Ensuring Continuing Team Effectiveness


In this article, the authors argue for regular, systematic reviews of team effectiveness for mature teams, led by skilled facilitation.

New teams often start off their lives with a lot of attention and fanfare.  Considerable time and effort is given to clarifying objectives and mission, setting out resources, defining the parameters to operate within, values and beliefs, and a concerted focus is given on team members getting to know each other as individuals. This initial phase is often followed up by periodic reviews to ensure the original objectives are maintained and progress is on track.

However, after a while of business-as-usual, sharpness can begin to dull: new members join the team and do not share the same sense of understanding of purpose, ways of working and the knowledge of the people themselves.  Still further down the line, new virtual members may join the team working remotely and reporting into that team.   This can add cultural distance to the issues, impeding smooth working. Over time, there develops an increasing lack of a shared common understanding of purpose; daily issues blur a team sense of what it is all for.

Over time, the workings of the team change considerably and almost imperceptibly, so that only a handful of the original members hold the whole dominant ethos, and ways of working and objectives have become something quite new and apart from the original.  Bonds become weak and a tight, uniform set of approaches is replaced by a much more individualistic, atomised style as people bring with them remnants of their old roles, values and beliefs The group can suffer as a result, rather than being enhanced by this process.

Without agreed ways to resolve that dissatisfaction and move forward, the end result can sometimes be inefficiency, lack of effectiveness, and a build-up of dissatisfaction.  At this stage of disrepair, the answer will often be to disband that team completely and this often happens following reorganisation.

However, there is another way.  We advocate periodic review meetings where the workings of the team can usefully be discussed and improvements built-in which are home grown, values and their relevance are affirmed and new ones introduced. What typically often happens is that an away day takes place that looks solely at the 'hard issues and at the future: what are the targets for next year?  What are the budgets what are the tasks ahead?  What often gets neglected is how the team is working together: is it meeting its original aims? What are the external influences and internal influences that cause us to change?  Do we need to revisit the original objectives in the light of these new factors?  Time can usefully be spent on the way the team works together, because if you fail to do so, it is almost inevitable that erosion and decline sets in.

It is sometimes a lot easier to let some of these uncomfortable issues go unmentioned.  For example, if you're finding a colleague difficult and irksome it is far easier to mutter to a trusted friend than it is to face up to the issues with the individual.  If you feel things have begun to slide, this can feel very threatening to the leadership of the group and to the particular stakeholders of the issues you are talking about.  This discomfort with conflict can lead you to keep quiet when you should speak out, to allow difficult issues to build up perhaps to a breaking point, when you know you should have tackled these far earlier.  Human nature is simply not to cause ripples and unless regular reviews are built into the way of managing, issues of this nature can get put to one side.

We have put together a checklist of useful themes to consider when reviewing team processes.  They are not a universal list which applies to every single team, but they do give a starting point to thoroughly take stock of where a team is now, and where it needs to be in the future.

Auditing your team is the first step in improving its effectiveness.

Conducting an Audit

Conducting an audit requires careful management if it is to produce real results in a team.  Simply giving the audit questionnaire to team members will likely lead to failure to uncover blind spots or incomplete analysis.  For example, some members may have a vested interest in keeping things as they are, some members will seek change in a certain direction and therefore their responses will reflect that.  However, this neither leads to agreement on what action to take or that any action will indeed take place at all.

Therefore, we recommend skilled facilitation and management of the whole process as a means to achieve maximum benefit from the exercise.  This will ensure that the audit is carefully framed in the right context from the start. It must be presented in a way which is not seen as a threat but more as a helping tool to make progress, to retain what is useful in good hands, but to respond to change in a way which benefits the group and its effectiveness.  This may require individual briefing of team members beforehand, so that they feel free to express any reservations and doubts and answer any queries about the context in which this is being undertaken.  The next stage is that individuals complete the questionnaire and hand them back to a third party who will process the results, without necessarily identifying who has said what.  The next stage is to convene a meeting at which the results are presented and the implications discussed.  The role of the facilitator is to bring out the members who may be holding back but have an important contribution, and to curb the dominant voices in a way that allows them to have their say but not to strangle the whole process.

Once comments have been made, it will be valuable to move on to look at specific areas and priorities.  When these have been fully explored and the implications viewed from different angles, then it is time to agree a set of actions and objectives for improvement and change.  Where possible, these should be set out in a SMART format but in no way to stifle the process, but at the same time to pin down more precisely who is going to do what and by when.  The facilitator should be taking the temperature at all times and be prepared to raise unspoken issues, doubts and uncertainties, fears, reservations or enthusiasms.  A review meeting should be fixed to ensure that targets are on track and milestones met.

Team Case Study: Formula 1 Motor Racing

One of the key aspects of a successful Formula 1 team is the way they all work together.  Professor Mark Jenkins at Cranfield School of Management sees the links with business teams: 'Successful Formula 1 organisations are true teams'. He observes that the pit stop team displays the best in teamwork: a common purpose, mutually accountable and sharing, supporting and learning together.

He sees the foundation of this team-working as open and honest communication, with respect but without blame: 'There have been some highly visible mistakes, but the important thing about Formula 1 is that everyone has to learn all the time and get better and better. '

Themes to Review

Examine the following headings to give yourself a comprehensive insight into where your team's strengths and weaknesses lie, and where you need to improve. If important headings for your team have been missed, add extra questions.

Clarity and Relevance of Mission and Objectives

What the team must achieve, its priorities and overall mission is clearly an important area to review. Are mission and goals up-to-date? How is this translated into operational plans? At first sight, one would imagine this is an uncontentious aspect of a team. However, how much common agreement and commitment is there on this? How well are objectives understood and communicated? Are there undeclared objectives and priorities to make explicit?


Do you work in a pressure cooker atmosphere, or is it a slow burn? It is important to assess the pressures under which your team is operating: is there huge pressure to deliver? Is it a well-established team with well-understood rules and precedents to cope with any demands? Is it a project team where everything depends on reaching a defined end point? Is it a virtual team and one which rarely meets face-to-face, where pressures are less visible but strongly present?

What is the cause of the pressure? Is it internal, for example lack of resources? inexperienced team members? Or people who are too set in their ways? Is there top management pressure? Is it external, for example pressure from customers, competitors or regulators?


One way to assess team roles is to look at how that team is composed in terms of their respective specialisms: are there any deficiencies or overlaps? Another way is to look at the contribution that each person makes: are there any gaps, is there a predominant composition which leads to a predominant style or approach? Does this lead to strengths, weaknesses or blind spots? For example, a group of detailed analysts of figures might well spend too long looking at the detail and insufficient time looking at the broad implications ahead.

Clarity of roles can cause difficulties. Are team roles defined and complementary, or fuzzy and overlapping?

Is workload fairly allocated or are some roles overloaded, some under-loaded? How is work distributed ?by discussion or by leaders?

Are team members held accountable for their results?

A further aspect to roles is to assess informal roles which individuals play within the team outside any job title or job description.

Skills and Abilities

We believe that, in addition to technical skills, a whole set of separate and related skills and abilities will drive the team forward:

• Business
• Emotional
• Political
• Clarity of purpose and personal meaning

These abilities impact on how the group works, how effective it is  and what lenses it looks through to see the worl. Do some skills need development? Are some more dominant than others?
A dominant political know-how will readily discern actions affecting the team  in terms of politics and power ?who is doing what to whom and what needs to happen to respond to this?
An emotionally rich ability is likely to allow the expression of emotions, in the right setting, and to read emotions to factor into decisions.

One where business knowledge is emphasised is likely to place value on industry and company - specific knowledge.

An emphasis on personal and team meaning for work undertaken will place priority on communicating background and reasons for decisions.

Atmosphere and Climate

Any team will have its own atmosphere and climate, with its own distinctive characteristics. What kind of climate exists? Close or distant? Happy or unhappy? Competitive or cooperative? Is it supportive and 'no blame', or scapegoating? Is it 'can do' or 'can't do'?

How are emotions expressed? Loudly and often? Hidden and infrequent? Is the group sociable or strictly work oriented? Who is dominant in the group? Who is quiet? Who is outgoing? Certain individuals take the lead and other people follow, and a team can often take on the personality of its dominant individuals. This climate can continue over time as the team recruits in its own image.

Having determined the nature of the working climate, the relevant question to ask is how does this affect the working and output of the group? If additional new members are introduced should they be complementary or different from the established order?

Values and Beliefs

What are the underlying values and beliefs of the group? These may be explicit, for example set out in a charter or mission, but they may be informal and understood. An informal example might be to beat a competitor sales team, to outshine the production department or to look good in front of the boss. These values and beliefs will have a substantial impact on how the group works and what it seeks to achieve. Has it particular prejudices and preferences which lead it to certain behaviours?

Does your team hold common values? Are your team's top priorities clear and understood? Is your team committed to putting these priorities into action?

Team Cohesion

Teams are made up of individuals who gel or not in varying degrees. This can greatly assist or get in the way of the ability to work together and achieve success. Some teams seem to work in harmony and exemplify the 'two plus two equals five' philosophy. They bring a dynamism, energy and synergy that produces extraordinary results which would be hard to achieve from a collection of single individuals.

Team cohesion can be affected by regular turnover.

An important aspect of cohesion is handling conflict. Any team will have differences of perspective, interests or opinion which can cause conflict, but how this is handled will vary considerably. Some teams will try to ignore conflict and bury it, others will relish sparring, and team meetings will often become a gladiatorial ring in such circumstances. Are grudges held once conflict is settled? Are there perceived to be winners and losers? Or is there a climate of Live and Let Live? Research indicates that many groups fight shy of bringing conflict out into the open, and in these circumstances it simmers below the surface. Are there individuals who conflict with each other? How do the rest of the team handle this? Are there 'us and them' camps? How does this show itself?


One aspect to consider in a group is to look at how diverse it is. Increasingly, companies - especially in global settings- contain diversity from a wealth of perspectives: culture, gender, age, education personality and these have a substantial effect on the group and its workings. Is diversity viewed as an advantage or disadvantage? How is the diversity managed?
In theory every team should applaud diversity and the richness it brings. In practice, diversity can cause uncomfortable disharmony which requires effort and skill to manage.

Processes and Communication

Systems, processes and procedures often governing the throughput of information flows and decision-making, they may be formal, for example reporting systems, or they may be informal, for example how groups pass each other information on a regular basis. Systems therefore need careful consideration: are they effective or ineffective? Are they out of date, or rather newly introduced with teething problems? Are they centrally driven or is there a high degree of autonomy? How often is information collected and distributed, is this in tune with the needs of the team and its output?

Communication is perhaps the most critical team process. How does it work -formally or informally, slowly or quickly -a bush telegraph or a formal system? Is the communication system relied on or discounted? Is it maintained or has it fallen into disrepair? Who listens to whom?

Is performance reviewed and monitored? By whom? Are the right things being reviewed and is it effective? Importantly for mature teams, how effectively are the processes changed and improved?

Leadership and Decision Making

Who leads the team is a critical question, and how effectively they do so or. For example, the de facto leader of the team may be an individual contributor, whilst the nominal head acts in a different capacity such as a co-ordinator. What is the leader expected to do by its team members, by its stakeholders and the wider world.? How does the leader function? Autocratically? In a consultative manner? Democratically? How quickly and how effectively is a decision arrived at? Is the leader liked or disliked? What are the perceptions of the leader and how distant is he or she from the rest of the group? How isolated or connected is the leader to the rest of the organisation?

Response to Change

Change can be a force for good or an undermining one. What changes are there currently around? What changes are required? How are the team able to cope: are they flexible and readily adaptable, or are they slow to change and rather rigid? Is the change fast or slow? Is it big or small, transformational or transactional? Is it top-down or bottom-up? Is it technology driven or socially driven? What are the cost implications and financial implications? Are there other implications in terms of systems, people the team itself?

According to Tuckmann, a team goes through an several stages before we reach maturity: forming, storming, norming and performing. Each stage has its own particular characteristics and this important to take into account. For example, a newly formed team will need to test each other out, to establish rules of engagement and its purpose and how it will work on a day-to-day basis. More mature groups will have worked this out some time ago; the challenge then and is when change comes about and how it handles these new circumstances or new team members.

Rate your Team Effectiveness

Team members should individually complete this audit as fully as possible. For each question, tick one of three columns according to your judgement of team effectiveness. For each question, note additional comments. At the end make notes on what actions you and the team should take as a result of the questions, either to further strengthen strong points, or to improve weaker areas.
Be prepared to discuss your comments in the team.

Tick the appropriate column:

1. Excellent
2. Good
3.More Work Needed

Clarity & relevance of Mission

Are they relevant to today and the future?
Is everyone  clear on the team?s goals?
Is the team committed to its goals?


How does your team handle pressures, for example internal from top management, and external from customers, competitors, financial and regulatory?
Has your team sufficient resources, facilities, coaching and development?
Is teamwork and cooperation encouraged across the organisation?
Are there conflicts of time and priorities?


Are team roles defined and complementary?
Are some roles overloaded, or some under-loaded?
Are team members accountable for their results?

Skills and Abilities

Do team members have sufficient
• business skills, including technical skills
• emotional/relationship skills,
• political skills
• clarity of purpose

Do you recruit and continue to develop these skills?
Are your team leader's competencies well-developed?
Does your team leader maintain focus?
Is your team leader relationship orientated?

Atmosphere and Climate

How supportive is the atmosphere within the team?
When mistakes occur, are they dealt with in a ?no blame ? fashion?
Are there over-dominating personalities?
Is there a positive ?can do? climate?
Are opinions and emotion freely expressed?

Values and Beliefs

Does your team hold common values?
Are your team?s top priorities clear and understood?
Is your team committed to putting these priorities into action?

Team Cohesion

Does your team membership have continuity or are there frequent changes of personnel?
Are all relevant functions represented?
Do you ?stick together? and support team decisions?
How does your team handle conflict? Do they ignore, suppress or deal openly with it?


Are you are aware of the diversity in your team
Is diversity encouraged and positively managed?

Processes and Communication
What team performance review methods do you employ? How much two-way discussion is there?
Are your team working methods fit for purpose?
How are communications with other teams?
How well are goals and decisions communicated between team members?
Are the team recognition and rewards,
fnancial and non-financial, still relevant?

Response to Change

How flexible and responsive is your team to change?
Does your team have the freedom and opportunity to test out new ideas?
Do you anticipate and plan ahead for changes, and how they will affect the team?

Leadership and Decision Making

How well is your team led and managed?
Mostly, does your team make sound decisions?
Are team members involved in key decisions?
How strong are the core competencies of your team leader?
How effective are the styles of communication of your team leader?
How well do your leaders set and communicate objectives?

Overall Action Notes  

Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook.  Steve is a Learning Development Executive at Cranfield School of Management.  Sarah is Managing Director of leadership development specialists, The Stairway Consultancy.  Steve can be contacted on 01234 741122, or email s.macaulay@cranfield.ac.uk, Sarah on 01628 526535, or email sarah@thestairway.co.uk

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