Building awesome teams

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of many great teams.  Teams who work autonomously, synchronously, collaboratively, creating awesome things together.  Doing more than what one person can do on their own.

The good and the bad of the collaboration experience

Being part of such a team is energizing, inspiring, fulfilling.  It makes it easy to get up in the morning and work late for months on end.  It makes it meaningful to be called at 2 am in the morning knowing that you’re needed and valued.

I’ve also been part of less awesome teams.  Those that are detached in most aspects other than sharing the same proximity during the few hours in the office.  Working in such a way is draining, demotivating, depressing.  It makes waking up in the morning hard, each week taking a few more minutes before managing to get to the office.  Each evening finding an excuse to leave a few minutes earlier.  Each day a struggle, a fight to get through the day.

Having seen both sides of the coin, here’s what I believe makes awesome teams.

What factors make awesome teams?

To collaborate, you need three things – trust, a shared vision, and shared values.

The rest doesn’t matter as much.  The more diverse the skillset, the more comprehensive the product offering is.  The more diverse the culture, colour and race of the people working together, the greater the collective understanding of the problem, the better and more creative the solution is.

There are many other elements that add to the level of collaboration, but without these three elements, the chances of collaboration are small.  So it is worth discussing each element a bit more in-depth:

1. Trust

Trust is the foundation of any functional team.  This trust happens when you believe that your colleagues have your best interest at heart, as much as theirs.  There are no hidden agendas and power plays or politics to look out for. You can relax and be yourself.  You can focus your energy on finding solutions rather than protecting your turf.

Without trust, there is no team.  Trust is what allows different members to work on different parts of a project or system, knowing that their team supports and complements their work.

In a trust-based team each member knows that once they hand over their work, the next person in the value chain will take what they’ve done and made it more, better.

They trust the next member to improve, not destroy what they’ve done.

Also, they know the member before them will be ready and wait for the next most important part to work on.  They don’t have to question the validity or the priority, they can simply focus on what they’re good at.

2. A shared vision

When you want a group of diverse people arriving at the same end-point, they all have to see that end-point similarly.  Without a shared vision, one that each member truly believes in, there is no team and there can be no collaboration.

A shared vision is more than just a goal.  It gives meaning to your work.  It is something you believe in, something that makes a difference to you, as much as to the end-user.

3. Shared values

The other essential part of a well-functioning team is shared values.  Each person needs to have an agreement on what the most important values are for the collective. Each person in the team also needs to agree that they too feel strongly about those values.

Ways to improve collaboration on awesome teams

A coach can help teams improve, but ultimately, it is up to the team.  A coach can demonstrate and point out everything the team needs to know, but each team member needs to decide whether they are going to act and respond or not.  No-one can do that for you.

Here are a few ways how you can improve the collaboration in your team.

1. Re-use and give credit

One of the easiest ways to break trust is to discard what another team member has done, whether it’s information or part of a product.  It shows that the work done was not valuable, which is demotivating.  Repeating it several times completely destroys trust.

Contrary, the easiest way to build trust and show that you value your colleagues’ input, is by re-using what they’ve done.  Give them credit like an author gives credit to a source of information or the image displayed in a post.  Show them you value them.

2. Give feedback

One of the most important elements of success is regular feedback.  When there is no feedback it is the equivalent of negative feedback.

It is easy to receive positive feedback. Yet, so many team members refrain from reciprocating, enjoying the positive feedback, giving none back.  This is like two half-full containers with the one giving until it is empty and the other one full.  In order for a sustainable relationship to exist, there needs to be as much given as what is received by both parties.

When you get a compliment, receive it in grace and enjoy it, then give it back to someone else in the team.

3. Understand and accept your colleagues

A great way to build trust, and thus a team, is by understanding and accepting the other people in the team, regardless of age, background or culture. Put up your Meyers-Briggs personality type where everyone can see it, and spend a few hours as a team to complete and discuss the differences between your personality and

Put up your Meyers-Briggs personality type where everyone can see it, and spend a few hours as a team to complete and discuss the differences between your personality and communication styles.

The key, however, is what happens afterward.  Find a way to bring these new found insights to your daily operations and part of the team.

4. Engage in healthy conflict

Healthy teams engage in conflict because they understand that a difference in opinion means an opportunity for a better product and a stronger team.  It means both parties are passionate enough about the item under discussion to do something about it, not just walk away.

Engaging in healthy conflict is an important part of team building and grows the trust within the team.  Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent communication process is an excellent framework for guiding teams through conflict.


Great teams do great things.  They make the impossible happen and they delight their customers.  For great teams to exist, there needs to be trust, a shared vision and shared values.  These teams are not afraid to express their thoughts and ideas, they engage in healthy conflict, they recognize and give credit to colleagues and they always give feedback.

Great teams are however not something that someone else can do for you.  It’s an inside job.  Each team member, starting with the CEO needs to commit to becoming a team awesome and invest as much as they get in return.


Image by Josh Johnson courtesy www.  I, the author, have the right to use this picture.

With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.