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How do great

teams work?
Optimizing team cohesion,
effectiveness and productivity
A Culture Amp ebook

Introduction����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 03

What is a team?���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 04

Why are teams on the rise?������������������������������������������������������������ 05

Types of teams������������������������������������������������������������������������������������06

The life cycle of a team�������������������������������������������������������������������� 07

Current research��������������������������������������������������������������������������������09

Understanding what makes a

successful team in your organization������������������������������������������� 11

Turning insight into action��������������������������������������������������������������� 13

Further reading������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 17

Modern team building  2


Organizations are facing a paradox. Thanks to big data, we know more

than ever before about employees, competitors and customers, yet
the operating environment is more uncertain than ever.

Traditional ways of working have been maladapted. Efficiencies once

achieved through functional structures have been locked into siloes
too cumbersome and slow to respond.

In response, business leaders are looking for ways to introduce

greater agility and collaboration. And they’re turning to the so-called
“network of teams”, which relies on a high degree of empowerment,
strong communication, and rapid information flow, to create
a dynamic, responsive structure that will flourish in this new

At Culture Amp, we’ve observed the move to team-centric structures

as the key to future success. Yet we know that despite the amount of
people data out there, most companies don’t have the information
they need to build productive, collaborative, and successful teams.

We set out to come up with a solution to this problem.

Drawing lessons from existing research and insight from our work with
over 900 of the world's most innovative companies, we created Team
Effectiveness - a tool designed to help your business understand and
develop the teams you need to succeed.

Modern team building  3

What is a team?

As the functional structures of yesterday’s companies become we need each other

obsolete, so too do traditional understandings of what makes a team.
Modern teams can be difficult to define, so when Google set out to Project Aristotle distinguished
understand what makes a great team through Project Aristotle, they ‘teams’ from ‘work groups’.
started with that very question: what is a team?
They found:
Existing research considered a range of factors, including
organizational status and context, common goals and task –– Work groups are
interdependencies, but Google’s researchers realized the answer characterized by the least
couldn’t be found in organizational charts. Instead, they honed in on amount of interdependence.
the concept of interdependence as the defining factor. They focused They are based on
on groups that self-identified as having truly interdependent working organizational or managerial
relationships. hierarchy. Work groups may
meet periodically to hear
Beyond interdependency, modern teams embrace a diverse range of and share information.
characteristics. Their membership may well cross borders and time –– Teams are highly
zones and they’re highly adaptable - coming together quickly and interdependent - they
dispersing as required to meet the organization’s needs. plan work, solve problems,
make decisions, and review
Building on the work of J. Richard Hackman, academics Martine progress in service of a
Haas and Mark Mortenson found that modern teams - what they call specific project. Team
4-D teams, being diverse, dispersed, digital and dynamic - confront members need one another
a range of circumstances that both benefit and challenge the team to get work done.

It’s undeniable that teams are changing the way organizations

function, but it also means the people making up those teams
must change as well. Being aware of the challenges of diversity and
distance, as well as the benefits, is crucial to the team unifying to
surpass what they could achieve as a mere a group of individuals.

Modern team building  4

Why are teams on the rise?

The agility of teams over traditional hierarchies is well-documented.

Perhaps the most striking case study is that of General Stanley
McChrystal, who in 2004 was in command of the elite US Joint
Special Operations Task Force. Their job was to battle the growing
insurgency in Iraq from Al Qaeda. An objective view of the two
opponents suggested the insurgency would be no match for the
highly trained, highly resourced US troops. Yet insurgent attacks from
this nimble and resilient enemy were increasing and, by all accounts,
the Task Force was losing the fight.

In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex

World, McChrystal recounts how he met this threat by radically
changing how the Task Force was organized.

He realized the traditional command and control hierarchy, which had

excelled in “small, precise, surgical operations”, was ill-suited to this
complex and uncertain terrain. Put simply, efficiency was no longer
enough. In its place, he implemented a team of teams, empowered to
make decisions and enabled by fast and free transfer of information.
As leader, McChrystal also had to transform, relinquishing control and
enabling rather than directing.

The results were dramatic. The Task Force went from completing one
mission every five days to performing five missions every day.

The lessons for the corporate world aren’t hard to draw. In complex
market conditions, optimizing for efficiency is not enough to ensure
success. Instead, companies need to organize for speed and agility
and smaller teams are seen as innately more suited to this. While the
market is driving the need for greater adaptability, it’s also providing
the key enabling factor, with the digital revolution providing the tools
needed to empower teams.

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Types of teams

Working out how your teams should be structured (or unstructured)

can take time. The type of team you choose will depend on the
structure of your organization, and the speed and agility you require.

Functional teams Cross-functional teams

Functional teams are made up of people from A cross-functional team brings together people
the same discipline, although they may have with different functional expertise to achieve
differing expertise. For example, a human a goal. A team might include people from
resources team might have many members, and marketing, engineering, research and human
each might be specialized in an area of HR - resources. These teams are often self-managed,
recruitment, learning and development etc. in that they don’t have a clear hierarchy, or
if there is a team lead, their role is to enable
collaboration rather than manage from the

Multi-membership teams Multi-team systems

In multi-membership teams, people can be In a multi-team system, several teams work
members of more than one team at a time. Done on individual goals building towards the same
well, communication, learning and alignment overall outcome. Teams may even come from
across the organization is enhanced. The different organizations - for example emergency
challenge of multi-membership teams is that services which respond to the same event.
competition for resources is amplified.

Modern team building  6

The life cycle of a team

Tuckman’s team development model moving on


Deloitte’s 2017 research

highlighted the importance of
enabling movement between
teams without risk. High
Normin g
performing organizations
had the capacity to quickly
assemble and disband
teams, with one bank rapidly
increasing the speed of its
product development cycle.
Performance of team

Henry Ford said "coming together is a beginning, staying together is

progress, and working together is success." Which is to say, teamwork
takes work.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first proposed his well-known theory

describing a team’s life cycle in 1965 and it’s still frequently cited
today. His memorable “forming, storming, norming and performing”
framework describes the journey of a team, importantly recognizing
it’s not a straightforward linear progression.

Forming: This is Ford’s beginning - team members are generally

positive and polite, though they may also be anxious as they feel each
other out and learn more about the work to be done.

Storming: In this stage, team members feel more confident

challenging each other and pushing boundaries. Conflicts emerge and
morale often slides. Some teams never move beyond this stage.

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Norming: Those that do move into the norming stage, where
members begin to resolve differences and a shared understanding of
the mission, goals and processes of the team is developed.

Performing: This is the payoff stage, when the hard work of the first
three stages translates into results.

A fifth and final stage has been termed “adjourning”, as a team

disperses and its members are absorbed into existing or new teams.
The network of teams model will certainly rely on the efficient and
effective management of this final stage, so teams don’t languish once
they’ve met their goal.

Modern team building  8

Current research

In the process of building Team Effectiveness, we reviewed the

existing body of research on what makes a great team. We looked
at individual studies and meta-analyses as well as leading models
of team development, including Google's Project Aristotle, and
Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The researchers at Google were initially confounded by what they

found, or rather, what they couldn’t find: a pattern. As they considered
data on the personalities, skills and backgrounds found in the 180
teams they studied, they couldn’t find the thread that connected the
high performing teams.

They came to realize it didn’t matter so much who was on the team,
but rather how they worked together. It came down to the norms the
teams recognized. In particular, the researchers identified five key
dynamics, in order of importance:

1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling

insecure or embarrassed?

2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work

on time?

3. Structure and clarity: Are the goals, roles, and execution plans of
our team clear?

4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally

important for each of us?

5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re

doing matters?

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While Google searched for the factors that made teams sing, Lencioni
considered the factors that could undo a team. His model identified
five interrelated dysfunctions which could lead to a team’s downfall.
The five dysfunctions were: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of
commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

These models help to explain that being part of a team is in large

part about agreed behaviors and shared understanding among team
members. That is, it’s about the unwritten rules or norms of conduct
that enable the individuals within the team to perform and work
together productively.

Modern team building  10

Understanding what makes a
successful team in your organization

The research is just a starting point. In practice, teamwork is hard;

some teams gel and others struggle from start to finish. When it
comes to understanding teams in your organization, you need a way
to capture how what we know in theory is playing out in real life.

This was what motivated us to build Team Effectiveness. Based on

the combination of academic, theoretical, and field research, we
designed a survey that allows teams to understand how they’re doing
in relation to nine factors that really impact their performance.

Openness: At the heart of psychological safety, openness leads to

team members speaking up and sharing their ideas (no matter how
unpolished), being comfortable admitting mistakes without fear of
retribution and, ultimately, feeling like their opinion is valued.

Supportive climate: A supportive climate is centred on demonstrating

understanding and interpersonal sensitivity. When a supportive
climate is present, team members feel they can rely on their
teammates and there is mutual concern for each other’s wellbeing.

Focus and accountability: A shared focus and strategy is what

separates a team from a group. But goals are nothing without
accountability. Teams that are strong on focus and accountability
tend to share the workload more equally, based on an upfront
agreement that they share responsibility for measurable outcomes.

Team processes: Processes cover the daily team interactions

necessary for getting work done: team meetings, conflict
management, decision making, and for some teams, sharing
leadership responsibilities.

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Organizational alignment: This factor is about ensuring the team is
moving in the same direction as the organization as a whole; that their
goals align with company goals. It determines how much a team feels
part of the broader success of the company.

Knowledge and capability: Knowledge and capability means utilizing

the expertise that is present within a team and sharing it among team
members. Teams strong on this factor feel confident in their joint
ability to meet team goals.

Development: A great team creates an environment that enables

development, not only through providing learning opportunities but
also by giving feedback to team members on how they can improve

Communication and collaboration: Communication is the way

team members stay on the same page, share learnings and voice
their opinions. Collaboration is the means through which the team
accomplishes their shared goal. The concept of social turn-taking (i.e.
giving everyone equal opportunities to speak) is critical to today’s high
performing teams.

Role clarity: Role clarity isn’t about setting rigid expectations for each
team member, rather it’s about each team member understanding
how they contribute to the team’s success.

Team Effectiveness allows teams to understand how they're doing

well, and not so well, against each of the factors. We know effective
teams consistently deliver high quality work, foster a sense of pride
and create a place where team members believe they belong and can
get their best work done - so there's an Overall Team Effectiveness
measure as well incorporating these aspects.

By collecting this data, we can correlate which factors are impacting

Overall Team Effectiveness. This is automatically surfaced by Team
Effectiveness so that you can focus your efforts where they'll have the
greatest impact.

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Turning insight into action

Using the Team Effectiveness diagnostic is quick and easy; it’s once
the results are available that the real work starts. At Culture Amp, we
follow the employee feedback loop for creating change: design and
collect, analyze and understand, share and act.

The Team Effectiveness diagnostic will surface where the team is

strongest and where there are opportunities for improvement. You
can share results from within Culture Amp, or export results into
a PDF. Once everyone’s seen the results, get the team together to
discuss them.

Modern team building  13

Set the stage with some ground rules. This is an opportunity to
explore the results as a team, this is not a time to figure out who
said what. To enable open sharing, ensure team members that this
is a safe, confidential space to share their thoughts. Additionally,
remind everyone that the diagnostic reports perceptions, and while
perceptions may differ, everyone's perceptions are valid. Throughout
the process, encourage each team member's feedback.

We've found that asking about expectations and surprises is a great

way to start a discussion:

–– Are the results similar to what you expected?

–– Did any of the results surprise you?

It's also important to discuss how these results apply to everyday

interactions. For highest scoring items, what are the team behaviors
that led to a positive result? For lowest scoring items, what are the
behaviors that can be developed?

Once the results have been shared and discussed, you're ready to
select one or two focus areas to get started on straight away. We
recommend sticking to a small number so you can make meaningful
change. When selecting a focus, look at your opportunities for

–– What items are your lowest favorability? Where does your team
differ from the company overall? Outside of the data, is there any
item or construct that keeps coming up again and again in team
meetings or discussions?

–– Ask each team member which item/s stand out to them. What
would they like to consider focusing on?

–– Come to a consensus on the one or two items that will have the
largest impact on your team dynamics. This is your focus.

Once you've selected a focus, you can start planning action.

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For each item, there are many possible actions your team could take
to improve. What's important is considering the unique context of
your team.

One strategy is turning the item into a ‘how might we’ question. For
example, if the item is “team members give each other constructive
feedback,” ask the question “how might we enable team members to
give each other feedback?” Then allow each team member to come up
with ideas individually before sharing potential actions with the group.

For example, if the team is focusing on openness, they might consider

creating a personal ‘user manual’ for each team member to be shared
with the team. This allows each team member to answer questions
such as:

–– How do you prefer to give and receive feedback?

–– What is your preferred method of communication?

–– When do you best process information?

–– When do you prefer to receive feedback?

–– How do you handle conflict?

–– How do you handle interruptions?

–– What time of day do you feel most productive?

–– What are your typical work hours? Any restrictions?

–– What skills do you want to practice on this project?

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Once everyone has shared their ideas, have the team vote on their
favorites. Prototype a few favorites – what would this idea look like in
action? If needed, how could we test it on a small scale? What would
the first step be? After pitching the prototypes, select your favorite
to implement.

Now that you know where you want to go, think about the next steps
you need to get there. To ensure that changes are made and not just
talked about, give each step an owner (even if it's the whole team) and
a timeframe for implementation. These don't need to be set in stone
but will set the stage for accountability and proper implementation.

Reporting is also provided at a company overall level. This aggregate

data can be used to guide any company-wide team development
initiatives. For example, you may notice that teams in your
company are scoring low on focus and accountability and could
benefit from some structured support on setting a shared purpose
and tracking progress.

Once actions have been implemented, it’s time to use the Team
Effectiveness diagnostic to measure progress, and choose new areas
to optimize.

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Further reading

1. Deloitte University Press. (2017). 2017 Global Human Capital

Trends. https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/

2. Deloitte University Press. (2016). 2016 Global Human Capital

Trends. https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/human-

3. Kozlowski, S.W.J. & Bell, B.F. (2001). Work Groups and Teams
in Organizations. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/

4. Haas, M & Mortenson M. (2016). The Secrets of Great

Teamwork. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/06/

5. General Stanley et al. (2015). Team of Teams: New Rules of

Engagement for a Complex World. Penguin Publishing Group.

6. Moran, G. (2014) How Uber Changed the Way We Hire. Fast

Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/3028390/bottom-line/

7. Bell, S. T. (2007). Deep-level Composition Variables as Predictors

of Team Performance: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 92(3): 595-615; https://www.researchgate.net/

Modern team building  17

8. DeChurch, L. A., & Mesmer-Magnus, J. R. (2010). The Cognitive
Underpinnings of Effective Teamwork: A Meta-analysis. Journal of
Applied Psychology, 95(1): 32-53. http://delta.gatech.edu/papers/

9. Tuckman, Bruce W (1965). Developmental Sequence in Small

Groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6): 384–399. http://openvce.net/

10. Lencioni, Patrick M. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A

Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass.

11. Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google Learned from its Quest to Build
the Perfect Team. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.

Modern team building  18

We’d love to help

HR is more complex than ever. Modern HR

professionals have both more challenges and more
opportunities to drive organizations forward. They
also have more tools at their disposal.

We created Culture Amp to help people create

culture-first organizations - where employees and the
organization thrive.

We’d love to talk to you about how we can help.

Get in touch


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