The Fram oil filter man was right!

Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

Building an effective team requires a significant investment of time early in the development process. Failure to pay attention to the basic building blocks results in dysfunction, disengagement and poor results. “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

Selecting the right team members helps ensure cohesiveness and commitment to the overall purpose. As USA Olympic Hockey Coach Herb Brooks says in the movie “Miracle,” “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right ones.” When Eric Weihenmayer became the first man to climb Mount Everest blind, his team was selected, not by skill, but trust. It is important to think about the overall goal along with specific roles that need to be filled when recruiting talent for the team.

There are five critical steps in forming a high-performing team. Each step helps to prevent inevitable dysfunction when norms and expectations are left to form on their own.

Motivating the team with an inspiring purpose creates energy and helps the team stay focused when members encounter road blocks and obstacles. Purpose is not goals. Purpose is why the team gets out of bed every morning and dedicates themselves to accomplishing the mission. We will work relentlessly for something that matters and is bigger than the individual egos on the team. What is your team’s purpose?

Team goals are specific, measurable, achievable, aligned and time bound. Team metrics are created and owned by the team. The dashboard helps the team to make decisions, adjust the plan and change direction when required. Effective teams focus on the vital few, not the trivial many.  WIN stands for “What’s Important Now.” Take a look at your team’s dashboard – do you like what you see? Is it driving the behaviors you want to see?

“An effective team produces positive results that meet the needs of users. The team process helps each individual member grow and develop in the process. Team members are enthusiastic and would select one another again for future teams,” writes Linda Hill for Harvard Management Update.

These positive results are only achieved when we create and establish core values, norms and guidelines – the third critical step in forming a team. Examples of operating guidelines include expectations around communication (return all phone calls within 24 hours), decision making (be sure that all members are heard, considered and understood) and conflict resolution (be sure to acknowledge what was said before asking questions or challenging assumptions.)

Core values are established by asking two simple questions: On this team, what are the behaviors we cannot live without? What are the behaviors we cannot live with? Examples might include “tell me first,” “look for reasons to make ideas work, not for reasons they won’t” and “forgive and forget – do not hold a grudge.” Do your team’s norms build trust and create team efficacy?

The fourth step in giving a team a solid foundation is defining roles and responsibilities within the team. This requires looking at the goals along with the activities and tasks necessary to accomplish them. It is important to align team members with roles that play to their strengths. Team members need to openly share how they can best support the team and where they will need the most help. This vulnerability helps to build trust. When teams are created, it is important for the team leader to introduce each member and share why he or she was selected for the team. This builds confidence among team members that the competence is in place to perform well. Are roles clearly defined and properly aligned with the right talent on your team?

Decision boundaries help the team to understand what actions they can take on their own and what might require management approval. Much time and energy is wasted when teams take on responsibility only to find that the decision was not theirs to make. This creates resentment and confusion both negatively impacting team performance. Accountability demands clarity.  Blame, excuses and fingerpointing are toxic energy vampires in a team. Clarifying decision rights helps the team to operate with confidence and demonstrate ownership in their work.  Does right hand know what left hand is doing on your team?  Are team members empowered to use their skills and talents without excessive bureaucracy?

It takes time to build an effective team. “Teamwork is not a virtue. It’s a strategic choice,” says Pat Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Many teams are given a goal and then wished “good luck.” When you invest in creating a compelling purpose, establishing clear goals and metrics, identifying core values and operating norms, establishing roles that align with strengths and clarifying decision rights, teams will accelerate with less storming and more performing.

John Maxwell, author of The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, says, “The Law of the Price Tag emphasizes that the team fails to reach its potential when it fails to pay the price.” Or simply stated, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at