Build your Best Team

Welcome to the Gears, Action, Growth podcast with Christy Mori and Dr Josephine Palermo. We recently had a great discussion about how to build your best team. We spoke about what business owners, team leaders, and employees can do to ensure they have a great team environment, one where team members can flourish and have a huge impact on the business.

Christy Mori:
Today on the podcast we’ll talk about how do you build the best team? What kind of qualities do you look for? And what sets someone apart? What do leaders need to do to keep a team performing at their best? And once we have the best team? How do we keep it being the best? Alright, so we’ll dive into it. So, Jo, we were thinking this because were you having questions? Or were you doing things around building a good team or the best team?

Why is focussing on teams important now?

I’ve actually been facilitating a program for 6 team conditions. So it’s really on my mind right now. And a lot of people have been coming to me with questions about, you know, some of the problems they’re having with their employees or their, their staff or their teams. And so it’s very relevant as we start to also come out of lockdown and out of restrictions because people are asking,  what do I need to do to build my culture back up,? How do I  build the engagement back up as people are coming out of their homes, and  into a different rhythm of being in the office full time or some of the time.

Part of that is actually really focusing on what teams do in your organisation and how you can actually get them performing to, you know, an optimal level. So, so it’s been on my mind, because of the two things that I’ve been involved with right now.

What kind of qualities are you encouraging people to look for?

First of all, is there a certain set of qualities that are universal? In a certain sense?

Josephine Palermo:
There’s been a lot of social science on teams, and, you know, how do you get them performing at their best? And we have theories that a lot of people understand, like, for example, a lot of people think teams start with forming, then storming and norming, and then they go into a performing phase. That’s the Tuckman model of team effectiveness. So a lot of people have heard of that theory. But we have actually a lot of social science that really talks about teams as not going through that kind of sequential process.

Teams go through spirals of forming together and then what you do with the team at the very beginning makes a big difference to whether they going to perform for the next three to six months. Teams are storming all the way through, working things out. They’re focusing on how to work together better just to they’re focusing on how do they relate to their work, and what are the work practices that will improve the quality of their outcomes, but also the quality of, the interactions between team members.

So a lot of what we think we know about teams really has been a bit busted by the social research. There’s a lot of evidence that says, actually, we can bust those myths about the sequential process that teams go through.

Once we do look at social science, what we do find is that what’s important, is really how you structure a team and how you set them up for success.

It’s not really about their personality or the differences between personality traits. And again, that’s a bit of a myth. It’s not quite misguided, because personality does make a difference, but not in a team. What you need in a team is a diversity of thinking. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need diversity of personality. And so so, you know, in some ways, it’s a bit more sexy to focus on individual personality, and to kind of go in and get everybody to do a personality inventory, and then look at the differences. You know, people love that. But that’s actually not effective.

A laser focus on shared purpose is important

What’s effective is looking at a few things, there’s actually, there’s actually a few things you need to do. Firstly, you need to get the team to have a real laser-focused shared purpose. Do they all know why they’re there, what they’re trying to achieve? And, you know, what, what it is that makes them succeed? And also, do they all understand the consequences of not succeeding? So in other words, do they? Do they understand the consequences of failure? Do they have a shared understanding of that? If you don’t succeed, what are the consequences, because if there are no consequences, then motivation doesn’t kick in. And so having a conversation first up with the team about what is super important is a critical start.

Getting to know each other is more than fun

And, and as I keep saying, the beginning is really important. You need to really spend time with the team, getting them to have these conversations, and also conversations about what are the skills they need to achieve that purpose, and who in the group has those skills.

So often, teams don’t succeed, because they just don’t know enough about each other. They don’t understand the skills that each member brings in. And they don’t, they can’t leverage that knowledge and skills. So you need to get people really getting to know each other.

Another popular thing that people do is take teams for a day, and they do something fun, and they call that team building. Now, that’s great for increasing engagement, and getting people to know each other maybe on a personal level. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is….Hey, Christy, what are your skills in a, b and c? What do you know, what do you bring to this team? Oh, I didn’t know that you can do that, that you’re a copywriting expert. Oh, that’s good to know, we’ll have to use that, you know, when we, you know, go to this client and try to do that work. It’s that.

I’m not necessarily going to know that you’re a copyright expert, when we’re, you know, shooting paintballs at each other.

A recap on Tuckman’s Model – Stages of Group Development

Yeah. (Christy: Are those the two terms?) Yeah, so what I was talking about was Tuckman’s model which, which actually starts with forming, and then you go into norming. And then you go into a storming, and then there’s performing. A lot of people have heard about that. The forming stage as a team coming together, is what I’m saying is the most important, really. It’s what happens when the team comes together. And then the norming stages where teams work out their rules of engagement and work practices. What their expectations are, how they’re going to relate to the work. And, they sort of set up team norms around that. And that’s important, too, that you do that in the beginning, in the forming stage.

Teams don’t just form upfront. Tuckman was saying there’s this storming phase that teams go through, and they have to resolve that to go into performing. And that’s the bit that’s sort of been busted with the, with the research that’s come after Tuckman.

Christy Mori:
So the storming phase, is that does that mean there’s conflict? Or

Josephine Palermo:
it can be they can be conflict? They can be uncertainty, they can be? Yeah, it’s how do we do this together.

Christy Mori:
Is it literally like being in a storm?

Josephine Palermo:
Yeah, think about that. Yeah, absolutely. And what I’m saying is that that happens all the way through, the teams are always working on how to do what they do better, like a continuous improvement line that goes through that. And because if teams get to a point where they go, you know, the way we work together is awesome. That’s when you get to Team effectiveness. But they’re going to get there all the way through as they work through the first three months, six months of working together, that’s always improving. There are always reflection points that they need to have to, to talk to each other about how can we do this better? Or maybe something goes wrong, and they talk to each other about what went wrong? Rather than blame each other?

Teams in a continuing state of storming and performing

What can we learn from that? How can we do it better next time? So you better-performing team? Yeah, that’s super important to have those reflection points. And you know, some teams that I know that work really well. We’ll do, like a reflection or review, or sometimes they call it a retrospective, they’ll do it every week. So every week, one of their get-togethers one of their gatherings, meetings, whatever it is stand-ups is, how did we go this week? What did we learn? How can we do it better?

Christy Mori:
So this is part of what leaders need to do to keep performing their teams at their best, isn’t it? Like, they have to say like, let’s have a meeting every week, let’s check-in.

Josephine Palermo:
So the leaders need to lead the team and facilitate the group process. So if leaders say, let’s do this every week, they may not get the buy-in from the team members. What leaders need to do is actually create the space for the team to come together and say, how should we review our work, and then the team together decides, we should meet every week, or we should meet every two weeks or every month, or whatever it is. So the leader creates the space for those for everybody to have a kind of say about that. And, and what the leader should do is then remove barriers from the team being able to do their work.

A lot of leaders focus too much on perhaps coaching their team  one on one, like having individual coaching meetings, one on one, which is important. But a lot of teams just do that, and never think about how they are coaching the team as a whole.

Team coaching is most effective

So really, what leaders need to do and team leaders need to do is set up that space. In other words, raise that expectation that it’s okay, for example, that every week, we’re going to meet and spend half an hour reviewing what we’ve done. The team leader still has the authority, so they need to set that expectation. But they don’t do it for their team, they actually just create moments in, you know, the workflow for their teams to have those discussions. I was talking to someone just yesterday.  She’s in marketing how the business has just skyrocketed over COVID because you know, everyone has needed to go digital.  And so she formed a team around her. But didn’t think about any of these sort of team structures you need to set up that team. So she would just bring people in and say, I need your help. You can help doing this and you can help doing that. And then things would go wrong or something would not be done. So, you know, they would get the name of the client room, for example. And so then she would need to go in and micromanage what was happening there. And then there were conversations about, well, why didn’t you check that? And then her program manager would say, yeah but I thought you were doing it. No, I thought you were doing it. So you get this chaos.

And so what I was saying to her is, you’ve got to slow it all down, start writing out what you expect of people bring them all in together, so that they are all clear about what you’re trying to achieve, and who’s doing what. Clarity doesn’t take much of our cognitive effort, you know, we can easily bring clarity to people’s lives and teams, if you allow that space.

Slow things down, create clarity, speed up

What happens is often business owners are rushing, you know, clients want something tomorrow, I’ve got to get this team to, you know, run, run, run, run, run, but what happens is you fall into holes that you should have foreseen. You don’t want to fall into holes. You don’t want that client to have a really negative experience. You need to spend the time setting things up properly. And the other thing is that some people might be listening and going, Oh, but our team’s already set up. You know, it’s not like I’m bringing in new people, we’ve already got a team, how do we lift the game of the people that are already there?

My suggestion would be, reset that team. So you, again create space, you create maybe one or two hours where you all come together. You say, Hey, we’re gonna have a session where we’re going to reset ourselves. We’ve been working in a particular way,  we need to continue the great things that we’ve achieved, but also we need to step it up a level. So we’re going to come together and work out together how to do that.

And so you bring them together. And you facilitate a process. Team leaders can do this. But it’s easier if you bring an external person in because then the team leader can put you know, kind of be an equal participant as well. Look, if you don’t have that opportunity, the team leader can do it, you can bring people into work, have some really deep discussions on what the purpose of the team is, who you know, who has the skills in the team? How did those skills differ? Are there any skills you’re missing that you need to bring in?

That’s an important question to ask then, then work out? What do you need? What structure do you need in place to really be effective? So, for example, do you need norms ? We’re going to meet every week to review what we do, do you need norms around, we’re going to, you know, communicate in a particular way in this team so that we all know what we’re doing. It’s those norms related to the way work is done. And then importantly, how are we going to recognise that we’ve done a good job, what does success look like?

Norms and structure for success

Once you have that, once you have all of that together, the team is set up for success. And I can guarantee that the next three months you will be leading to a high-performing team. It’s guaranteed  because we know that’s what social science says to us. It’s like, do the foundational work, the rest comes. 30% of the work done in your team is doing that, is launching the team. The rest of it, the 60% is then maintaing structures, andthe 10% is coaching.

Christy Mori:
Hmm. That makes sense. So this is so how people can how leaders can keep it from going downhill is maintaining certain things. Yeah. Is there a little bit more we could give people in terms of if they’re leaders, and they are scrambling right now to try to bring their team to a level you’re saying First of all, have time? When you say space, you’re talking about time? Yeah. And how much time really is necessary for like a week?

Josephine Palermo
Well, if you’ve got a team that’s really not working, well, you know, they’re really it’s problematic. I would say you would need at least two or three hours to get them. You have to get them off the work. Get them off what they’re doing into a space, whether that’s virtual or face to face, and have this kind of discussion that I’m talking about so that they can reset. And, yeah, so you know, it’s better if you’ve got half a day. But if you can’t, if you’re very pressed for time, at least two to three hours is what you need. Because even just to have a conversation about purpose, where everybody’s contributing, will take some time. And this is the thing what I’m saying is bring people off their tools have this discussion, but really have a discussion. This is not a place where leaders just talk for two or three hours and I see that all the time.

Everyone contributes to a team reset

Everybody has a contribution, you use post-it notes, you use a virtual whiteboard, everybody needs to contribute an end. There are actually some tools that you can use.  I’ll put some links to some tools that are available free online, that help form some of these conversations and have, you know, facilitate some of these conversations. I’m really happy to do that.

Christy Mori:
That’s great. So we hope we can share that with everybody. And as always, thank you for listening. And are you part of the best team perhaps the worst we’re curious to know where you guys are at please reach out to us at to answer and give us feedback on what you might want to hear more of in the series. And we’ll chat with you all again next time. Bye for now

Links to tools to help you bring everyone’s contributions into a room

Miro – digital whiteboard

JamBoard – Google’s version of a digital whiteboard

Trello – for visualising the work and getting everyone’s inputs

Slack – asynchronous conversations and keeping track with all team members

Aha Slides – fun ways to take polls, create wordclouds and get people’s contributions quickly

Slido – vote on content, take polls, wordclouds etc





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