High-performance teams drive business success. A group’s ability to innovate and achieve can greatly surpass that of the individual—but only when there’s genuine teamwork, unified understanding of the group’s goals, and synergy. And that’s where the following pointers for building successful teams in the workplace come in.
Don’t leave things to chance by randomly lumping people together, or by just picking out the first people you see from relevant departments. By being deliberate in the way you bring employees together to collaborate, you can design powerful teams and are taking an important step for building successful teams in the workplace.
Of course, there’s always some degree of unpredictability, and it’s important to closely monitor every team’s performance and progress. Be willing to rearrange as needed over time. If certain people just don’t work well together, or you find a team has some sort of imbalance in expertise, or you otherwise identify a shortcoming, be quick to adjust. This sort of flexibility is also a crucial aspect of building successful teams in the workplace for the long term.
How to Create High-Performance Teams
- Appoint someone with strong leadership skills to lead the team. It’s not always a manager or a longtime employee. And sometimes it may not even seem like an official leader is necessary. But every group needs someone to guide it, keep it on track, and make final decisions if it’s to function efficiently.
- Create a culture of teamwork and mutual respect. Encourage employees to share information, insights, and expertise. While some degree of competition can sometimes drive performance on an individual level, it’s generally not helpful at all in a team dynamic. Everyone on a team should be equally invested in everyone else’s performance and in achieving one unified result for the group.
- Assemble diverse teams. A well-rounded team includes a wide range of experiences, expertise, and viewpoints. This refers to all sorts of characteristics, such as people of different genders, ethnicities, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, years of experience in the field, areas of specialty, strengths, and so on.
- Establish ground rules. These can cover a lot of areas, such as when the group will meet, how meetings will be conducted, how everyone will communicate, how disagreements are handled,etc. Just remain open to changing the rules if they seem to hinder progress, or to creating new ones if it becomes clear they’re needed.
- Make sure the team always has a SMART goal. Everyone on the team must be striving toward the same ends. Guide efforts with specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound (SMART) goals. Define them clearly and confirm that each person understands them.
- Clearly define everyone’s role in the group. Building successful teams in the workplace often means moving beyond each individual’s basic job description. Everyone should have a larger role in a group dynamic. Play to people’s strengths—including their character traits as well as their professional expertise.
- Encourage team members to get to know each other. Send them out to lunch together. Arrange team-building activities that aren’t totally lame. Have them take breaks together. Suggest they go to happy hour after work. They’ll do better together when they care about each other, understand each other’s needs and work styles, have some insights into where everyone else is coming from, and otherwise become connected.
- Establish a single method of communication. Provide communication apps or other software that the team can use to talk and track progress on each project. If individuals are emailing or texting each other individually, others may miss out on essential information or ideas. Keep communications centralized and easily accessible to everyone in the group.
- Incorporate regular feedback. This doesn’t only refer to constructive criticism and due praise from the team leader and from above. That’s crucial, but the group also needs to be able to openly discuss its progress, challenges, and concerns. Make sure there are scheduled times and a mechanism in place to allow for this.
- Offer incentives, praise, and rewards. Good work should always be positively reinforced. When a team performs well, make sure that every single member knows it, and knows that their individual contributions are recognized and appreciated. Praise and rewards should go out to team members individually and to the group as a whole.
Certain situations in the workplace can be a bit awkward for many managers, and giving employees constructive criticism is often one of them. It can be particularly uncomfortable when the supervisor knows the employee in question is genuinely trying, or if the worker is known to be a little sensitive.
With the right approach though, the exchange can be as painless as possible for both parties, and you minimize the likelihood of the recipient becoming too defensive to benefit. Plus, the feedback will be delivered with the best chance for triggering meaningful improvement in the employee’s performance.
Why Is Giving Employees Constructive Criticism Important?
There are many reasons for giving employees constructive criticism as part of managing projects and performance in the workplace. And it’s not just for struggling staff; even high-performing employees can and should receive professional, valuable constructive criticism.
Obviously, the primary reason for giving employees constructive criticism is that when it’s delivered and received well, it should improve productivity, performance, and results. This contributes to greater success for the employee, their team or department, and the company.
Beyond that, constructive feedback is a crucial form of employee engagement and development. It demonstrates that management and the company is invested in the employee, and in helping them grow. In the best cases, it can even open the door to greater responsibility, as well—and with it advancement and increased pay.
Constructive criticism also gives employees a fair chance to turn things around before they have to be fired. Generally speaking, people deserve the opportunity to work harder if they’re not meeting certain expectations or goals. Often, they’re unaware of how they’re falling short without having it brought to their attention. And, from a more liability-oriented standpoint, it’s helpful to document issues and official attempts to correct them.
Tips for Giving Employees Constructive Criticism
- Provide constructive criticism promptly when you become aware of a problem; letting the issue persist doesn’t do anybody any favors, and if you end up angered by it over time, you’re less likely to deliver the feedback as professionally and constructively.
- Let the employee know ahead that you want to speak with them, and tell them why; they’re more likely to get upset and defensive if they’re blindsided at the meeting.
- Have the conversation in private; it’s just courteous, and it will be much more uncomfortable for the employee if they’re afraid someone else is overhearing it.
- Keep emotions out of the conversation on your end, even if the recipient of your feedback becomes emotional; stay calm and professional.
- Open by explaining that the purpose of the meeting is to help the employee improve their performance, and that they’re not in any sort of trouble.
- Start by saying something positive about the employee; this is a tried and true psychological tactic that helps people be more receptive to criticism, and it’s also nice.
- Pick one or two of the most important issues to cover, and save any others for another time so it doesn’t come across as an all-out assault; it’s also more likely that the constructive criticism will be digested and successfully applied if there isn’t an overwhelming amount to focus on.
- Cite specific examples of the behavior or aspect of performance in question, rather than just vaguely describing it.
- Address the employee’s actions, rather than personality traits; for example, one of the examples you cite could reference a time when they didn’t structure something in a logical, efficient way, as opposed to saying that they’re disorganized.
- Provide specific, practical, actionable steps for improvement; a simple way to do this is to offer advice about how they could have better approached the situation or task in the examples you cite.
- Stick to things the employee has the ability to change; otherwise, it’s just criticism, with nothing constructive.
- Let the employee speak—and even offer an explanation if they feel so inclined—but be prepared to get the conversation back on track if they’re only being defensive; also, be open to the possibility that they may have a valid reason for what you’re discussing (such as having been trained by another manager or employee to do something the way they’ve been doing it).
- Thank the employee for listening and wrap the meeting up with a positive, encouraging statement reiterating that the purpose of the feedback is to help them achieve more.
- Follow up with the employee after an appropriate amount of time (which depends on the nature of the issue they’re working on); if you’ve noticed effort and improvement on their part, be sure to tell them so.
Generating more productive brainstorming sessions among employees can help get new products, services, processes, and other initiatives moving in the right direction from the start. Of course, these group-think meetings can also be a waste of everyone’s time when they don’t go anywhere useful.
Done with the right structure, however, brainstorming sessions are certainly a tool worth using in the workplace. They can encourage creativity, problem solving, teamwork, synergy, and inclusiveness.
Keep in mind that different individuals naturally have varying enthusiasm and aptitude for this particular method. But everyone involved will improve with practice. Here are some general ways to help provide the right setting and approach for more productive brainstorming sessions.
Ways to Improve Your Brainstorming Sessions
- Let the session participants know ahead of time what they’ll be brainstorming about. While it’s ultimately an exercise in spontaneity and playing off other people’s ideas, not everybody thrives on the spot, and many people perform better—especially at the beginning of the session—having given the issue some forethought. This can help avoid dead starts.
- Prepare questions in advance about different aspects of the project or problem. These can be very useful for getting things going again or changing directions when a brainstorming session starts running out of steam or the ideas are staying too narrow or off the mark.
- Organize diverse brainstorming groups. Exposing the participants to a wide variety of perspectives from people of differing demographics and areas of expertise helps lead everyone in new directions.
- Don’t jump right into the mission. Open with some sort of warm-up activity to help get the creative juices flowing. For example, challenge the group to come up with 50 unique uses for a brick.
- Before opening things up, make sure the problem that participants are seeking to solve is clearly and concisely defined. Also, lay out any parameters that narrow the scope of the session or the possible solutions. Give everyone the opportunity to ask questions for clarification.
- Refrain from creating too much pressure. Let the participants know they aren’t necessarily looking for the final answer. Reassure them that this is the stage of exploring directions and possibilities.
- Keep things comfortable, informal, and judgment-free throughout the brainstorming session. Take a short break if the atmosphere becomes tense, if people appear to be getting antsy or losing focus, or if progress seems to have stalled.
- Transcribe all suggestions in a central location where all participants can read and review them. Don’t exclude any ideas, no matter how they strike you; it’s impossible to tell which thoughts will lead to something better.
- Include a new person or two in the latter half of the brainstorming session—even employees who aren’t involved in the project. This is a great way to benefit from fresh perspectives and get feedback and new ideas based on the work that’s been done.
- Consider small brainstorming groups of perhaps three to five people, rather than a single large group of five or more. Many people are more at ease in smaller groups, and this setup often generates more ideas that go in more different directions.
Fraud and Trust
The thought of employee theft and fraud within a company can be daunting and stressful- especially within a small business full of trusted and hard-working employees. It can be difficult to walk the line between making your employees feel trusted and ensuring that your business is being run honestly and without unnecessary profit loss.
It is also stressful to realize that fraud often occurs because those employees are so well trusted. Examples of possible theft include:
- A payroll employee paying a non-existent or a termed employee and taking the money
- An office manager or assistant buying supplies from a non-existent company and paying themselves
- Bookkeeping errors in small amounts that go unnoticed over time
- Stealing office supplies
Some forms of theft or fraud feel less serious than others. Someone taking a pack of post-its or a small mistake in the books here and there seems like something to overlook. That is why it’s often missed, and that is why Internal Controls are just that much more important.
Internal Controls are methods in which you can monitor and take control of your business and profits and minimize loss. There are many ways to utilize them and cater them to your specific needs and business model.
Much of the responsibility to implement these controls falls to the business owner. It is critical that the owner have a hand in every part of the business. If an employee knows that the owner is knowledgeable and active in the work they are doing, it will effectively minimize the chance that the employee will have an opportunity to commit fraud.
It is important to know how much money you are making, and how much money you should be making. Look at your profits from the year before and now, and calculate what you should be making months in advance. If there are discrepancies, get with your accountant and find out why. A discrepancy does not always mean fraud and does not mean that you should inherently distrust your employees. It is simply important to have control over the finances.
Task Delegation and Shared Responsibility
A business can’t run effectively without delegating tasks to employees. However, having a single task, such as payroll, known only to one specific person is a dangerous thing. It is easier to commit theft if no one knows the ins and outs of what you are doing. A remedy for this is to cross-train your employees and to make vacation mandatory. Have another employee do their job while they are out. This gives you an opportunity to see if things are being done differently, or to see if a mistake is caught by the second employee.
It can also be beneficial to split up financial tasks- for example, accounts receivable and accounts payable. No one person should have complete control over the intake and outtake of cash flow.
Other Internal Control Examples
- Cameras can easily discourage petty theft
- Background checks on new employees can show any criminal history or bad credit
- Strong software security reduces financial fraud
- Perform scheduled and unscheduled audits
- Take notice of employees living beyond their means
Don’t let the notion of small business and a trusted community keep you from putting Internal Controls to use. Take control of your company and be a part of every facet of it. Be active and vigilant.
You should trust your employees- and with several Internal Controls put in to place, you can do so more freely.
Source: Steve Blank
“That he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart…We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
William Shakespeare, Henry V
There’s been a lot written about the individual characteristics of what makes a great founder, but a lot less about what makes a great founding team and how that’s different from a greatfounding CEO.
I think we’ve been imprecise in defining three different roles. In doing so we’ve failed to help founders understand what it takes to build a great founding team.
Here are my definitions.
Founders – The Idea
A Founder is the one with the original idea, scientific discovery, technical breakthrough, insight, problem description, passion, etc. A founder typically recruits co-founders and then becomes part of the founding team involved in day-to-day company operations. (However, in some industries such as life sciences, founders may be tenured professors who are not going to give up their faculty positions, so they often become the head of a startup’s scientific advisory board, but aren’t part of the founding team.)
A couple of caveats about founders with “ideas.” It’s important to differentiate between ideas that have been or can be patented and ideas thought up late night in a dorm-room. One of the hardest concepts for my students to grasp is that “an idea is not a company.” The reality is that in most cases, without the company to commercialize it, the idea is worthless (except to a patent troll.)
Even if they become part of the founding team, it’s not a given that the founder, having come up with the idea has a “guaranteed” leadership role (CEO or VP) in the new company. For some entrepreneurs this idea that the founder is not necessarily the CEO, is a surprise. When I hear, “What do you mean I’m not CEO? It’s my idea!” I get nervous that the founder is clueless about what makes the founding CEO special, and what else it actually takes to build a company. (Read on to see the difference in the roles.)
Founding Team – The Rock on Which to Build the Company
The founding team includes the founder and a few other co-founders with complementary skills to the founder. This is the group who will build the company. Its goal is to take the original idea and search for a repeatable and scalable business model– first by finding product/market fit, then by testing all the parts of the business model (pricing, channel, acquisition/activation, partners, costs, etc.)
In web/mobile startups the canonical view is the founding team consists of a hacker, a hustler, and a designer. In other domains, the skill sets differ, but the key idea is that you want a team with complementary skills.
There’s no magic number about the “right” number of founders for a founding team, but two to four seems to be the sweet spot. One of the biggest mistakes in assembling a founding team is not thinking through the need for skills but instead settling for who’s around. The two tests of whether someone belongs on a founding team are: “Do we have a company without them?” and, “Can we find someone else just like them?” If both answers are no, you’ve identified a co-founder. If any of the answers are “Yes,” then hire them a bit later as an early employee.
Key attributes of an entrepreneur on a founding team are passion, determination, resilience, tenacity, agility and curiosity. It helps if the team has had a history of working together, but what is essential is mutual respect. And what is critical is trust. You need to be able to trust your co-founders to perform, to do what they say they will, and to have your back.
Most startups that fail over team issues fail because co-founders hadn’t dated first, (spent time together in a Startup Weekend, worked together in an incubator, etc.) but instead jumped into bed to start a company.
Everyone has ideas. It’s the courage, passion and tenacity of the founding team that turn ideas into businesses.
Founding CEO – Reality Distortion Field and Comfort in Chaos
Idealistic founders trying to run a venture with collective leadership, without a single person in charge, find that’s the fastest way to go out of business. Speed, tempo and fearless decision-making are a startups strategic advantage. More often than not, conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that the need for immediate decisions overwhelms a collective decision process.<
The founding team CEO is the first among equals in the founding team. Ironically they are almost never the most intelligent or technically astute person on the team. What sets them apart from the rest of the team is that they can project a fearless reality distortion field that they use to recruit, fund raise, pivot and position the company. They are the ultimate true believers in the company and have the vision, passion and skill to communicate why this seemingly crazy idea will work and change the world.
In addition, the founding CEO thrives operating in chaos and uncertainty. They deal with the daily crisis of product development and acquiring early customers. And as the reality of product development and customer input collide, the facts change so rapidly that the original well-thought-out product plan becomes irrelevant. While the rest of the team is focused on their specific jobs, the founding CEO is trying to solve a complicated equation where almost all the variables are unknown – unknown customers, unknown features that will make those customers buy, unknown pricing, unknown demand creation activities that will get them into your sales channel, etc.
They’re biased for action and they don’t wait around for someone else to tell them what to do. Great founding CEOs live for these moments.
Figure Out Who You Are
Many founding teams fail because they’ve never had the conversation about founder, founding team and founding CEO. Spend the time and take stock of who’s on the journey with you.
- Founder, Founding team, Founding CEO all have word “founder” in them but have different roles
- Founder has the initial idea. May or may not be on the founding team or have a leadership role
- Founding team – complementary skills – builds the company
- Founding CEO – reality distortion field and comfort in chaos – leads the company by
Authored by Steve Blank
In B2B selling, there are conflicting reports about how many times you need to metaphorically touch a prospect before they buy from you, so whether it’s 5, 7 or something else, it’s likely more than just the first or second interaction you have with them.
People like to buy from people they like, know and trust and you can speed up the relationship building part with extra touch points and adding your own personality where possible. Not many people do it, so stand out and make it work for you.
Have a look at these points and see if you can introduce any into your process:
- Make your initial contact via telephone or in person to arrange a meeting rather than email.
- Send a personalized calendar invite to confirm your meeting.
- Attend your actual first meeting.
- Leave a brief hand written card with their assistant to be delivered when you leave, thanking them for their time today.
- Send a follow up email to confirm your next steps or include your proposal.
- Send a personalized LinkedIn connection request if you connected well.
- Telephone and arrange your next appointment to discus your proposal or to follow up on a decision.
- Follow them on Twitter or become a fan of their Facebook page, great intel for further meetings.
- Attend your follow up meeting.
- Thank them and confirm your deal in writing via email.
- Send a personalized hand written card thanking them for their business.
- Call either in person or telephone after you have shipped to check they are happy with what they purchased.
If their decision was a “no”, why not still send a hand written card wishing them luck with their chosen provider?
It is worth mentioning here that if you add in a little of your personality at each point, such as a friendly personal message in your calendar invite, you really will start to build a relationship with them quite quickly which can only be a good thing.
Compare these steps with what you are currently doing now. I am guessing, but I would imagine that in many cases, points 2,4,6,8,11 and 12 would be missed out.
Of course once your prospect has bought from you, there are many more times that your customer is then touched with personal communication from you, others staff members involvement, head office interaction, marketing and so on, and if you have done and continue to do a great job delivering in all of these different areas, the word of mouth advertising from your new customer will come.
For comments: What extra points do you do we can add to the list?
Thanks for reading my posts, I hope you enjoy them and leave me your own thoughts and comments below. I do hope you follow my posts in the future.
My book “Learn Marketing with Social Media in 7 Days” (Wiley) is available now and my next book “Start with Hello” (Wiley) will be out in September but available for pre-order on Amazon.
You may be interested in some earlier posts like:
7 Modern day ways to leave a lasting impression
When to wear your Wonder Woman knickers
Don’t call me maybe, pick up the phone
Authored by Linda Coles