Building a Team Print

February 2007 - The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator eNewsletter

team characteristics

Building a Team |Gary Rush Facilitation

Whether you inherit an existing team or have to build one from scratch (see Assembling a Team, below), understanding what enables a collection of people to come together as a team and what makes the team work, is vital.


I’m going to look at what it takes to make a collection of people a team. Then, I’ll talk about assessing the team and finally, what you can do for Team-building.


What Makes a Collection of People a Team?


When people come together, they don’t naturally gravitate to becoming a team. It takes work and some key elements. The 5 interlocking key elements are:


  • Trust
  • Conflict
  • Commitment
  • Responsibility
  • A Common Goal

a teamfive elements of a team



Trust is a critical element to turning a collection of people into a team. It enables the remaining elements to work – because the team removes internal barriers when they trust – defensive barriers that can impede people from coming together. Trust builds confidence. Trust is knowing that you can be vulnerable and others won’t take advantage of that vulnerability. Treat others as you want to be treated; it develops trust.




When people trust, they feel comfortable to disagree – healthy Conflict. A collection of people is not a team if everyone is thinking the same. A team brings different ways of thinking and different ideas. When they honestly discuss their ideas, ideological conflict arises. That is what makes a collection of people a team.




When a team has healthy conflict, they have a chance of reaching Consensus. When a team reaches consensus, everyone supports it – they have Commitment. This takes trust, confidence to disagree, and an understanding of Consensus. Commitment happens when a team has a single common goal.




When a team reaches consensus and commit, they take on Responsibility. Responsibility means that you are held accountable for your commitments. That requires integrity, being knowledgeable, and taking responsibility. Trust is important because it allows others in the team to hold you accountable, to engage in healthy conflict as well as for knowing the issues and speaking from knowledge.


Common Goal


A team only comes together when it aims for A Common Goal. If individuals in a team pursue their own goals, they don’t come together – egos impede teamwork. Only when everyone works together towards the greater whole does a team come together. Healthy conflict is focused on the group goal, not on hidden agendas. Commitment is clear because the team has a common goal. Without a goal, a team flounders.


A Collection of People become a Team when:


Before a collection of people becomes a team, you need:


  • Trust – through knowing people, Active Listening, and Values.
  • Conflict – a healthy result of trust, open discussion, and understanding.
  • Commitment – through healthy conflict and reaching consensus, a team makes commitments.
  • Responsibility – through Values, a clear goal, and healthy conflict, teams take responsibility.
  • A Common Goal – a common direction and target.


Building a team is addressing weaknesses in the 5 key elements and ensuring that the team exists in a constructive environment. All five elements work together but you begin with Trust and work towards a Common Goal.


Assessing the Team


Knowing what makes a team work enables you to assess the team – is the team working? If not, why? When you assess a team, look at the elements in reverse order – Common Goal to Trust. Ask questions, such as:


  • Are they working towards one goal? Do some team members appear to be sacrificing personal success for the success of the whole? Are team members voluntarily helping each other? If the answers are “yes”, then you have a team. If any answer is “no”, then continue assessing.
  • Are team members holding each other accountable for commitments? Are team members openly accepting responsibility for failures as well as successes? If the answers are “yes”, then your problem is the lack of a Common Goal. If any answer is “no”, then continue assessing.
  • Do team members make firm commitments understanding what they are committing to? Do team members clearly know what they need to do? If the answers are “yes”, then the problem is in Taking Responsibility. If any answer is “no”, then continue assessing.
  • Do team members opening disagree on issues? Are disagreements about issues or ideology instead of personal? If the answers are “yes”, then you need to work on Commitment. If any answer is “no”, then you need to work on Trust and build from there.




Team-building is more than conducting an exercise or two. The exercises certainly help, but understanding what makes a collection of people a team is vital. Team-building is taking your assessment of the team and matching appropriate actions to the needs of the team.


If the team needs a Common Goal, then using Strategic Thinking works well. Work with the team to develop a common Vision – a target of what they would like to look like or accomplish as a team at some point in the future. Develop a common Mission for the team – a reason for their existence.


If the team problem is Responsibility, then develop a core set of team Values – what they believe in. This builds integrity. Various team-building games exist that require each member of the team to contribute. These help build responsibility.


If the team problem is Commitment, then Active Listening is important. Use effective Decision Making processes, such as those discussed in last month’s newsletter. They help a group achieve consensus, which requires commitment.


If the team problem is Conflict, you need to use probing questions whenever the team is together. Don’t allow team members to sit back and not discuss issues. If someone looks like he or she may disagree, probe to make him or her open up. Understand how to Manage Conflict (see Managing Conflict).


If the problem is Trust, get the team members to talk to each other openly. Ask them to talk about themselves personally so that they begin to get to know each other. Use various Team-building exercises that focus on trust and support. This goes beyond being open. This is about being safe to be vulnerable. Adventure type Team-building activities help. Ground rules in meetings to stop attacks and focus on issues help. Active listening to get to the real issues and away from personalities helps. This is the baseline – the other four elements build from here.


Team-building is not “an exercise”. It is employing the right action or exercise to correct the right problem. There is no “one size fits all” in Team-building because every team is different. To be successful, you need to know where the team is by assessing them. Then select the right action to move them to become a team. And remember, it is constant. Teams change over time and you need to continually reassess. It is especially important with existing teams because of the length of time they have been together.


Assembling a Team


There is no single answer as to how to build a Team. Some organizations use personality profiles. Some Japanese companies use blood type. Whatever tool you use, keep the following guidelines in mind:


  • Select people with differences. Differences help create balance and increase available skills and ideas. Purposefully select people with differences – different backgrounds, different social identities, and different experience levels. These differences make the Team richer.
  • Don’t lose experience. In U. S. companies, especially, there is an age discrimination that looses people with valuable experience. Use it – don’t lose it.
  • Don’t neglect the newcomer. Whenever I hired people with very little experience, they turned out to be very productive – because I gave them the opportunity to learn and grow. So, when you do bring in someone new with little experience – be sure to provide effective training.
  • Watch how they interact during group meetings. When I held meetings with my staff to communicate our Vision, I observed to see who connected and who didn’t; who was an emerging leader and who was a follower; and how each person interacted with the others. Observation gives you input to structure the team and sub-teams.


Remember, too, that Teams are fluid. You can change them if the situation dictates. Varying the makeup of various sub-teams also helps broaden the group and their relationships. If you are open and honest in communicating with your Team and treat them with respect, they will respond.logo