be flexible and changeable based on team needs. Following rules simply because they exist is never an effective practice.

6) Conduct negative polling. Instead of asking people if they agree on a given approach, decision or meeting point, ask if anyone disagrees. This gives them the opportunity to voice concerns rather than simply acquiescing in an effort to go along with popular opinion.

Even if arguments arise, remember that constructive conflict is healthy and often leads to better results.

7) Give and accept feedback. If feedback is provided in a way that supports the individual's growth and development, it can be a wonderful tool for identifying potential blind spots and increasing self-awareness through others’ perceptions.

In a way, feedback allows team members to coach and develop each other, while addressing obstacles to team success in a respectful, constructive manner that focuses on professional growth rather than on personal criticism.

8) Take time for reflection. It’s easy to get caught up in deadlines, checklists and moving things into the “done” pile. But this mindset also fosters bad habits—and leads to missing opportunities for system and process improvement.

Take the timeto reflect on both accomplishments and setbacks so you can not only reinforce what worked, but also focus on what can be done better next time—not who deserves blame.

9) View team-building as an ongoing activity. Team effectiveness is not something you think about offhandedly in between all the other stuff, whenever you get a chance. Projects will come and go, but the team is the engine that drives the business result.

10) Know when to lead and when to step back. Leaders can play an important role in team development, whether that means setting the standard for accountability, facilitating communication or mediating conflict. They also know the work styles of different team members just as they know their own.

But it’s important that leaders’ strengths and limitations are on the table alongside everyone else’s—and that they are open to improving their contributions and increasing self-awareness. In the end, team members will only be as committed to team development as their leader.

A truly effective leader does not try to take over, make assumptions on behalf of other team members, or micromanage their contributions. Doing so defeats the value of the flat, cross-functional structure. It also shuts down communication and limits interaction.

The secret: If leaders follow the other nine best practices, this one should fall into place naturally.

Eric Baker is a writer and editor at Caliper.