How do you build excellent teams? Here's what the research says...
To build excellent teams, select team members for both taskwork and teamwork skills.
When putting a team together, look for team members who are high in team orientation – people who see value in collective efforts and enjoy working in groups. Choose people who can communicate well, are willing to provide backup support, and are receptive to feedback.
Specifically, consider teamwork skills relevant to a project’s success. The combination of taskwork skills needed to achieve project goals and teamwork skills matters8,9,11.
Hear about what chickens have to do with team composition...
Pay attention to team members’ personality traits to influence overall team performance and effectiveness.
Based on research connections to team performance, consider whether potential team members are: conscientious, agreeable, extraverted, and open to new experiences.
Individual team members will vary. For the best teams, aim to include one or more individual members who are:
Use caution before putting a low agreeable individual on a team1,6,9.
Promote the most meaningful types of diversity for a team’s specific purpose.
Teams with members from a variety of functional backgrounds (i.e., departments or disciplines) show stronger overall team performance, creativity and innovation. Functional diversity shows an especially strong impact when you're working to build excellent teams for design projects and cross-functional projects.
Teams with members from varied educational backgrounds achieve better creativity and innovation. Educational diversity shows an especially strong impact for top management teams2,10.
Watch what happens when Stanford Business School students perform a simple task with Dr. Margaret Neale:
Team training makes teams more effective.
Team training aims to improve knowledge, skills, or attitudinal competencies that will enhance team processes and performance. For example, teams can learn decision-making, new technologies, and error management. Build excellent teams faster by providing team training.
Team training can improve overall team performance, team affective outcomes (e.g. team trust, team efficacy), team process outcomes (e.g. coordination and communication), and team cognitive outcomes (e.g. shared knowledge)3,5,7.
Hybrid team training programs (taskwork plus teamwork) are generally most effective.
When team training focuses on both taskwork and teamwork, the training has a greater impact on cognitive outcomes (e.g. shared knowledge), process outcomes (e.g. coordination and communication), and overall team performance than training that only focuses on teamwork.
If your goal is to improve team affective outcomes (e.g. trust and efficacy), training that focuses solely on teamwork is more effective7.
Use team building interventions to achieve stronger team outcomes.
Team building interventions focus on improving interpersonal relations, problem-solving, and social interactions among team members.
Team building interventions have the greatest impact on team affective outcomes (i.e., emotional experiences such as team trust, team efficacy) and process outcomes (e.g. coordination and communication). Team building interventions also have a moderate effect on team cognitive outcomes (e.g., shared knowledge) and overall team performance4.
Stanford Business School's Dr. Margaret Neale describes the importance of team meeting #1 and using buzz groups to increase responsibility for participation:
It’s never too late for team training.
Team training can be just as effective for longstanding, intact teams as it can be for newly formed teams. Think about how you can build excellent teams throughout your organization by emphasizing team skill development at any stage3,5,7.
Keep focused on the difference between a team and a group:
Bell, S. T., Villado, A. J., Lukasik, M. A., Belau, L., & Briggs, A. L. (2011). Getting specific about demographic diversity variable and team performance relationships: A meta-analysis. Journal of Management, 37(3), 709–743. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206310365001
Delise, L. A., Gorman, C. A., Brooks, A. M., Rentsch, J. R., & Steele-Johnson, D. (2010). The effects of team training on team outcomes: A meta-analysis. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 22(4), 53–80. https://doi.org/10.1002/piq.20068
Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C. S., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G. F. (2009). Does team building work? Small Group Research, 40(2), 181–222. https://doi.org/10.1177/1046496408328821
McEwan, D., Ruissen, G. R., Eys, M. A., Zumbo, B. D., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2017). The effectiveness of teamwork training on teamwork behaviors and team performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled interventions. PLOS ONE, 12(1), e0169604. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169604
Salas, E., DiazGranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Goodwin, G. F., & Halpin, S. M. (2008). Does team training improve team performance? A meta-analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(6), 903–933. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872008X375009
Salas, E., Rosen, M. A., Burke, C. S., & Goodwin, G. F. (2009). The wisdom of collectives in organizations: An update of the teamwork competencies. In Team effectiveness in complex organizations: Cross-disciplinary perspectives and approaches (pp. 39–79). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2008-09940-003
Salas, E., Shuffler, M. L., Thayer, A. L., Bedwell, W. L., & Lazzara, E. H. (2015). Understanding and improving teamwork in organizations: A scientifically based practical guide. Human Resource Management, 54(4), 599–622. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21628
Tekleab, A. G., Karaca, A., Quigley, N. R., & Tsang, E. W. K. (2016). Re-examining the functional diversity–performance relationship: The roles of behavioral integration, team cohesion, and team learning. Journal of Business Research, 69(9), 3500–3507. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2016.01.036
Weaver, S. J., Rosen, M. A., DiazGranados, D., Lazzara, E. H., Lyons, R., Salas, E., Knych, S. A., McKeever, M., Adler, L., Barker, M., & King, H. B. (2010). Does teamwork improve performance in the operating room? a multilevel evaluation. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 36(3), 133–142. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1553-7250(10)36022-3