Teamwork makes the dream work.
– John C. Maxwell

Leaders often pose the question, “What is the best way to organise staff members to achieve high achievement outcomes?” Effective leaders build high performance teams when there is need for coordination or innovation. Success or failure of a project is not attributed to the sum of each individual’s efforts, but rather to the aligned efforts of the team (Hiebert & Klatt, 2001). Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results (attributed to the entrepreneur, Andrew Carnegie). Teams are distinguished by their sense of interdependence. They achieve common goals by discussing, deciding and doing work together.

Effective teams need the confluence of skills in three fundamental competency areas to operate effectively (Hiebert & Klatt, 2001):

  1. Get the job done and produce results
    • Plan well.
    • Set and achieve goals.
    • Share accountability.
    • Make decisions and recommendations.
    • Communicate well with stakeholders.
    • Monitor and control results.
    • Key statement: “We do these things to get results…”
  2. Use quality thinking
    • Strive for intellectual effectiveness.
    • Use optimal process tools.
    • See multiple perspectives and assumptions.
    • Analyse, innovate, synthesise.
    • Reach agreement and closure.
    • Challenge each other.
    • Key statement: “We think…”
  3. Take care of interpersonal needs
    • Understand social needs of team.
    • Give each other mutual support.
    • Strive for synergy.
    • Honour differences.
    • Be trusting and open.
    • Deal with conflict and search for win-win decisions.
    • Key statement: “We feel…”

On the other hand, dysfunctional teams generate negative experiences, including problems with ineffective communication, poor planning and organisation, and problem team members who are unwilling to do their fair share of the work. Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model (2002) offers a useful framework to identify some major causes of ineffective teams. The five dysfunctions build on one another starting from the bottom of a pyramid (see Figure 1), and are briefly described below.


Figure 1. The five dysfunctions of a team.


  1. Absence of trust
     It occurs when team members are unable to recognise and accept personal vulnerabilities, and when they are unwilling to develop effective working relationships with each other.
  2. Fear of conflict
    Due to lack of trust, team members are unable to deal with difficult issues in an open and frank manner. In team meetings, they are unable to discuss important issues thoroughly.
  3. Lack of commitment
    As a result of the lack of healthy conflict in the team for working together and making collaborative decisions, there is a lack of commitment to implement the team’s decisions effectively.
  4. Avoidance of accountability
    Due to the lack of commitment for a specific course of action or decision, team members engage in behaviours that are counterproductive. They are less likely to hold each other accountable for meeting deadlines or fulfilling their commitments.
  5. Inattention to results
    The first four dysfunctions lead to a situation where the individuals do not feel they are cohesive team members or committed towards achievement of collective goals. This leads to low level team performance.

A well-functioning, supportive and happy team is more productive, motivated, and committed to achieving shared goals. It is, therefore, vital that leaders know how to develop high performance teams that lead to staff cohesiveness. Here are some suggestions to ensure that staff members become a winning team (adapted from Flanagan & Finger, 2010):

  1. Be aware of the features of a cohesive team
    Great teams operate in an informal and relaxed environment. Everyone participates in discussions. Members listen to one another. Every idea is given adequate consideration. The goals of the team are understood and accepted by all. Decisions are reached by consensus. Criticism is frequent, frank, and respectful. The team leader does not dominate, nor do the team members unduly defer to the leader.
  2. Assess your team leadership skills
    Commitment, as opposed to compliance, is required in learning organisations. Committed people generate higher-quality, more innovative products and services. But commitment is not automatic. It is an outcome of effective leadership, and is enhanced by involving and informing people and encouraging them to influence decisions within their teams. Self-assess your team leadership skills in: helping a group get established, building group dynamics, leading specific group sessions, using process tools, and knowing how people perceive you as a team leader.
  3. Promote interaction among staff members
    Effective teamwork occurs when team members are positive towards one another. Act as a catalyst to foster a network of interpersonal relationships among team members. Organise regular meetings that are either work-related or social.
  4. Set clear, attainable goals and priorities
    When everyone in the room knows “where they are going and why”, there is a great potential for cooperation and high morale. Effective teams have clearly defined goals for themselves and maintain a strong focus on these goal throughout their work processes. Clarify and modify the roles and expectations until members are satisfied.
  5. Emphasise teamwork and ownership
    Show your commitment to the team principles at all times. Talk about “we”, “our goals”, “what we hope to achieve”, and emphasise positive suggestions that reflect a cohesive team.
  6. Establish clear and empowering ground rules
    Set explicit guidelines that support and demand robust group processes and collaborative member behaviour. Ground rules can cover such things as how decisions will be made, how information will be recorded, how conflict will be managed, how meetings will operate, what preparation is expected before a meeting, and how closure will be reached.
  7. Elicit participation from team members
    Ask for participation. Making a direct and honest request for participation is very effective. Plan when and how to elicit participation. Express appreciation and thank people who participate. Protect the first few ideas. Members often judge the safety of participation by how well the first couple of contributions are handled. Ask open-ended questions to get participation going. Asking for examples is a powerful way of getting participation. Always verbally summarise or visibly record key points, so team members know you understand, before you make an evaluative response.
  8. Provide leadership support to the team
    Increase and maintain each member’s sense of personal worth and importance as a group member. Keep the group informed. Look for opportunities to tap into the talents and develop the skills of each member. Rotate jobs in the group (if possible) so that members identify with the team as a whole rather than with their own individual portfolios. Ensure that all members are free to express their views to the team. As a team leader, foster trust and confidence of all members of your team.
  9. Facilitate task accomplishment
    Ensure that team members are provided with the equipment, facilities, work methods, and time-table for accomplishing group goals. Focus also on solving any problems that interfere with goal achievement and the building of a team identity.
  10. Acknowledge quality work
    Recognition and appreciation of every team member’s contribution builds a climate of trust and energises team members. Look for opportunities to celebrate your team members.

John C. Maxwell in his The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork (2001) refers to, what he calls, the Law of Mt. Everest: As the challenge escalates, so does the need for teamwork. Acting as a compass, effective leaders help build a shared vision that gives team members direction, focus and confidence. Successful leaders understand that unless teams learn, organisations cannot learn (Senge, 2006).

You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world.
But it takes people to make the dream a reality.
– Walt Disney


Aldag, R. J., & Kuzuhara, L. W. (2015). Creating high performance teams: Applied strategies and tools for managers and team members. New York, NY: Routledge.

Flanagan, N., & Finger, J. (2010). The management bible. Queensland, Australia: Plum Press.

Hiebert, M., & Klatt, B. (2001). The encyclopedia of leadership: A leadership guide to popular leadership theories and techniques. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maxwell, J. C. (2001). The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork: Enhance them and empower your team. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, J. C. (2002). Teamwork makes the dream work. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday. 

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