Question: How best to improve team performance?


I've just been appointed 'leader' of a team; to improve its performance. We have a real lack of a functional team, despite being continuously cited as one of the best companies in our industry.

Having previously been told to 'work as a team' and improve 'teamwork mentality', there is still a lack of teamwork and the department operates as a group of apparent freelancers.

For me, the issue is clear; we've been told to work as a team, with lack of actual team activity. Now that I have been made accountable for some of these changes, I want to get the team together and ask for their ideas and hold them accountable for the progress.

I was thinking of splitting the team into two teams. After we get every member's improvement idea, we can then then debate both sides of every idea, what and why's. (One team for and one team against).

Is this a good approach? I'm new to leadership so I'd appreciate some guidance.

14 Expert Insights


Nothing is ever simple when dealing with people on project teams, but here is a bit of straightforward advice.
- Get the correct mix of people on a team, not all of the same type in terms of collaboration style etc.
- Free them
- Trust them, let them see your trust.

Here also is a list of action items that will build a strong team:
1. Get to know the Team as Individuals
2. Define the Team’s purpose
3. Jointly, develop the Project plan and targets
4. Clarify roles, establish norms, encourage feedback and participation
5. Share the limelight
6. Celebrate accomplishments
7. Assess Team effectiveness

Specific to your question, I would NOT split the team into 2 teams for a pro / con.
Give them the options, EXPLAIN what you are seeking from them (all together) then walk away, and let them work it out themselves. (Give them X days to get back to you)...they will, and you show them your trust.

Make sure you are prepared to act on their recommendations.


You have some great ideas already, and I love the fact that you are being thoughtful about this. My only addition to the great input from the others is to ask one question - "Why is it important that we behave as a team?"  It has been my experience that until each member of the team collectively agrees on the answer to this question, it is difficult to create team.  In other words, if it is simply a desire on the part of the organization for each team to work functionally and productively, that's okay but probably not a compelling reason to change.

If there is a tangible reason that team behaviors will increase performance, then you can engage your team in figuring out what those behaviors are, how they can develop, and how they can hold themselves accountable.  The best chance for changing behavior is first clearly understanding what behaviors need to change, and why.

As an example, if they're behaving as freelancers now, that points to behaviors like independent decision making. Is that okay? Would more input result in a better decision?  If not, don't bother changing that behavior.  Figure out what behaviors will make the team better, and work together to change those. If the behavior is simply better communication about what has transpired with a customer, there are tools to help formalize the behavior change.

Good luck. You may be a new leader, but you're a thoughtful one and that will serve you well.


Congratulations on your new opportunity!  Team leadership can be an incredibly fulfilling role.  

A couple of quick thoughts.  

1.  First, a common goal is critical.  So having a discussion of where you are going and being clear on your mission is the first step.  It will take everyone to get there.

2.  In addition, I would spend some time identifying each team member's individual contribution to the team.  "Team" just doesn't occur.  It happens when each person knows how they contribute and honor how others contribute.  The final piece is identifying how the team contributes to the whole.  

A recommended resource:  Patrick Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Great insight on building trust and accountability while gaining clarity and cohesiveness. http://amzn.com/0787960756

Best of luck to you!


If you want them to work as a team, ask them to solve the problem of how to function more as a team. Let them create the methodology by working together.....you guessed it "as a Team".

In my observation, teams work best when they have a team task, such as the one I describe...simply saying "you need to work better as a team" won't do it. Let them create the groundrules, roles and responsiblities, policies and procedures they will all live by and in your role...simply keep asking questions like "what happens whne a team member doesn't fulfill their responsibillties, how do you want to handle that? " then turn them lose on setting up mechanisms to do so....


It's important to recognize that, individuals and organizations in competitive societies, are COMPETITIVE!  No surprise that it is difficult to create collaboration, without the interference from competitiveness.

Hence, individuals need specific responsibility and be recognized as contributors to the team's goals and the team has to be applauded for contributing to the organization's goals. It's as simple as that to achieve positive motivation. When the goals are not achieved, acknowledge that too.

I was once a new boss in an office of about 100 people. It was chaos characterized by disdain and mistrust. Uncomfortable! I watched people's behavior and realized that although the members of the office had insisted on having their say in decisions affecting them, (which resulted in the creation of an executive committee) the majority had no experience in making good decisions.

Given their inexperience, they found the responsibility scary. As topics would come up, I would wait for people to speak up which often did not happen.  So I started to call on people:  I might say, "John, which of those ideas do you think has a better chance of succeeding?"  And John had to say something...Then I might go on and ask Susan, "What's your reaction to John's comments?  Do you agree?"  It took about 3 months before members of the committee started posing the same kinds of question to others.  As the leader I had modeled the behavior I wanted to see that might develop the committee into a team. When that was accomplished my job was done.

In a team, people's behaviors reflect their desire to be part of something positive.  While competitiveness can increase performance it may also increase feelings of mistrust.  Unlike trust which can be energizing, mistrust is exhausting.  Trust is generally achieved over time when people can be counted on to do what they say they will, and there's no need to keep your back to the wall.  Then, trust naturally evolves...and so does teamwork.


Teams function very well when they have a clearly understood common goal.  Does your team?  If yes, do they regularly forecast what their performance is on each component that drives the overall common goal?  

This Harvard Business Review article provide more background:
http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/a-winning-culture-keeps-score/

If your team does not have a clearly defined objective measure of winning, there is a great opportunity to develop the team by engaging them in a process to develop that metric.  This is exactly what I did in my work with Southwest Airlines pilots.  This article provides some information on the process:
http://openbookcoaching.com/2015/05/05/how-to-determine-that-one-winning-metric/

If you would like to discuss this the specifics of your situation and how to apply this approach, I would be glad to have that conversation, no charge... I hope this helps...


I do not have enough information here to have a strong opinion about your idea for two teams. In general I think it is better to get teams in the habit of building on each other's ideas rather than tearing them down.

Getting the team together is absolutely necessary. I think you need to examine the motivation. How does one get ahead in your company? Is teamwork really a company value? What is the motivation to work as a team? I believe holding them accountable is insufficient. If they buy into the objective of the team and realize they can achieve it better by working as a team, then you can get somewhere. Giving them some freedom will also increase motivation. New leaders often have a tendency to micromanage which kills motivation. Avoid that.  I assume from your questions that you do believe the group has  the knowledge and skills necessary to function effectively.

When you get the team together, establish a mission for the team and some ground rules for how they will function. Ground rules would include treating each other with respect at all times, and attempting to understand and build on ideas rather than quickly rejecting them. Make sure everyone participates. If you have people that are quiet, use methods like having people write ideas on Post-it notes and sticking them up on the wall so you can get input from these quiet people.

Without knowing more is hard to comment further. One could write a book on this, but many people already have. I think the best one is  The Team Handbook Third Edition by Peter R Scholtes and Brian L. Joiner http://amzn.com/B001H0F8C2


It is not necessarily true that a group of people working in the same department are part of a team, or need to be part of a team.  Think sports.  Football, basketball, soccer, baseball. They are team sports. For victory, a group of individuals have to excel individually, and also learn to cooperate, collaborate and work together to achieve victories. But another sport, say, track, may be called a "team sport." But it's really about a bunch of individuals doing their individual thing to collectively deliver winning results. The distance runners don't depend on the sprinters who don't actually even interact with the jumpers or throwers in most meets  or practices.

So, first question, is your group a team or a collection of individuals with different goals, roles and deliverables?

If they are a team of individuals whose success depends on collaboration and cooperation, then the comments above are right on. Debating is a divisive style of tackling a question or challenge. It sets up winners and losers. What you need is dialogue where everyone can contribute ideas and perspectives to help arrive at a better answer/decision.

One "trick" I like to do when facilitating a group meeting where there is divided opinion is to say something like: "Whether you like or prefer this idea or not, what are its virtues? What are its short-comings?" I want to get everyone offering input without regard to their "vote."

Good luck. Changing the dynamic from individual advancement to team success is never easy.


Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get. Thus, if you want to change your results, look to your design.
How are your systems set up? Do they support teams? Do your processes support teams or units? (e.g. does your space promote teamwork or isolation? Do you reward individual achievement to the exclusion of group achievement?)
Are you clear about your mission, vision and guiding principles? Your goals and objectives? (teams should be united around the mission and the metrics.)
Do people know the value they contribute to the team? Is there a comprehensive approach to managing the team's knowledge?
The point here is that teams don't magically develop. They need to be developed through careful planning, support, design and nurturing. When done properly people will become involved, engaged and committed and tremendous results can and will happen.


Setting up a debate, as you suggest, is a terrible idea. You don't need a debate, you need a dialogue.

I agree with Brooks.

Take a positive approach and have a conversation about what they can accomplish together. How can they support one another? How can they be more than the sum of their parts? What great goal can they achieve, as a team?

I can send you a lot more material (I have authored several books on this subject) an online training course. See my website: www.ManagementMeditations.com I'll be happy to answer any more specific questions.


I agree with Brooks and Lawrence, in not having enough information to decide if you should break the group into two or have them work together as one team.  Typically, when work is broken into different functions, one team might focus on one function, while another focuses on a second.  As the leader of a department, it seems like it would be effective to have the group (team) identify critical priorities.  What are the key results or accomplishments that are necessary to support the organization?  Who are the internal and external customers that your department serves? What do customers need from you? I.e., how does your department provide value both inside and outside the organization?

Based on these questions, what are the key results that your department needs to accomplish?  You can set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Realistic, and Timely) based on what needs to be accomplished.  Which team members will be responsible for which goals? How will team members work together to make sure that goals are accomplished?  Who else in the organization needs to understand and be clear about your department's goals, i.e, are there other stakeholders that rely on your outputs, or are there departments within the organization whose inputs you rely on?

When all team members are clear about the outcomes that must be created and when they buy into those outcomes, they are much more likely to work together cooperatively and with clear purpose.

If you would like to talk more about these ideas, feel free to contact me.


Everyone here has given some great advice!  I agree with Susan that Patrick Lencioni's book is a great read for anyone in a leadership role.  Teams need to have the foundation of trust in order to actually become a team.

My experience as a team coach has been to help each team member discover and appreciate their individual strengths and then learn about the team's collective strengths in order to find ways to collaborate.  There are several tools available to begin these conversations and my recommendation is the Gallup StrengthsFinder tool.  Once people can embrace what they have to contribute to the team and then learn about the other people's strengths on the team, you can open up a dialogue about how the team members can partner.  An exercise such as this can open up a dialogue that normally does not happen in the work place and build the trust that is needed to create a true team.

Best wishes for success!


Have you ever watched one of those home decoration shows? If you have, then you know one of the most elements to any well designed room is the focal point. The same is true if you watch shows about hotels; people need to have a reason to stay there. Just about everything we do can be done better if everyone knows why they are there. Business is no different.

In all my years of working with businesses around the world there is common theme to them all: All businesses exist because they own and/or control a asset that can be used in their products/services which are acquired by customers because they provide them with a competitive advantage in achieving  a specific objective. In order for you to be an effective leader you have to federate your team around an asset that they can use in their product/service which provides their colleagues in the company - internal clients - with a competitive advantage - read make their lives easier/less uncertain - in whatever it is they are doing.

The asset in question can be anything from a machine, a software program, knowhow, IP, a methodology,...what have you. You as the leader have to share with your team a vision which gives them certainty about their place in the organization such that they feel secure enough to collaborate and cooperate with you to provide whatever product/service it is they "sell" to their internal clients. It is only by helping them feel that they are not assuming a high risk for themselves and their own community that you will get them to buy into your leadership approach. No one wants to be personally at risk for someone else's decision making. Right?!


A lot of great advice has been shared about how to improve team performance. To that, I'd add some tips on how to assess and sustain the motivation of team members to work together as a group.

You'll want to talk to your team members to figure out if there are any process issues. Do people feel left out of the loop? Is there too much work, or even too little work so people are checking out because they are not being challenged enough.

From a communications standpoint, you'll want to make sure that you publicly recognize and celebrate all contributions regardless of how small or how large the role. You'll want to make sure that you promptly respond to calls or emails; even if it's just to send a short message to let them know that you received their message. You'll want to make sure that you keep your appointments with individual team members and also to be on time for all team meetings.

The communication strategies may seem self-explanatory, yet are often overlooked. Doing these things consistently will show that you are "walking your talk" as a leader, and that you value your team members' time and contributions.

More ideas on Teamwork & Motivation at: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/teamwork-motivation-74604.html