Teamwork is a way of life in today’s organisations. We all want to be part of a successful team but we all know that teamwork can be fraught with communications challenges, conflict and resentment. Often, it’s not the work or the organisational processes that create this discord, it’s the way that people behave within the team. So how can a team best address these issues and improve performance?

Outward-bound team bonding experiences are a popular option. But often they bear little relation to team tasks in the workplace. If ‘behaviours’ within the team are the problem, then focussing on constructive behaviour and helping the team members to better understand and interact with each other is surely the answer.

At Hemsley Fraser, we recognise the value of behavioural profiling and creating a team charter. Behavioural profiling is not a new phenomenon but new tools are now available that can enhance the effectiveness of any team at any level. The benefit of behavioural profiling is that individual team members not only become more aware of their own behaviour, they learn more about each other and the different personalities in the team. They can then start to appreciate why people behave the way they do and they can learn when and how to modify their own behaviour, to build a stronger rapport and increase effectiveness.

For new teams, these techniques have proved particularly valuable in helping the team members to evolve through the classic phases of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing. They have also been used to reinvigorate established teams; to clarify and agree specific objectives; to address a new challenge or change in the nature of the team; to help the team respond to an unusually heavy workload or a significant organisational change, such as a merger or reorganisation, and to bond virtual teams into more effective units. So how can these techniques be implemented?

Template for team effectiveness 

Just because people report to the same manager, it doesn’t mean that they’re a team. A team is a collection of people (normally 3-15) who work together to achieve a common goal. Once a team is established, the leader must be committed to building the team’s performance. Without effective leadership, the team will struggle to succeed.

The most effective way to develop a team is to focus on the typical situations that the team encounters. Any development intervention should therefore be tailored to the issues that are relevant for each specific team. This requires initial diagnostic investigations to understand the team, its objectives, the challenges it faces and any sticking points that may have arisen.

Prior to a face-to-face session, the team members should complete a behavioural profiling questionnaire online. While it is possible to gain insights from a traditional personality questionnaire, the latest psychometrics help individuals to recognise their strengths, work preferences and any blind spots they may have. Some tools can distinguish between your ‘everyday’ behaviour, your ‘workplace’ behaviour and how you behave under pressure. This helps people to identify skills and qualities that they have naturally but which they may not be utilising at work. It can also help them to identify ‘triggers’ to their own behaviour, so they develop an early warning system to prevent negative actions from manifesting.

From their questionnaire, each individual will receive a detailed report. When the team meets face-to-face, the facilitator should take time to help people interpret and understand their profile. Fun tools and interactive games and approaches can be adopted to help the individuals explore the different behaviours, and their underlying causes, and give feedback to others about how they act in the team.

Individuals can therefore learn how their behaviour is perceived by others and why issues of conflict may have arisen between different people. Strategies for addressing those issues can then be discussed.

Other issues, for example around the balance of different roles in the team, can also be addressed. Management theorist Meredith Belbin has popularised the notion that teams are most effective when complementary team roles are present. For example, if everyone is a dynamic, task-focussed and challenging operator, the team will be unbalanced. This can occur when people have been recruited in the image of the boss, or if the industry in question attracts a specific type of person. Other roles such as being creative, analytical and managing the detail and the interpersonal relationships are also required. Behavioural profiling can help the team members to ensure that the different roles required for success are all covered.

Teams can then create their own ‘team charter’, where everyone agrees the goals and the tasks that the team will undertake. Even if the team’s goal is apparently clear, people will often have different ideas about exactly what’s expected of them. Creating a charter helps to iron out any differences of opinion that may exist.

Once the goal and tasks have been agreed, the team should focus on the behaviours and the ground rules for how people will work together going forward. Five particular behaviours are likely to be key:

  • team members will need trust one another
  • deal appropriately with ‘conflict’ around new ideas
  • commit to decisions
  • hold one another accountable
  • focus on achieving collective results.

If communication or behavioural issues have hampered performance in the past, the team members should be encouraged to suggest positive behaviours that they’d like to see in the team. For example, instead of saying: ‘I wish we didn’t do this anymore …’, the focus should be: ‘It would be good if we could work this way …’. The key behaviours that the team will adopt can then be ranked and embedded into the team charter.

Lasting benefits

A key advantage of incorporating these techniques into your team development is that they enable issues of conflict or underperformance to be raised and addressed in an engaging and non-confrontational way.

In our experience, the use of behavioural profiling and a team charter leads to people feeling motivated and enthusiastic about the team’s potential. These techniques create a greater understanding of the different styles and behaviours within the team and bring a renewed commitment to the common goal. As a result, the team not only becomes much more effective, it also becomes self-disciplining. The team members are more inclined to manage their own behaviour – and challenge any behaviour that falls outside of the team charter – so greater harmony is created. They also learn to enhance the way they communicate and build rapport with others – and when and how to adapt their own behaviour ‘in the moment’.

For organisations, there’s clearly a bottom line benefit in building more cohesive and productive teams but there’s also the benefit of instilling a more positive culture.

Ultimately, learning more about yourself through behavioural profiling – and about the people you work with – creates a unique bonding experience that will change the way you perceive and interact with your colleagues. So, you don’t have to go white-water rafting; team effectiveness can be better enhanced in a training room.

Lindsey Byrne is a Senior Consultant and behavioural profile specialist at Hemsley Fraser, the learning and development company.