Building a team

For any business to thrive, it’s essential to have a team of people with varying strengths and qualities. Diversity is key, as are the objectives, which should be clear and attainable. Simon Jones covers the key fundamentals required to build an effective team.

One area that’s key to developing and growing a small business is to ensure that it has the right blend of skills and experience among its staff. Yet building the right team doesn’t just happen by accident. It needs careful planning and management to be successful. 

Have a clear objective

Be very precise about why you are creating a team and what you want it to do. If the outcome is vague – for example “Review customer care systems” – the team is likely to spend more time debating exactly what it is that you are looking for rather than delivering it. Have a much more focused objective, such as “Identify strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of existing customer care systems and produce a report with detailed recommendations for improvement, by 31 March”.

Getting the right blend

Just as a successful football team doesn’t consist of 11 centre forwards, or a cricket team contain 11 wicket keepers, so the ideal business team will comprise those who bring a wide range of skills, experience and ability. A successful team might include someone skilled at coordinating or project management, someone who’s detailed and methodical, someone who can present or sell effectively, and someone who can challenge existing ideas. It may require someone with a great degree of technical knowledge, someone with accounting skills and someone with the ability to turn the activities into meaningful results. It might have to balance those who are focussed on the tasks and targets with those who ensure that the team works together harmoniously and to deadlines. 

Teams often fail if they have the wrong blend, or if they are missing a critical role. In the same way that you should decide on the essential and desirable skills, knowledge and experience of a role when you are recruiting, so you should decide what types of skills and knowledge you need on the team and who is best placed to provide it. 

Put someone in charge

Teams need someone in the group who will co-ordinate them and keep them focused on the task they have been set up for. Without this leadership, there’s a danger that the group can splinter, go off on tangents or fail to communicate effectively with each other. This role may sometimes fall to the business owner but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the most ‘senior’ person in the group – it needs to be someone who has the skills to manage potential conflicts and track progress.

Give the team time to gel

People joining a new team don’t just automatically work well together. Individuals within a team need time to get to know each other, iron out any difficulties between them, and be clear on their own roles and responsibilities within the team. American psychologist Bruce Tuckman famously described these steps as:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming  
  • Performing

Some teams, particularly where individuals have worked together before, or know each other well, can pass through these stages quickly. Others however may take more time, and some – especially where there is no identified leader or coordinator – may get stuck in the storming phase (arguing about what needs to be done and who is going to do what). This can be especially true where you are bringing in a new starter who may be full of good ideas from their previous employer but doesn’t know their new colleagues.

Putting together a team within in business makes sense for a lot of reasons - it allows a diverse range of viewpoints and for one person’s strength to counter another’s weakness. It also increases the resources available to address a business issue. But it’s not as simple as just putting people together and letting them ‘get on with it’. It needs careful planning and management to be effective.

Author: Simon Jones is the Director of Ariadne Associates and is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD

Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you to address some of the issues covered in this blog:

  • Team building: learn how to develop your team to ensure ongoing high performance
  • Performance management: learn how to improve and develop your employees' performance and how to align their goals with your business objectives
  • Learning and development: find out how to plan learning and development opportunities to improve your employees' capabilities, skills and competencies