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Building Excellent Teams

Building Excellent Teams

Every team leader wants to lead an excellent team – so why is it that we seem to find it so hard to get this outcome? Part of the reason is that team leaders can be too passive and just wait for a team to evolve or to improve over time (which may or may not happen naturally). A more effective strategy is therefore to adopt several strategies and tactics which help to build the team and to more actively take it towards excellence. As a result, the following list of twelve possible behaviors and action steps can be drawn upon to help:

1. Listen carefully and communicate directly (without giving undue attention to gossip): A good team leader listens attentively to what team members are saying both individually and in group situations. They also communicate both frequently and directly with everyone so as to minimize gossip and rumor and make sure that accurate information is always flowing around the team at all times.

2. Always seek to drive out individual Mediocrity: Team leaders often “settle” for the team they inherit or are promoted to manage. However, this passive behavior can lead to significant problems and not just with the mediocre team member. Mediocrity is corrosive on all team relationships if left to fester. A good leader therefore addresses average or mediocre behavior or outcomes and challenges individuals to stretch themselves towards superior achievements.

3. Offer Regular feedback to all team members: Whether they are doing their jobs well or not as well as they would like, all individuals on a team like to get feedback (and most say they do not get it often enough). A good team leader should therefore make time every day to offer feedback directly. This does not have to be formal (in writing or at an appraisal discussion) and is often better when it is informal, immediate and kept concise and to the point.

4. Delegate some tasks and projects to team members:  Many leaders hold on to all their personal task and projects like “grim death” believing that individuals on the team cannot perform the work to their expectations.  However, unless some managerial and leadership tasks are delegated from time to time, individuals will experience little in the way of growth and new skills. A good leader therefore finds ways to delegate some of their work on a planned basis.

5. Celebrate team healthy team conflict and diversity of opinion: Conformity and “groupthink” are often significant enemies of team growth and success. The way to combat both of these is to encourage individuals to think creatively and to challenge conventional wisdom as much as possible.  This may lead to some lively debates (and even verbal conflict from time to time) but will mean that plans and strategies will ultimately be of a higher quality.

6. Encourage individuals to stretch beyond their comfort zone: Individuals on a team will often stick quite rigidly to only what they know and are familiar with and stray little beyond their comfort zone at work. A good leader will therefore guide individuals towards listening to new ideas and opinions and to deal with all people in a team or in a department/division who think differently. A simple way to achieve this is to ask people sit with different individuals each day at lunch and get to know their teammates and other colleagues better.

7. Provide ideas and innovations to the team: Team members may be experienced at what they do on a day-to-day basis in overall terms or in terms of how they have always done their job. However, a good team leader will encourage team members to think about new and better ways to do a task or project and even offer ideas and suggestions (which catalyze discussion about the possibility of a new way of doing things, even if the ideas proves not to be viable).

8. Build Trust at every level: In the early stages, when a leader takes over a team (and sometimes later) one or two members of the team may not fully see eye-to-eye or even trust one another. Rather than to let such situations fester or work around the problem, a good team leader will seek to establish greater levels of trust at all levels (and therefore challenge any lack of trust that seems to be developing directly). If these issues cannot be worked out between team members it may necessary to ask one or both individuals in some cases to move on.

9. Seek to make processes systematic: Once individuals have achieved success in a given area, a leader should encourage the people involved to create a replicable process for others to use when doing the same task(s). One way to do this is to create checklists which can be a great way to increase the overall effectiveness and success of a team significantly.

10. Recognize that each team member has a life beyond the team: It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about team members only in terms of the work they do or how they seem to be in the work climate. However, all individuals on the team have a life outside work, and will often have a range of skills, experience and responsibilities that a leader may be to draw upon (if an interest is taken in what these may be). This will not only potentially help the leader to get a broader contribution from a person but help to enrich the team member’s job role.

11. Create and Build Team Diversity: Diverse people (people with different backgrounds, skills and experience) leads to diverse thinking. This means that we should celebrate having a variety of ethnicities races, ages, and sexes so that the whole team can better think laterally and address issues and problems from many different angles.

12. Give Regular Recognition to Team Members: Recognition (formal and informal) not only gives people a sense of accomplishment, but helps to inspire others to make efforts to go above and beyond what is expected of them. Some of this recognition can be private but occasional it should be publicly done with lots of social interaction possibilities provided.

The above action steps are clearly only a few of what could be many steps that a leader can make to build long-term team success. However, each of these can make a huge difference and when applied in combination, can take the team relatively quickly along the path to being high performing.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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