Setting-up Effective Teams

For a team to effectively deliver valuable business outcomes, which are aligned with the strategy and fulfil the needs of customers and clients, they should typically be set-up with the following characteristics.

These characteristics are rules of thumb. Any compromises and trade-offs against these characteristics are likely to reduce team effectiveness and delay delivery. With continuous leadership guidance and coaching, the team should regularly review and make adjustments to find the sweet spot.

These characteristics can be viewed as enabling constraints, in that they are set of conditions which, although constraining, will enable the team’s alignment to business needs, handle uncertainty and effectively deliver value.

I’ve written them in the style of the Agile Manifesto:

As a team, in a world of complexity and uncertainty,
we will continuously uncover the best ways of working to achieve business outcomes.

To do this we follow these rules of thumb to continuously improve how we work.

While there maybe value in the ways of working on the right, we value ways of working on the left more.

Small team size over large team size

Small teams reduce the number of people who need to be kept up-to-date and therefore increases the team’s cohesion and nimbleness. Between five to nine people is the optimum.

Learn more by reading about the two pizza rule.

Co-located over distributed team

Teams who sit together are able to share, discover and deliver with the least barriers to communication. Empathy and effectiveness are maximised. The benefits of non-verbal communication and emergent rituals are constrained when individuals are distributed.

Full-time over multiple endeavours

Teams who are full-time on a single project or initiative have the least amount of distraction. They don’t suffer the overhead of context-switching between different work.

Cross-disciplined over siloed specialisms

Team deliver quickly when they have everyone they need to take a concept through to delivery. They won’t be hampered by having to wait or consult with external parties. Individuals should be T-shaped meaning they have breath of knowledge and skills.

Learn more by reading the parable of the three-blind men encountering an elephant.

Self-managing over external management

If the team has the clarity of their mission and have the competency to deliver the mission, they are best placed to discover how to manage themselves and decide how work should be delivered. Maximise their control over decisions.

Emotional intelligence over narrow worldview

Individuals should have the capability to recognise their own emotions and those of others. They should use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and professionally handle the inevitable trial and tribulations to achieve their team goals.

Long-lasting over short-term teams

It takes time for a team to understand its characters, nuances and specialists, and time for the team to form its culture and ways of working. Once the team has stabilised and is highly performant, be careful not to break-up the team without a compelling reason.

Learn more by reading about the Tuckman model.

Leadership support over distant management

Attempting to deliver business value, particularly for new business initiatives, is inherently uncertain. Teams need support from leaders to ensure strategic alignment. Leaders should remove organisational impediments and negotiate with staunch traditionalists.

Close to customers over proxy interpretation

In order for the team to reduce the feedback cycle between learning and deliver, they must be closest in the organisation to the customers or clients. Any intermediaries will slow the feedback cycle, increase misinterpretation and reduce customer retention.


I find my view on co-location the most contrarian. My view is that the more the work is uncertain, complex and variation, the more the team should choose to co-locate with the work environment designed around their needs. On the other hand, if the work is familiar, predictable and routine, then the team could be distributed.

Thanks to Tom Broughton for helping me strengthen this article.