Making Space for Great Teams

Building great teams isn't something you do to a team, it's about giving them the right tools and conditions to become great.
August 18, 2022
Ben Parkison

How many times have you heard “I want to have a good manager.”, “I want to work with people I like.”, “I want everyone to be good at their job.” or “I just want to find an incredible team to work with”? It’s simple: Every one of us wants to be part of a great team.

So where to begin? Team building exercises. Corporate retreats. Team culture. On paper these are all the right ideas. But more likely than not, reading one of those made you roll your eyes. In practice, these sorts of things have been co-opted by mindsets that think about teams the wrong way. They think about making great teams from the top down. About cascading the next best template, construct, or process down through management to magically snap each group of individuals into the preferred shape of an excited, aligned, high performing team.

What companies mean when they say “team” is typically wrong.

But these approaches are not really about the team, they’re about whomever is responsible for the team. They are at best a heavy handed, once a quarter blip, and at worst a disillusioning checking of a box. They don’t stick, and they don’t make great teams.

Simply put, most companies think about teams wrong. And the truth is, what companies mean when they say “team” is typically wrong. So what is a team? We instinctively know they’re not about titles or org structures. They’re not about formal HR constructs. They’re not about quarterly team building exercises.

It turns out that trying to engineer things like trust, commitment, alignment, and purpose is messy. If we try to do it with one size fits all, top down systems, or some one-off exercise with a consultant, we get another uncomfortable and ineffective waste of time. However, we believe if you approach it by giving your teams and people the power and autonomy they need, it works.

We want our teams to be people we can trust, and people that trust us. We want to be able to be honest and clear with each other. To plainly discuss strength and weaknesses, hopes and fears. To know and depend on a set of honest and well earned accountabilities and dependencies. We want to be able to talk about purpose, to bring our opinions, to let ourselves be driven and invested in the things we each care about. We want to know we’re all actually rowing in the same direction. We want to feel supported in a team, to know how best to support others.

When we say we want to work with a great team, these are the things we mean. And ideas like trust, commitment, alignment, and purpose are indeed messy. The thing is, they’re messy for different reasons than you likely think. And even better, these problems are solvable.

Because building great teams isn’t something you do to a team. Instead, you set the right conditions and give teams the tools they need to become great. When you start to see it this way, cultivating great teams at your organization becomes a mindset. You start to see the opportunity everywhere.

Because building great teams isn’t something you do to a team. Instead, you set the right conditions and give teams the tools they need to become great.

We can be intentional about cultivating great teams, but it’s all about giving the teams the power to become what they’re meant to be. It’s the self-determined structure, rituals, and space to go from a group of people just trying to do the next thing to advance their careers to a high functioning, effective unit driving toward a common purpose.

We can cultivate high functioning, aligned, resilient teams — teams that people love — by focusing on giving them simple tools to let them contribute to, agree upon, and run six key aspects of their team: Team Rituals, Team Identity, Team Structure, Feedback Loops, Team Performance, and Team Member Autonomy. At Trelliswork, these are the foundations of Team Operations, it’s why we’re here, and we’ll be unpacking each of these in the coming weeks.

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