On the mantelpiece at my parents house sits a trophy. This trophy is not from one of my (admittedly limited) childhood sporting pursuits, but rather a team-building day my father’s office ran some 6 years ago, that involved go-karts, fierce competition, and a dozen or more grown men fighting it out over a small plastic trophy.

Team-building exercises (from corporate retreats to competitive Lego-building to, yes, go-karting) have been the brunt of many jokes in popular culture, but they exist for a reason – great teams rarely form naturally, and creating shared experiences is an effective way of building camaraderie and fostering teamwork.

Of course, when it comes to building an effective, efficient team, it’s not all wacky activities and plastic trophies. There many elements that go towards building a great team. Here are 10 you need to know:

Personality > qualifications

‘When I die, I want my group project members to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.’

Back when I was a student, this joke was pretty much always guaranteed to get you a dozen or so Facebook likes – after all, the sentiment was something almost everyone could identify with.

Of course, the fact that this is such a universal experience illustrates the core problem with most teams – they’re cobbled together without any consideration to the personalities that make them up. If there’s a fundamental personality clash amongst your team members, your team is unlikely to produce the results you want.

That’s why, when you’re building a team from the ground up, you may want to consider prioritising personality over qualifications. After all, when you’re building a team to achieve a specific goal, the best person is someone who has both the qualifications and the personality to connect with other team members and deliver results.

Embrace diversity

If you’re trying to build a team that’s creative and innovative, the worst thing you can do is to stack that team with people who are too similar.

Diverse groups, according to a study by NPR, produce far better results than homogenous groups.

While the NPR study is primarily focused on ethnic diversity, there’s a wealth of evidence to suggest that diversity in all its incarnations benefits teams. People who are alike tend to think alike, and while working with people similar to yourself may be comfortable or familiar, you’re more likely to see great ideas or innovation come out of a more diverse team.

As they say – a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

Don’t be so serious

Contrary to the belief of a few people I’ve worked for, ‘work’ and ‘fun’ are not diametrically opposing concepts. Work can be fun. In fact, work should be fun – at least some of the time.

If you’re of the ‘it’s called work for a reason’ school of thought, you might not be convinced by this claim. However, there are a number of reasons why bringing humor into the workplace benefits everyone.

For a start, the health benefits of laughter are welldocumented. Laughter can increase your heart rate, boost your immune system, and relieve stress. Essentially, the more your team laughs, the healthier and happier they’ll be.

If that doesn’t compel you, consider this: researchers from the Peru Catholic University and the University of New Hampshire have found that humor can help to boost effective communication, development of group goals, group productivity and management of emotions.

Define roles and leaders – but allow for flexibility

In my second year of university, I had a subject called Organisational Management. Each class had to form its own ‘organisation’ to complete a project for the semester, by assigning roles, creating a hierarchy and distributing tasks accordingly. However, with the kind of arrogance that only a bunch of 20 year olds can muster, we decided it would be far more equitable to take turns in being CEO.

This was possibly the worst decision we could have made – our class spent so much time arguing that we barely got anything done. If the true purpose of Organisational Management was to teach us how important role delineation and leadership is to the success of a team, then it was very effective.

Your team needs structure. How you want to approach that is up to you, and should ideally be informed by a number of factors, including the size, culture and goals of your team. You may want to implement a ‘flat’ structure (like Valve), a traditional hierarchical structure, or something in between. The important thing is that it exists, and that it promotes accountability and action.


We’ve touched on the importance of diversity and humour when it comes to building a great team. However, respect is integral to making diversity and humour in your team work for you, not against you.

Ideally, you should create an environment where all team members understand the value of respecting each other’s backgrounds, preferences and differences.

Have a clear and common goal

Let’s be honest – without a common goal, a team is ultimately just a group of people. It may be a well-educated, creative group of young go-getters, but it’s still just a group of people.

It’s surprising, then, that there’s not more emphasis on explicitly outlining the core goals of a team prior to commencing any work. The issue is that there is often an assumption that all members of the team understand what needs to be done, and are approaching it with the same level of understanding and commitment.

Take, for example, a basketball team you start with your friends, to play in the local social league on weekends. It’s easy to assume that the common goal here would be to ‘win basketball games’. However, each member of your team may have goals that are variations on that. One person may believe that the goal is to make it into the finals, while another may believe that the goal is to simply not be at the bottom of the ladder. Someone else may have a goal of wanting to win, but not at the expense of fun.

Suddenly, you have a team of people that are approaching the goal of ‘win basketball games’ with wildly different levels of commitment and understanding – and this discrepancy can cause friction within your team.

The best way to combat this? Be very clear from the outset – before your team is even formed – of what your specific goals are.

Communication is key

I talk about the importance of communication a lot. Not just in my blogs, and not just in relation to HR and management. I firmly believe that a significant number of issues people face can be solved – or avoided completely – with clear, honest communication.

Proactive communication is what you’re striving for here. By encouraging a culture in which team members keep everyone informed on progress or roadblocks, and provide support and assistance without explicitly being asked, you’re also promoting a culture that values transparency and the freeflow of information and ideas.

Stamp out cliqueyness

In a perfect world, the idea of cliques would begin and end in high school. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s worked in an a workplace made up of more than a handful of people can attest, cliques (or ‘micro-cultures’) are alive and well in a vast number of workplaces.

It’s natural for micro-cultures to form within your team, as close bonds are formed between team members who share similar backgrounds or experiences – for instance, it wouldn’t be unusual for all team members who work in marketing, or who have kids to form their own clique.

To maintain a positive environment for all team members, you’ll need to make sure that no one clique has more influence or say than anyone else, and that all team members feel like they have a voice.

Encourage versatility

If there’s one thing I’m not a fan of, it’s kitchen appliances that only do a single, very specific, task.

Egg separators. Avocado slicers. Hot dog makers. As far as I’m concerned, in my kitchen, everything needs to be able to do at least two things.

Now, I realise people aren’t kitchen appliances. However, when you’re building a team, it’s a good idea to think about how versatile your team members are. While you can expect some of your team members to be specialists in a specific area, you want to make sure that you stack your team with people who have a wide range of skills, and are able to change easily between a range of tasks.

It’s not all business, all the time

As we’ve already mentioned, communication is integral to building and maintaining a productive, cohesive team. However, it’s important to recognise that good communication within a team means more than just being able to discuss work, or the project at hand.

A study from MIT’s Human Dynamic Laboratory indicates that how well a team communicates during informal meetings is one of the most important indicators of team success.

While that doesn’t mean that all of your team members need to be the best of friends outside of the workplace, it does mean that you should encourage informal conversation. Something as simple as scheduling time for a regular team lunch or coffee break can help make that happen.

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