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How Do You Build World Class Teams?

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan

While that quote was referring to sports, it relates just as much to any other walk of life, including how businesses can be successful.

Most teams resemble a ‘working group’, where team members work independently, before getting together at the end of the day or the week and communicating where they are up to in regard to their targets or overall business strategy.

Sticking to the sports theme, a real team is more like the Lionesses winning the Euros in 2022. On this occasion, the individuals had to play in tandem together to win. They had to help each other, if one team member was struggling then the others stepped up and supported them so that they achieved their goal as a team.

There are many facets that make up a world class team, including productivity and achieving objectives, however we’re going to focus on the importance of relationships within teams, and how this can drive the success of an organisation. We’ll also look at what our data tells us about how employees are feeling about their teams and see what several experts has to say on the subject. You can also see how close to world class your teams are by downloading and completing the Team Index Calculator - download your free resource!

The Team Index Model

So, what’s required to build, and maintain, an engaged team? It comes down to four key elements:

  1. Trust and respect
  1. Shared purpose
  1. Effective communication
  1. Help and support

These principals form the basis of all effective team relationships. It is the responsibility of both the leadership and managers to ensure that the four elements are implemented and developed to provide an environment where teams can thrive. Organisations that do this will see an increase in productivity and performance on both an individual and company-wide level.  

Trust and Respect

“In the evening we all have a few beers, we have some dinner, it’s the bit that comes from that; the storytelling, the human connection, those late-night conversations where the team want to know about the future, where the business is heading. And I can talk to them very openly and honestly and that’s where the trust is built. When they understand where the business is heading, they buy into that.” - John Welsh, Managing Director, Hickory’s Smokehouse

Trust and respect are the glue that holds teams together. Where correctly cultivated, this leads to integrity, and with integrity comes success. Trust is key to building psychological safety within a team, and when people feel that their fellow teammates have confidence in them to do their jobs, and when colleagues can be open and honest with each other, they are more likely to perform to a higher standard. These are the two types of trust: Predictive Trust, where people do what they say they will do, and vulnerability-based trust, where colleagues feel comfortable enough to be candid with each other.

Trust and respect are vital components of a healthy team. Ask yourself, if you were to ask your employees whether they had complete trust for everyone in their team, what would they say?

Shared Purpose

“It’s about knowing your teammates have you back, whether it’s in the changing room, board room, or on the field of play in the villages where we work. When Kennedy went to NASA, he said to the cleaner ‘what are you here to do?’ and the cleaner said, ‘I’m here to help you put a man on the moon’. And that’s about that shared purpose and shared responsibility.” - Lawrence Cramer, People & Culture Director, Inspired Villages

It is almost impossible to have a team that is productive and engaged without having a shared purpose. A shared purpose is the ‘why’ of a team and a business – why the business does what it does, and why the teams’ and individuals’ roles are important to the organisation’s strategies, values, and goals. When a shared purpose is made clear to all employees it boosts engagement, fosters strong teamwork, and drives business growth.  

Do your teams have a shared vision of what they are trying to achieve?

Effective Communication

“It's about listening to people, ensuring employees have a voice and making sure that you get that voice across... Communication is absolutely key and having different approaches to communication... It’s not just about sending emails; it’s about having what we call ‘toolbox talks’... Trying to make sure that we can connect to people face-to-face as well.” - Jo Fry, Group HR Director, Mears

When it comes to effective communication, each person, and team, is different. However, when it comes to discussions and decision making, there are two key ways that members of an effective team communicate: Advocacy and Inquiry. While both Advocacy and Inquiry have their benefits to business performance, it is the latter that helps to build world class teams. Those that encourage Inquiry help to open up discussions and show how each team member’s opinion and ideas are valued. This helps to build confidence, encourage creativity, and empowers individuals to find unique ways of driving success.

Feeling confident to put forward ideas and make constructive suggestions to others is vital to a productive team. You need to ask, “Are people afraid to express their true feelings in team meetings at my organisation?”.

Help and Support

“Sometimes it means being a bit daring. Sometimes it means breaking the rules, but that’s okay, as long as the team are empowered, and they know that they’re empowered to do that, and they give it a go, and sometimes they get it wrong, but that’s fine, at least they tried. Those are the things for us that we’d much rather celebrate.” - John Welsh, Managing Director, Hickory’s Smokehouse

Helping and supporting teams can help boost morale, increase productivity, and create a happier and healthier working environment. Team members who feel supported by their manager and colleagues are often more confident in their abilities, and are more likely to then support others, benefitting the whole company. Helping each other out is the foundation of a world class team.

So, what would your employees say if you asked them whether their teams do everything they can to support each other?

What the Data Tells Us

From the data gathered from 349,593 engagement surveys, it is the Workplace Factor that we call My Team that has scored the highest in 2023, with an average score across all sectors of 78.63%. And making it the most positively responded to factor out of all the 8 Workplace Factors that make up the Best Companies methodology.

However, despite this, the three statements “My team is fun to work with”, “I feel a strong sense of family in my team”, and “People in our team don't care much for each other” have not improved in our year-on-year data. When we look just at the companies who saw their scores decline in these statements, they did so by an average of 1.79%, 2.34%, and 1.9%.

This shows that while employees are still feeling positive about their teams, the decrease in score for “I feel a strong sense of family in my team” suggests that employees are feeling less trust and respect towards one and other. Moreover, the decline in “People in our team don’t care much for each other” implies that colleagues are starting to lack a sense of help and support within their teams.  

By putting more focus on these aspects of the Team Index Model (while still ensuring that there is clarity on shared purpose and communication is effective), organisations can drive employee engagement and organisational health, creating a more productive and prosperous working environment.

What the Experts are Saying

Building world class teams isn’t just something that happens overnight. It takes work and collaboration between all levels of the organisation. This includes listening to the opinions of all employees. Discussing the importance of this, Jo Fry, Group HR Director at Mears, said, “Listening is absolutely key because it’s all very well giving people messages but getting those messages back and listening to what they’re saying... actually spending the time and investing is absolutely critical”.

Furthermore, during our Best Companies Live event, several industry leading experts talked about how ensuring creating a culture that empowers employees to make their own decisions is key to developing world class teams. John Welsh, Managing Director at Hickory’s Smokehouse, stated, “We maintain a moral compass for everybody because they have to make their own decisions.... We do that by actively and explicitly managing our culture so that the team has a reference point to what makes right and what makes wrong”.  

This was further backed up by the Chief Executive of Stockport Home Group, Helen McHale, who said, “You have to let staff feel that they’ve chosen things, that they’re empowered to make decisions”.

Another vital step towards building world class teams that was discussed was the importance of ensuring that everyone is living by the values of the organisations, and the ways in which companies can do this. Lawrence Cramer, People & Culture Director of Inspired Villages, stated, “When you’re thinking about building world class teams, it's important that everyone understands the purpose and vision of the organisation”.

However, this begins at the top. If the leadership team isn’t embodying the values of the organisation, then how can employees be expected to? As Lawrence Cramer stated, “If you live by your values and you’re true to your values and your culture then that will trump anything”.

What Next?

Any organisation looking to build world class teams should try to use the Team Index Model as a framework for their success. However, it is important to note that how this is implemented also depends on other factors.  

Leaders need to recognise that people with different levels of experience, roles and responsibilities, and personalities, will require different approaches to ensure that they are fully engaged with the practices that the organisation is trying to put into place.  

Download your free resource and use our Team Index Calculator and identify the areas where your organisation needs to focus its energy to build world class teams.

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