Building Effective Teams

This session provides an overview of successful workplace teams, including the benefits of intentionally developing teams. Types of teams, when and how to utilize, manage and strategies for developing strong team communication are also presented. Additionally, participants will explore useful tips to maximize team effectiveness.


  • Understand the difference between a group and a team
  • Assemble effective teams
  • Understand the characteristics of effective teams
  • Understand the stages of team development

Teams and Groups

Building Effective Teams

The power of teamwork is highly praised, and many case studies and stories about the impact of successful teams exist. A common misconception is that the key to the ‘team power’ lies only with advanced business leaders and corporate moguls. Not so. Every organization has the ability to create successful teams that achieve positive results.

Why Are Teams Important?

Teams allow organizations to accomplish goals that individuals can’t achieve alone, especially those that are too big or complex for one person. Intentionally designed teamwork fosters brainstorming among people of diverse backgrounds and positions. These different perspectives help to generate the very best ideas. Members of a team may see potential pitfalls with ideas or proposed solutions, often seeing something that might have been missed by a single individual. Finally, effective teams build morale, camaraderie, and confidence among their members. When employees feel they are part of a team, they are more committed to the organization. As a result, job satisfaction improves and turnover declines.

Are You Working as a Group or a Team?

There is an important distinction between a team and a group. A team may be defined as a collection of individuals who work together, who have the same work objectives, and whose work is mutually dependent5. Groups are created to achieve a specific purpose (e.g., the Recycling Committee, the Social Committee) or to focus on resolving a particular issue (i.e. reducing water use in the workplace). There are also work groups who learn from each other and share information but are not working toward a shared common goal. Many youth programs would agree that all staff and volunteers involved are working toward a shared common goal, but the structure of the organization may be structured more like a group instead of a team.

Take a look at the characteristics of groups and teams below. Which of the characteristics are most like your program’s current structure?

Thompson, Aranda, Robbins, et. al. (2000)

Types of Teams

Depending upon the size and structure of the organization, different types of teams may be developed. Teams largely are created by function and purpose. Generally, teams can be categorized into three different types. You may identify one or all of these types of teams within your youth program.

The Three Types of Teams6

  • Work Teams: groups of people who normally work together in the day-to-day operations of the organization. This natural affinity often makes a good place to begin a team experience. In youth development programs, a work team might be comprised of a group of activity leaders, another could be made up of case workers, or by adult volunteers.
  • Task Teams: groups of people who are brought together to address a specific issue. For example, a task team might be created to discuss and solve some issues surrounding attendance and retention of youth participants. With task teams it is helpful to bring together a diverse group of people who have different perspectives and experiences to help solve a problem or an issue. Team members might include teachers, youth participants, youth who have left the program, parents, and/or social workers.
  • Management Teams: groups of people at the management level responsible for the overall successful functioning of the organization. These team members understand that their individual duties are only one piece of the organization and that working together as a team allows their organization to grow and flourish. People on this team might be the youth program Executive Director, the accountant, the Director of Operations, and the Program Manager.

Team Leadership

Regardless of the type of team you choose, there are different ways that the teams can be managed. Two of the most common team management styles are Manager-Led and Self-Managing. The characteristics of each style are illustrated below.

Manager-Led Teams

Self-Managing Teams

You’ll likely recognize the characteristics of the Manager-Led team as the work team you’ve most likely been involved with, however, there are some teams that use a self-managing style in youth development program settings. Consider the following examples:

Case Example #1:

In the Open Doors organization, the Executive Director has received a significant gift from a community donor to create a new drama workshop for neighborhood youth. She has selected the program director, senior program lead and a program staff member studying performing arts at the local university to develop the workshop. She assigns each of them specific tasks and responsibilities, and creates a schedule for them to meet as a team to discuss progress toward development of the program. She is interested in cultivating a strong relationship with the community donor, and therefore, she is very involved in the team’s progress, and meets with the members individually on a regular basis to ensure that all efforts are on target along the way.

What is the management style of this team?

Case Example #2:


Reach for the Stars is a youth development program housed within a larger non-profit organization that provides outreach and housing services for homeless persons in the community. Several programs are offered by this organization, including short-term transitional housing, case management, job placement, adult mentoring, and the youth development/afterschool program. With the downturn in the economy, the organization is receiving fewer donations from corporate partners and private donors than in years past. The Executive Director has told the program directors for each program in the organization that they must work with their respective teams to generate revenue to continue their program, or the program may be cut due to lack of resources. Reach for the Stars program director and staff  hold a schedule of meetings as a group to discuss their strategy, decide how they will raise the revenue for their budget, and divide the tasks based on each person’s experience and strengths. They agree to convene regularly to report progress toward their goals and hold each other accountable for the effort.

What is the management style of this team?

Selecting the Members of the Team

The most important aspect of choosing team members is diversity. In order for teams to think creatively and broadly, a variety of views needs to be represented. A team created exclusively from the same department, position, or role leads to repetitive decision-making. Recruiting from all levels of the organization, from different job functions, and including representation from program participants, funders, and stakeholders will bring valuable perspectives and dynamics to your team.  

Key Questions to Determine the Composition of the Team6

What information does the team need to work effectively?
Who can provide that information?

What skills are needed to be successful?
Who can bring these skills to the team or who is willing to develop them?

What bridges can be built with this team across roles or across functions?
Who needs to be on the team to make it happen?

How can the team be a learning/developmental tool for members?
Who can facilitate this learning on the team?

How can the team build relationships among people who do not often work together?
Who should be included in the team from outside the usual membership pool?

Before assembling the team, be intentional about the goal and purpose. What perspectives have been missing from most strategic decisions in the organization?

Consider engaging those perspectives for this team, with the clear understanding among all participants that everyone’s perspectives are valued.

Time to Reflect

Consider the following questions before you go on. Write about them in your journal, dialogue with colleagues, or share with your supervisor or coach:

Are you using teams in your organization now? If so, what type of team do you have in place?

If you are not using teams in your organization, why not?  Can you think of a situation in which a team would produce better results that one individual working alone?

Can you put together a hypothetical team with a specific purpose? Who would you recruit to be on this team? Why?

Individuals or groups who have a direct or indirect interest in the actions or activities of the youth program, because of the potential impact or effect that the program may have on them directly or indirectly.

Characteristics of Effective Teams

Meaningful Participation

All members of the team commit time and dedicated effort to the project. Additionally, all team members are involved contributors to the decision-making process, ensuring that the decisions are made by one dominant member.


Team members respect and trust each other. This element cannot be underestimated or overemphasized! Without this essential element, teams are bound to be dysfunctional, and possibly ineffective. Spend time to cultivate mutual rapport and trust among members if the team hasn’t worked together before, or if there are concerns about the degree of trust.

Defined Roles

Members have created a process for working together and developed clear roles by both function (e.g. recruiter, activity planner, instructor) and structure of meetings (e.g. timekeeper, recorder/secretary, facilitator). Roles may be rotated among members throughout the process.

Open Communication

Members of a highly functioning team have respect for each other and for the skills and knowledge of their team members.  They understand and work toward the goals and objectives set forth by the organization. They develop a process for working together, have developed ways to make decisions and managing conflicts, and make decisions by consensus. Good teams demonstrate commitment to their members, organization, mission, and vision.

Balance of Professional and Social Interaction

Successful teams take time to get to know each other in a friendly way that includes a healthy balance of work and play. The work of a team is goal-oriented and professional while also allowing for participants to develop informal relations through small talk unrelated to the goals at hand.

Team Research Interview

Sometimes, not all members of a team are invested in the process. Researcher Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, designed an experiment to learn if a ‘bad’ team player could be turned around by the rest of the team, or if the rest of the team would follow suit. Listen to this interview with Dr. Felps from NPR’s This American Life to learn more – the results may surprise you!

Explore Further

After listening to the Will Felps interview, are you wondering about your own role and attitude on work teams? Assess yourself: how much of a team player are you?

Setting Team Goals

Every team is formed with a specific purpose in mind. This may be as broad as continually working toward the organization’s mission, or more defined in terms of carrying out a specific project by a determined deadline. When the team initially convenes, it is important to establish and come to agreement about the goals you are working to achieve

Effective goal setting involves use of the S.M.A.R.T. model…

Consider the following examples of youth program goals:

Goal: To create 100 one to one mentoring matches in the first year of program operations.

This goal is specific, measurable, and time-based. Is it realistic and achievable? Perhaps not, given that this is the first year of program operations, this may be too ambitious of a goal for a new program.

Goal: To increase youth participation in the program during the fall semester.   

This goal is not specific in terms of the degree to which they hope to raise youth participation. It is measurable, because a baseline can be established to measure results against, and it may be achievable and realistic. The goal is time-based, indicated by the fall semester as the period in which they are working toward the desired change. Without a more defined target, this may not yield the results the program hopes to achieve.

Goal: To increase attendance from 10 students per session to 20 students per session in the program over the next 12 months.

This goal includes a specific target, is easily measurable, and time-based. This goal is also realistic and achievable, assuming all resources the program needs are in place to execute the task.

Developing the Plan of Action

Consider this example to illustrate the importance of a defined plan of action following the establishment of the team’s goal. In the Morningstar School, a team has been formed to increase attendance in the School’s afterschool program for developmentally disabled youth. They have identified the following goal:

To increase attendance from 10 students per session to 20 students per session in the program over the next 12 months.

The team assembled for their next meeting to develop a plan of action. Their action plan included the following steps:

  1. Gather current attendance records to create an attendance baseline
  2. Observe or research three programs serving developmentally disabled youth that have consistently high attendance
  3. Host a focus group with parents and youth and survey youth and staff to learn more about why youth choose to attend the program
  4. Survey youth who have left the program within the last 6 months to learn more about their experiences in the program and decision to discontinue their attendance.
  5. Determine the barriers that impede and nurture program attendance
  6. Drawing from the above analysis, create and implement three strategies to foster increased program attendance
  7. Continuing to chart attendance, over the next 12 months, track progress toward the goal

When a written plan of action with clear, actionable steps is in place, roles and tasks can effectively be assigned to team members. Deadlines for completion and team protocols for how team members will report progress and hold each other accountable are included in the process of executing the plan.

Team Decision Making

 Once the team is assembled, an important step is the determination of how decisions among the team will be made. Some commonly accepted procedures that can be used to make decisions listed below. Which one of these seems most frequently used in your organization? Is there more than one decision-making style that your organization employs?



Decision by authority: The team’s final decision is made by the highest ranking authority and is most likely used when the manager is solely accountable to the organization. It is not the most motivating way to make a decision, but it is sometimes required in a hierarchal structure.

Decision by minority:  As you might guess, in this type of decision the minority exerts its influence over the team’s majority. The reason that the team might opt for this type of decision-making is because the minority might be experts in a particular field or be in the area most affected by the decision.

Decision by majority:  This type of decision requires the support of 50% of the team members plus one. It is generally used when decisions have to be made quickly and when the impact on the minority is not too great. Majority rules are the basis of a democratic process.

Decision by consensus:  Consensus by definition means that all members of the team agree with the decision to some degree. Team members must have sufficient time to consider all aspects of the decision, have open minds, be creative, and practice the principles of mutual respect. This type of decision is always a “win” for everyone.

Decision by unanimity:  Though often difficult to achieve, a decision by unanimity requires everyone on the team to be in complete agreement. Juries often have to make unanimous decisions.

The decision-making process should be guided by the mission and vision of your organization. When making decisions about the project or the organization, consider this question—“is this decision consistent with our program and organization vision and mission?”

Program Tip: Help ensure that all team members know the mission and vision of your program or organization.Post the mission and vision statements in common areas or meeting rooms where everyone can easily see them

The Natural Evolution of a Team

Forming a new team always involves a process of becoming comfortable, establishing norms and developing an effective process of working together. These stages are often described as ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Transforming4,7. As the team develops, and members shift to take on more ownership and collective responsibility, the leader’s role shifts from providing structure and direction to facilitating the process toward a shared purpose and goal.

Stages of Team Development6



Module Review

This module covered several key issues related to developing effective work teams including:

  • Teams may be formed for a short-term task or to work on a longer-range goal for the organization. Recruiting members with a variety of perspectives is important to ensure the most effective ideas are surfaced.
  • Successful teams operate within an atmosphere of mutual trust, where roles of members are clearly defined, and the scope of work is clear for all team members.
  • All teams move through predictable stages of development that move them toward higher efficiency and productivity. These stages are termed: ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Transforming’. 
  • Team behavior can be influenced by individual members. Ensuring that everyone is committed to the team and understands the purpose and its relationship to the program or organization’s mission is important to the team’s ability to be successful.

Building Effective Teams Quiz


Download Materials from Building Effective Teams Module

Building Effective Teams Time to Reflect


1 Aranda, E.K., Aranda, L, & Conlon, K.  (1998). Teams, structure, process, culture, and politics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

2 Bodwell, Donald J. (1996, 1999) "High Performance Team Essential Elements"

3 Hackman, J.R. (19  ) Groups That Work (and those that don’t). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

4 Katzenback, J.R. & Smith, D.K. (1993). The wisdom of teams: Creating the high performance organization.  New York: Harper Business

5 Kormanski, C.L., & Mosenter, A. (1991). A model of team building. In J.W. Pfeiffer & A.C. Ballew (Eds.), Theories and models in applied behavioral science. (Vol. 3, Management/Leadership). San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer & Co.

6 Spiegel, J. & Torres, C. (1994). The manager’s official guide to team working. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer & Company

7 Thompson, L., Aranda, E., Robbins, S.P., & Swenson, C. (2000). Tools for teams: Building effective teams in the workplace. Pearson Custom Publishing

8 Tuckman, B.W. & Jenson, M.A. (1997). Stages of small group development revisited. Group and Organizational Studies, 2 (4), 419-427

9 Whetton, D.A., & Cameron, K.S. ( 1991). Developing management skills (2nd ed.). Harper-Collins

Module Acknowledgements

Authors: Marcia Klipsch and Leslie Langbert, MSW, RYT

Reviewers: Bryna Koch, MPH, Christine Bracamonte Wiggs, MPH, MS and Lynne Borden, Ph.D

Formatting Editors: Sandra Fletcher, MS, Pranav Gidwani and Kaustubh Khole

Web Developers:  Troy Dean and Will Simpson