Practical Ways To Help Your Teams Work Better


This guide describes simple ways to help your teams work better. They will also help your business or organisation because your people will contribute more and work better together. They will save everyone time and effort too.

The ideas in the guide are suggestions for things you may want to try. Please adapt them freely and use them flexibly.


Building your team.

       Team Vision and Purpose.

o        What is a vision and purpose?

o        Why build a vision and purpose for your team?

o        Inputs to Team Vision and Purpose

o        Ways to build Vision and Purpose

       Pairs and share


       Focused brainstorming

o        After you produce your Vision and Purpose

       Team Objectives.

o        What are team objectives?

o        Why are team objectives important?

o        Ways to Develop Team Objectives

       Focused Team Workshop

       Balance Sheet

Team discipline in meetings.

      Encourage and use discipline.

      Structure of an effective team meeting.

o       Use a systematic approach.

o       Use an effective process.

      Use some simple skills.

o        Listening.

o        Brainstorming.

o        Supporting.

o       Confronting.

The wider system

       Understanding the wider system.

       Setting priorities.

       Taking action.

Back to top

Building your team

Team Vision and Purpose

Building your team requires strategy, planning and time. Creating a shared vision and purpose will help you to focus your energy and get results.

What is a vision and purpose?

       A vision is a shared picture of a teams future.

o        A good vision includes specific goals that make it real.

o        To truly be shared, the vision must come from the ideas of the entire team, not only the team leader.

       A purpose expresses the teams reason for existence powerfully and clearly.

o        The purpose often already exists it should show why the work of the team matters.

Why build a vision and purpose for your team?

       When everyone in a group thoroughly understands and shares the same vision and purpose they become motivated and highly productive.

       When a team has developed a vision, they more easily agree on the important things that they need to work on to achieve it.

       People who work toward a future that they want to build are happier and more productive than those who work only to please the boss.

Inputs to Team Vision and Purpose

       Consider first the Companys vision, mission and values. If there are departmental goals at a higher level than the team, use these too.

       Alignment with the Companys (and/or departments) vision is important, or you risk creating conflict and failure.

       Everyone will have their personal hopes and dreams for the team and the organisation. Find out what these are. When you create a shared vision, you help people realise that they all want the same thing. You will all become more enthusiastic and energetic.

Back to top

Ways to build Vision and Purpose

These are ways to create your vision together. No one technique works for every situation. Consider mixing elements from the different methods to suit the situation and culture.

       Pairs and share

Ask people to pair up and think about how they would like things to be in future. Say to them, for example, "If you felt happy, proud and excited about coming to work in a years time, what would be happening to make you feel that way?"


Ask people to take turns listening to each other as they each talk about this question. Then ask each person to summarise the main points of their vision to the total group. Encourage people to listen and avoid criticism. List the ideas people produce on a chart. This is your vision. Set up a planning process where people work together to achieve the vision.


To define the teams purpose, the pairs discuss the ways in which the teams activities impact on the Companys customers, the Companys bottom line, and the community (both internal and external). Then discuss which of these impacts you would like to change and can change. This will help you define your team's purpose. There is more on this in the section "The wider system" later.


You can create a picture of your vision to make it concrete and attractive. When you describe the picture and what it means to you, you use your imaginative and logical side. You often get surprising insights from your own and other people's pictures. The pictures show you how each person wants things to be. Then ask people to explain their pictures to the rest of you as you listen carefully. Finally, use the ideas to create your vision.

      Focused brainstorming

Here, you ask people to list words on a flip chart that describe how you would like your factory or department to be. They think about what these words describe. Look for simple words like "Being professional" or "Everything running smoothly". Then talk about what this would mean in all aspects of your work. Finally, you plan how to achieve your vision.

After you produce your Vision and Purpose

       Make the vision and purpose visible. Keep them in front of the team members as a reminder of what they are working to create.

       Refer to the vision and purpose when making important team decisions. Make decisions based on what action will move the team closer to the vision.

       Keep the vision alive by occasionally taking the time in meetings to reaffirm its meaning and usefulness or to make modifications in the case of dramatic changes within the team or Company.

Back to top

Team Objectives

Once a team has developed a vision and purpose, it can be used as a basis for creating team objectives.

What are team objectives?

       Objectives are the specific goals that the team will accomplish in a fixed amount of time. These objectives flow from the team's purpose. Each one moves you towards your vision.

       Team objectives support the teams vision and purpose and the Company and/or Department objectives.

Why are team objectives important?

       Team objectives are the basis of the teams planned work.

       Team objectives should be the starting point for the employee objectives set as part of the performance management process.

       Team objectives provide the basis for talent and resource planning. They dictate the resources needed.

Ways to Develop Team Objectives

Team goals should be developed through a group process of team interaction and agreement. Ways to facilitate this group process are:

       Focused Team Workshop

Ask the team members to work alone and spend 15 minutes listing their own ideas for the team objectives. Afterwards, organise the group the ideas, eliminate duplicates and decide on the main objectives you want to consider. Divide the team into small groups and have them discuss the benefits and resources required for each potential objective. Ask them to prepare a mini-presentation to present their findings to the larger group. Following the presentations, have another full group discussion, ensuring that each option has been thoroughly considered. Lead the team in voting using secret ballots, to decide the top favoured objectives. (Secret balloting is a way of getting team members views without the stronger, more powerful members of the group influencing the others.)


To have a secret ballot, number the options to be voted on.  Give each team member a blank sheet of paper and have him or her write the numbers of their 3 (or so) favourite objectives on it.  Then collect the papers and count the votes.

       Balance Sheet

Ask everyone to bring 2 to 3 ideas for team objectives to the meeting. Use group discussion to reduce them to manageable number (about 6). Then use the Balance Sheet technique, see below, for discussing each one. The proposed objective should be clearly written at the top of a flipchart sheet. A line is then drawn down the middle of the flipchart. First, have the group name all the positive implications of that objective and list them on the left side of the line. Do the same with negative implications and list those on the right side of the line. Once you have considered all the options this way, you can select the best option by carrying out a final vote where each team member selects his or her two or three most favoured options.

An imaginary worked example may make this clearer.

Get shop floor people committed to improving productivity


Improve competitive position

Improve profitability

Improve employment prospects long-term

This could be interesting and challenging

We are doing this well in some places already


This will be complicated and take a lot of time

How do we get the Unions on board?

We are unclear about how to do this.

We need a big change very quickly. This may not be possible


This chart can also help you plan. You might decide how you could manage the issues on the negative side and strengthen the positive side, for example.

Back to top

Team discipline in meetings

Encourage and use discipline

Why have a disciplined approach to team working?

       It is more effective and more enjoyable.

       Everyone knows what he or she is trying to do.

       You get great satisfaction from working together well and getting a result.

How do you create and keep team discipline?

       Talk about how you can work together best before and when you meet.

       Agree some rules about how you will work together.

       Everybody takes responsibility for what happens, not just the team leader.

       Arrive on time, be honest, do what you agree to do and never pretend to agree if you do not.

       Listen carefully to what others say. Even if you disagree, they may have a point.

       Have a clear structure, so people know what they are doing.

Back to top

Structure of an effective team meeting

Why have a structure?

       People know what you expect and therefore what they need to do.

       If the structure is appropriate for the task, the work will go well.

       If the structure is clear, the meeting is much easier to manage.

       Team meetings with a clear structure are more rewarding for participants.

How do you structure a meeting?

o        Use a systematic approach

       First, discuss what you are trying to achieve in your meeting, or agenda item. It is very worthwhile to make sure your aims or objectives are very clear and everyone understands them.

       Second, everyone shares the ideas and information they have that will help you achieve your aims. This can be informal, but make sure everyone has the chance to contribute and listen to each other.

       Third, discuss and decide what has to be done to achieve your aim.

       Fourth, make a plan that says who will do what and when.

       Then you act, though this will often be outside the meeting.

       Finally, you review to discover what has worked and what needs further work. You also review how you have worked together to learn what worked and how to work together even better next time.

Ralph Coverdale developed this Systematic Approach. He observed what very effective teams did when they worked on tasks. The italics above are the words he used for the stages. This systematic approach is one of many but it does work well and is both simple and flexible.

o        Use an effective process

       "Process" is how you work together.

       You may need different processes according to the stage you are at in the meeting.

       Effective leaders make proposals, but listen to people's response and build on them.

       You might say "I would like to hear your thoughts about how we might make progress on this objective. Can we hear from everyone in the team in turn for a couple of minutes each? Would you like to go first? While each person is speaking, the rest of us will listen. Afterwards we will talk about what to do."

       If the process is not working, anyone can say so and make a proposal of a better one. You can often make progress if you are stuck by asking people to form pairs or small groups, think a bit and come back with some ideas to take the meeting forward.

       Spend time thinking about how you are working together and how to improve this. You can do this at the meeting.

Back to top

Use some simple skills

Why do we need skills?

       Many people say most meetings are a bit of a waste of time and find them frustrating. Skilled people can have skilled meetings.

       Meeting skills can help people produce more together and at a higher quality than they could ever do separately.

       The skills that help you work together effectively as a team are the same skills you need to work effectively with customers, suppliers and the rest of the organisation. Learning them together is safe and using them together reinforces them.

How can you learn these skills?

       You can learn by watching people who have good meetings or who help meetings go well. What do they do?

       You can try things out for yourself and see what works.

       You can discuss how you work with others with your colleagues and ask them for their ideas.

What are the most important team skills?

o        Listening

o        Supporting

o        Confronting

o       Brainstorming


Why is listening so important?

       Listening encourages people to speak and give of their best.

       If you listen you may learn things that will help you and the group

       When people listen to each other they build confidence, connection and mutual respect.

       You can build on each other's ideas and not lose any if you listen well.

How can you listen well in a team?

       Decide to do it as well as you are able, this will help you know what to do.

       When you listen, look warmly at the person. The person may look away as she talks, but will want you to be looking towards her when she finishes and turns back to you.


       Encourage everyone in the group to listen to each other. Stop people interrupting or talking over each other. Ask people to take turns talking while everyone else listens.


       Don't fidget, interrupt or distract. Don't get distracted by your own thoughts and feelings.


       Summarize at intervals to check you have understood what the person has said and the feelings behind it.


       Summarize at intervals to check you have understood everyone's views of the about the subject and any disagreements.


      Ask a few gentle open questions, to encourage conversation. You can't answer an open question with "Yes" or No".



Why is supporting important?


       When people feel supported, they feel safe to participate.


       A supportive atmosphere helps people want to work together.


       Support helps people take the risks to produce new ideas or disagree with the group.


How can you support each other in your team?


       Have a clear structure and agreed objectives so everyone knows what they are doing.


       Actively listen to and gently involve everyone, particularly shy or thoughtful people. They often have the best ideas.


       Work as informally as you can so people feel relaxed.


       Talk to each other between meetings.


       Get to know each other personally, so you feel a human as well as a work connection


       Show your appreciation of good ideas or helpful processes.




Why is confronting important?


       Sometimes things don't work. It is usually more helpful to confront (face) these situations directly than ignore them.


       Confronting issues is always interesting and can be enjoyable. It may be possible to get a creative solution by understanding each other's point of view and seeking a solution that is better than either.


       Confronting and resolving important conflicts between people or groups can lead to deeper understanding and trust than easily happens in relationships that have not been tested this way.

How can you confront effectively and with caring?


       When your team meeting is stuck, and people are frustrated and a bit angry, then say so. If you make this a personal statement, "I am feeling stuck and wonder if other people feel the same" then it will be more effective than being critical.


       You may need to confront other issues. You may get a "Yes" to an idea but be unsure if people really mean it. You might have one person dominating the group or being silent. If you say what you see or feel, and ask people what they think and feel, you will be able to change the situation.


       If people are arguing and the argument is not moving towards a resolution, it is very likely that people are not listening to each other. You can ask each party to put the other parties point of view, check that this is right and correct it if it is not. In most cases, the argument will fall away.




Why is brainstorming important?


       Brainstorming is a simple way to get lots of ideas from a group.


       It helps people feel safe, as they know people will listen to their ideas and not laugh at them.


       It may help you solve difficult problems.


       It is a simple structure for generating and evaluating ideas. It works because evaluate the ideas after you have generated them.


How do you do brainstorming?


       Decide on the question you want to answer.


       Collect a group of people to work on it. You may want to include people who know very little about the topic as well as experts. Sometimes people without specialized knowledge people produce interesting ideas and viewpoints. Experts can be stuck in their thinking!


       Explain the rules of the brainstorming process carefully. These are: - You create the ideas first without criticizing them. You look at the ideas and decide which are the most promising ones later.

       Talk about the question together. Consider different points of view and perspectives and different ways of defining the problem, this may lead you into new ways of thinking. You don't have to agree at this stage.


       Each person then thinks quietly and writes down his or her ideas for a few minutes.


       One person writes the ideas accurately and without editing on a chart. (Alternatively people can write their own ideas on large "post its" and stick them on the wall).


       The participants look at the ideas and list additional ones that they stimulate.


       Everyone looks at the list and chooses the top few (about five) that are the most promising. Display the votes to give the views of the group.


       Then move into a normal meeting to consider how you will develop the most promising ideas you have chosen.


Back to top

The wider system

Why is the wider system important?

A team serves some wider system outside itself. The team's success and even its long-term existence, depends on it meeting the needs of its "customers" and maintaining good relationships with its "suppliers". Both of these groups can be external or internal. The skills you need to work well inside your team are the same skills you need to work well with the wider system. Some simple tools can help too.

       Understanding the wider system

o        Make a map of the groups and key people you influence or who influence you, as below.

       List the groups and key people on a chart. A diagram or picture often helps. Some of the people will be inside the organisation, some not. Give everyone a turn to think, you don't have to agree at this stage.

o        Think about the nature of the relationship you have with them

       Pick out say eight or ten of the groups or people so you don't get overwhelmed. Think of a word like "cooperative" or "distant" to describe the relationship now. Some people like to draw a "cartoon" to illustrate this as a bit of humour helps.

o        Talk about how you feel about those relationships

       You might have decided the relationship your management team had with the shop floor was "distant". Now you think how you feel about that. This helps create the energy for change. People might feel sad or frustrated, for example.

       Setting priorities

o        Choose which relationships you want to develop first

       Look at the work you have done so far and think about the relationships that you would like to improve. Some people choose a relationship that could be better, where there is reasonable hope for improvement and where the work is manageable. You should not be too ambitious to start with. 

       Taking action

o        Choose what to do from a range of possibilities.

       Ask the other group or person what you could do differently which would make the relationship or work more productive


       Where problems arise, investigate them to learn how to prevent them in future. Avoid blaming.


       Set up joint informal meetings to explore issues of mutual interest


       Encourage everyone to be clear and open with the other people about what they want and do not want from them and listen to their point of view


       You can set up an Inter-Group workshop. Two groups meet in separate rooms and list "How do we see ourselves? How do we see the other group?" and "How do we think they see us?" The groups look at each other's lists and ask questions to understand the information. They then form mixed groups to work on common issues. This is enjoyable and very effective.


       Use survey feedback. An outsider or members of the two groups interview people to uncover the nature of the difficulties, examples of successful co‑operation and how to improve things. People from both groups discuss the information and plan what to do.


Further Information


There are free articles, exercises, designs, book references and links to other sources about many aspects of team, management and organisation development on my website. This is www.nickheap.co.uk I will add other resources to the guide as we learn what you want. 


Using these materials 

I am entirely happy for you to use or draw on any these materials in any way you think will be helpful. I am keen to have my work, and the work of the people I have learned from, used.  


Please will you say where you found them? One way might be to give a link back to www.nickheap.co.uk or to info@nickheap.co.uk. This will help these positive ideas to spread, and help my business, too.


Thank you 


Nick Heap, July 2004


Back to top