Setting-up Effective Teams

For a team to effectively deliver valuable business outcomes, they should typically be set-up with the characteristics describe on this page. These characteristics will also help ensure the team is aligned to the organisation’s strategy and fulfil the needs of customers and clients

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 deliver value effectively.

Each characteristic has an interactive slider. Use the slider to reveal the trade-offs and compromises for the characteristic.

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.

Click on the circles to reveal the trade-offs

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. When the team members are distributed, the benefits of non-verbal communication (e.g. body language) and emergent rituals are constrained.

The more the work is uncertain, complex and varied, the more the team should choose to co-locate. On the other hand, if the work is familiar, predictable and routine, then the team could be 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

Teams are most effective when they have everyone they need to take a requirement through to delivery. They won’t be hampered by having to wait for, or gain sign-off from, external parties. Individuals should be T-shaped meaning they have the breadth of competencies and willingness to switch between a number of roles within the team.

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.

Emotional intelligence over a narrow worldview

The team should be made up of individuals who have the capability to recognise their own emotions and those of others. In a composed manner, 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 team members to understand each other’s preferences, 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.

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.


Thanks to Tom Broughton for helping me strengthen this article.