Team Performance: A Guide to Building Great Work Teams

Apr 21, 2022 | Performance Management, Professional Development

Nothing influences results more strongly than team performance. Teams working at their best become more than the sum total of their individual strengths. They can move mountains together. 

But great team performance doesn’t just happen. Rather, it requires skilled people management

Teams today are increasingly “diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic,” as Harvard Business Review says. Yes, they may experience a learning curve as they navigate the digital world. But those who get it right have immense potential. They bring a broad range of perspectives and areas of expertise, which have been proven to enhance outcomes.

Let’s discuss common challenges and what improves team performance. Then, we’ll examine how to successfully conduct team evaluations and training. Equipped with this knowledge, you can build a more collaborative, ambitious, and effective team.


1. Common Team Performance Challenges

2. Components of Effective Team Performance

3. What Is A Team Performance Assessment

4. Team Building Training

5. Continued Assessments After Evaluations

Common Team Performance Challenges

4 colleagues working on team performance at desk
Credit: Thirdman/Pexels

As many as 75% of cross-functional teams are actually dysfunctional. They don’t communicate at their best. They may not have a strong camaraderie. And they don’t bring their most creative thinking to the table.

What sabotages teams’ efforts to work together?

  • Personal differences. Personality conflicts or different working styles can affect team harmony. 
  • Communication gaps. People may have different communication styles or levels of communication skill.
  • Poor understanding of shared goals, processes, or workflow. Defining these parameters upfront will improve collaboration.
  • Engagement level. If employees don’t feel enthusiastic about their work, teamwork will suffer.
  • Poor or unclear decision-making structures. Teams need to know how to make decisions efficiently. 
  • Lack of psychological safety. If people don’t feel safe to speak their minds, creativity will suffer.
  • Difficulty collaborating with other teams. Some teams tend to get stuck in their own silos.

Many problems that teams face stem from these issues. Importantly, having a manager who lacks leadership skills can cause issues like these as well. 

Components of Effective Team Performance

What helps a group function at its best?

Certain elements establish the infrastructure for team success. A strong manager and company leadership can help put them all into place. Here are some especially critical ones:

  • Shared goals, purpose, and cultural norms.
  • Empowerment of each person.
  • A strong sense of trust and ability to depend on one another.
  • High morale.
  • A solid work ethic.
  • Appropriate rewards.
  • Strong communication channels.
  • Good conflict resolution and accountability.

Teams need three main structural conditions for success, organizational behaviour pioneer J. Richard Hackman found. “What matters most to collaboration is not the personalities, attitudes, or behavioural styles of team members. Instead, what teams need to thrive are certain ‘enabling conditions,’” writes HBR.

“Three of Hackman’s conditions—a compelling direction, a strong structure, and a supportive context—continue to be particularly critical to team success.” A shared mindset is also especially crucial, they note.

Let’s discuss all three of these components in turn.

Compelling Direction

Having a compelling direction means sharing a purpose and vision team members believe in. They must understand the goals they’re driving toward together. Through their work, they must know they are solving a problem that affects others.

Make sure you only have a few main priorities to guide your direction. If you can name five or more, that’s probably too many. Having a wide range of priorities will make a group unfocused. Even if you feel you’re repeating yourself, keep reminding the group of these priorities.

“You say something seven times and they haven’t heard you,” says Marc Cenedella, as quoted in The New York Times. “Until they start making jokes about how often you repeat it, they haven’t internalized it.” 

You can actually unite team members through metrics, The New York Times reports as well. When people are driving toward a shared outcome, they’ll share a cohesive identity. 

For example, members of a good team might handle a diverse range of functions. They each have a distinct role. Yet they all know the specific result they’re driving toward. Moreover, they all believe they can achieve it. During meetings, their manager makes sure they know each person’s role in the process. 

In contrast, a team that lacks direction will muddle forward with no destination. They either have no motivation, or individuals are pursuing different goals. They continuously step on one another’s toes or fail to support each other. If they lack a strong structure, they’ll be even more dysfunctional. 

A Strong Group Structure 

Group structure includes shared norms and culture. It also entails optimized processes that facilitate communication and collaboration. Plus, it includes the right number of members with the right mix of skills.

Here are a few beneficial cultural norms that teams might adopt. Make agreements as a group to uphold them.

  • Sharing appreciation frequently. 
  • Not interrupting during meetings.
  • Always being punctual to respect one another’s time.

Group size plays a role in effectiveness, too. As teams grow too large, communication and collaboration can break down. Idea-sharing tends to be easier on a smaller, more nimble team.

On a team with strong social norms, communication will flow smoothly. Logical workflow processes will maximize their efficiency. And people will stay engaged and highly motivated by their positive culture. 

In contrast, on a team with poor or unhealthy social norms, communication will break down. Work won’t bring the social rewards that boost engagement. In fact, a lot of energy may be channeled into dealing with constant interpersonal struggles. A lack of a supportive context could exacerbate these problems!

Supportive Context

A supportive context involves the organizational support team members need to do their jobs well. This includes tangible support like workshops and incentives. Having a supportive context means doing all of the following:

  • Establishing a meaningful reward system.
  • Making sure people have access to the information they need (via a good system).
  • Providing the education, training, and material resources they need.

For instance, a hybrid team may need a cloud-based information-sharing system. Otherwise, team members may need to hunt down every piece of information they need. Needless to say, this will not use their time efficiently.

As a manager, you can directly implement supports like these. And, of course, you can work to establish a strong group direction and structure as well. 

Conducting a team performance assessment will pinpoint areas of need. Let’s take a look at what it is and how to conduct it now.

What Is A Team Performance Assessment

3 colleagues working on team performance in office
Credit: Kampus Production/Pexels

A team assessment will help you calibrate team effectiveness. First, it seeks to pinpoint vulnerabilities and limitations. With this knowledge, you can work to correct them. The assessment may also illuminate underlying issues causing these problems. Of course, it also highlights areas of high capability.

When you conduct periodic assessments, they’ll show how the team has grown.

How does it work? A team assessment can actually have several components. An HR manager can bottom-line the process using tools like those described below.

Tools Used in Team Assessments

A number of tools can assist in team assessments. We highly recommend conducting a team-level 360 review. Combine it with analysis of performance management data and surveys of team members. A skilled HR person can interpret and synthesize this data to draw conclusions. 

Using a range of tools like these can enrich the insights you collect:

  • Performance evaluations. Evaluating individual team members can determine where strengths and weaknesses lie.
  • Surveys and questionnaires. Gain input from each team member by emailing an electronic survey. Ask where the team is succeeding and where it needs to grow.
  • 360 feedback. As with 360-degree surveys for individuals, you can get 360 feedback for a team. Gain insights from people outside of the team on how it’s performing. Survey clients, colleagues across departments, direct reports, and others. 
  • Instant feedback. Look over the feedback given through this tool over time. This can reveal patterns. First, it may show whether team members are pulling their weight. Second, it can highlight whether they’re sharing appreciation and constructive criticism. 
  • Analytics and reporting. These tools can help make sense of performance data collected over time. 

Primalogik’s software offers features like these. Together, such tools allow managers to gain the best data on employee performance. 

Who Will Benefit from an Assessment?

In a nutshell, all of them. You don’t want to only conduct assessments when challenges arise. By conducting them at regular intervals, you’ll learn how to resolve issues before they grow. 

Ensuring Consistency and Fairness in Evaluations

As with individual evaluations, consistency is key. Adopt a rubric to use in evaluating team effectiveness. It will allow you to measure improvements over time and determine your best-performing teams.

Team Building Training

2 colleagues discussing team performance happily
Credit: ThisisEngineering RAEng/Unsplash

Your evaluation will reveal what types of training your team needs most. This could include developing new technical skills or honing interpersonal abilities. Certain individuals may need more help in particular areas than others. 

Think carefully about what each person and the group as a whole needs. Providing the wrong kind of training can cause employees to lose faith in the process. Let’s take a look at what to do and what to avoid in your training.

Examples of Good Team-Building Training

You can absolutely train people in interpersonal skills if they want to learn. With the right attitude, social skills can improve tremendously. 

Bring in someone from outside the team who can observe with an objective eye. Someone well-versed in organizational psychology can design the training to meet their needs. They can drill down deeper to find the real root of the problem.

Good training will do all of the following:

  • Establish group agreements that people should follow during the training.
  • Clarify to team members why they need the training. For instance, an HR manager might explain the results of a 360 survey in advance.
  • Ask each person to commit to working toward a common goal. 
  • Remind the group of their strengths.
  • Focus on the intended result, keeping a positive focus.
  • Share good examples and engage in exercises like role plays. This will help team members internalize ideas.
  • Discuss the knowledge they’ve gained as a group.
  • Lay out next steps that everyone can take together. 
  • Create a plan for accountability—how you’ll ensure progress.

Say you want to improve group communication. A skilled trainer may identify power dynamics at play. A couple of team members may have domineering personalities, for example. Rather than label them as the problem in front of the group, the trainer will talk to them in private.

In the group training, she’ll maintain a focus on the group rather than on individuals. 

Additionally, the trainer will name the goal: holding meetings where everyone contributes. Each team member will learn the role they can play in overcoming their challenges. Some will need to step forward while others step back. And others might play a mediating role, learning to facilitate meetings effectively. 

Likewise, a trainer instilling conflict resolution skills might have everyone participate in role-play exercises. They can begin with a pre-written scenario but decide how to respond themselves. They can also alternate taking on a mediator role to practice helping others resolve conflicts. 

Examples of Bad Team-Building Training

Know what to avoid in your training, too. Team-building training can be counterproductive if it:

  • Feels like drudgery. It may be too basic, covering topics that are common sense. Don’t overlook employees’ intelligence and experience.
  • Provides only superficial guidance. It may tell employees what they need to do without showing them how to do it. Employees leave the training feeling lost.
  • Is delivered by a poor teacher. Someone with no experience in conducting training may not present ideas in a compelling way. Or, he may not recognize what employees really need to hear.
  • Doesn’t take problems seriously. If trainers assume a significant issue can be corrected by a brief exercise, they’re missing the boat. Don’t sugarcoat problems with a few feel-good activities and no follow-up.
  • Blames particular individuals. While you do need to name the problem, don’t focus on blame—especially in group settings. Focus on the desired results.

For example, say a manager has determined that her team needs to tackle goals with more enthusiasm and vigour. If she doesn’t look at why they’ve lacked enthusiasm, she’s not addressing the problem. Instead, she needs to look at why they lack energy and centre the training on that.

Likewise, don’t provide the same cookie-cutter training to every team. The trainer should talk to various stakeholders—both inside and outside the team—to develop a customized approach. 

Continued Assessments After Evaluations

Managers should strive to keep their finger on the pulse of team effectiveness throughout the year. They can monitor progress through a mix of direct observation, team surveys, and hard data. Together, these touch points can provide a detailed look at how teams are performing between assessments.

Continue using a good instant feedback tool to share input with team members frequently.

Want to learn more about team-building assessments? Request a demo of our product!

Start Your Free Trial | Download Our Free E-Book

Related Articles