Like most of us, I've worked in my fair share of teams and I have to say I've been lucky not to have operated within too many under-performing teams. I was talking to a manager of a team operating in the Gulf and exchanged some thoughts about what made teams work well.

There are many ways to build an engaged team that performs. I've had times when I've had to try a range of different approaches but the following is one way that seems to have worked when I have been asked to go into a situation to help a team focus on improving their performance. I think there are six basic steps that need to be adopted with each of those steps underpinned by two key principles — trust and collaboration.

Step 1: Choose a big goal

This is about focusing on one big idea that is ambitious, exciting, and singular. Setting a goal around just improving the ‘day job' isn't going to initially get people energised to focus on something that will bring challenge and something different to their job. It's not always essential that it's group or team-based either; it just needs to get people thinking about an issue that is outside of their normal routine.

Step 2: Define ‘The Plan'

Giving a goal to a team and letting them work out ways to achieve it, without a whole load of constraints, is a great way to engage them with both the project, and with each other. The term ‘The Plan' is deliberate. Most teams will come up with various options and ideas. Calling it ‘The Plan' gives you as a team the ability to adapt the plan as it moves, helps with consensus and reduces rejection as other alternatives are still ideas to be considered for the future.

Step 3: Define what success looks like

Start with a discussion about success, and what it looks like. A picture always means more than a document full of words; it also helps to try and make it personal. Moving from the goal, back through the plan, it's easy to introduce a discussion on key deliverables and major milestones without ever losing the thought that the team ‘really want to do this'.

Step 4: Define trade offs

By now, the team should be sold on the project, so what's the trade off that needs to be made? Inevitably new ways of doing things means stopping, or changing the way current work is delivered. This is where teams often get really creative if they want to see the project go ahead. It's about exciting people to take accountability for their job and ultimately will not only lead to improved productivity and efficiency but is also likely to raise the engagement and feeling of belonging that the team will have.

Step 5: Establish accountability

By watching the team operate, you will have already started to see who is really keen to make the project work, who is most excited about which element, who is just riding the wave of enthusiasm across the team, and who is already getting cold feet. Remember though there is always the need for someone to do the day job as well so make sure that accountability is clear and transparent in everything that is being done.

Step 6: Shape and support

At this stage the team leader's role is to help clear the way for the team to be successful and feel engaged by what they are and have achieved.

The team has to know that you're there, that you care, and that you can help them when they're stuck or lost. You have to know that it's their project now, not yours.

Using simple projects can really help to energise teams and make them feel that there is life beyond the ‘day job'. The leader's role is to create the environment for innovation, change and the inevitable challenges that will need to be addressed. It may sound hard to do and be regarded as extra work but it's so much easier than dealing with an unmotivated and unresponsive teams!


(Dave Millner is consulting director of Kenexa EMEA and director of Kenexa HR Institute)