Hiring great people who have diverse backgrounds and unique skill sets is only one piece of the puzzle when building a strong team. Once you’ve assembled your dream team, you then have to set them up to thrive in their roles. Whether you’re an entrepreneur hiring your first employee or a project manager putting together a new team at an established company, there are actionable steps you can take to build a successful team.
Table of contents
What makes a successful team?
Every team is different, but good teams share these key characteristics:
Effective teams have clearly defined roles and expectations. Definitively laying out employees’ roles means they can take ownership of their specific tasks and responsibilities, which can make workflows more efficient and communication smoother.
Great company culture
Your company culture is the set of values and norms that define your work environment. A great company culture prioritizes the well-being of employees, cultivates work-life balance, and supports personal and professional growth.
Shared goals and metrics
In a successful team, individuals know when they are succeeding, when they are not, what they need to do to get back on track, and how to objectively measure the entire team’s success. These goals and metrics will look different for every team—maybe there’s a sales goal, a number of website pageviews, or new social media followers.
An effective team leader sets the tone for the entire team. Strong leaders have integrity, vision, and empathy—among other qualities.
How to build a successful team
- Define your values
- Hire with culture in mind
- Take the guesswork out of goals
- Formalize feedback
- Get to know each other
- Get to know yourself
- Cultivate mutual respect
- Keep things interesting
Here’s how to build an effective team, whether you’re starting from the ground up or revamping an existing organizational structure:
1. Define your values
“Workers are looking to align with companies that have shared values,” future of work expert Connie Steele told Shopify Masters. Connie’s research found that 65% of US workers want their company’s values to align with their personal values.
To resonate with workers, Connie says to express “that [the] vision of the company isn’t just to be the leader of X, Y, and Z industry. That vision is to have some social impact, because doing good in the world is really important for people.” Your vision statement informs your company culture and is the perfect place to share the big-picture “why” behind your business.
Building off your business’s vision, you can set specific team values that guide how your team interacts. Making this a collaborative process will ensure team members feel ownership over the team values. Plus, it’s a great team-building activity.
2. Hire with culture in mind
Hiring the right people is arguably the most important part of building a successful team—without human beings, there is no team. However, focusing on the usual qualifications—number of years at a well-known company, where they went to school, what software they know—may not be the best way to build a supportive team.
“Through the hiring process, I ask a lot about culture,” Kara Brothers, president of Starface World, told Shopify Masters. Starface is a game-changing skin-care company that sells colorful stars that heal acne—approximately 77 million of them since the product’s launch in 2019. Kara asks prospective hires questions like:
- “How do you manage teams?”
- “How do you like to be managed?”
- “How do you work well with peers?”
- “How do you work through disagreements?”
“Having those tough conversations as much as possible during the interview process, I find that I’m able to find like-minded individuals,” Kara said.
3. Take the guesswork out of goals
“In the business environment, it’s really easy for individuals to guess—guess what your leaders are thinking, guess what your peers are thinking, guess what the goals are,” Kara says. All that guessing takes a lot of energy—and leaves room for miscommunication.
Successful teams take the guesswork out of goals with clearly defined, team-specific metrics. To help your team succeed, ensure that individual team members understand their roles.
When every team member has a measurable individual goal and can see how that individual goal supports larger team goals and business goals, they can spend less time wondering what they should be doing, and whether they’re meeting expectations or overstepping any boundaries (i.e., making a call they shouldn’t make), and more time focusing on what they do best: their jobs.
4. Formalize feedback
Feedback equals growth. However, too much feedback, or feedback from the wrong sources at the wrong time, can cause team members to shut down or build up their defenses.
Creating a regular feedback cycle can encourage team members to provide feedback and ensure everyone knows what to expect. Not only will this prevent frustrations from building and ensure accountability, but workers actually like receiving feedback. According to the Pew Research Center, 80% of workers who receive feedback often or very often are also extremely or very satisfied with the amount of feedback they receive.
Make sure feedback goes both ways. “Both parties need to have this growth mindset,” Connie says. “It’s about always evolving.” Instead of telling team members, “I’m open to feedback,” provide them with specific opportunities to let you know what is and isn’t working.
5. Get to know each other
According to Connie’s research, 70% of US workers think it’s important to have a “sense of community and connection” at work. Whether you create community through formal team-building activities, informal check-ins, or a combination of both, Connie urges you to “get to know [your team] as people in addition to the roles that they have and the pressures that they might be facing. Understand that whole picture.”
Remote work can make bonding more difficult, but Kara says it’s still possible to cultivate stellar company culture with a 100% remote team. “It’s quite hard to strike up casual conversations when people are all over the world, but I do,” Kara says. “I try to foster that as much as possible. Maybe on Slack, a team member’s asking what you had for breakfast, or we have a little coffee chat together.”
6. Get to know yourself
A strong team needs a strong leader. If you’re overworked, burnt-out, and unmotivated, how can you expect to motivate your employees? It may sound selfish, but focusing on your needs will make you a better leader and is essential for your mental health. Also, take time to reflect on your strengths and areas that need improvement. Leaders need help, too. Find a mentor, career coach, or professional group where you can get support and hone your leadership skills.
7. Cultivate mutual respect
Connie says emotional intelligence, or EQ, is crucial to team development. “It helps you build that bond with someone because you’re able to understand where they may be coming from [and] you’re also connected with what you need,” she says.
When people feel respected at work, they’re more likely to ask questions, take initiative, and innovate—all things that make for successful teams. On the flip side, team members who don’t feel respected may simply leave. According to the Pew Research Center, disrespect is a factor in 57% of quittings.
8. Keep things interesting
“One thing that seems so simple but doesn’t always happen,” Connie says, is “always having interesting work. People always want to be challenged.” While clearly defining roles is important, those roles shouldn’t be so specific and rigid that they get boring.
“We all have our own specific skills that we bring to the table,” Kara says. “Constantly revisiting those and checking in is something that’s really working well for us.” Maybe someone on your team has a skill you didn’t know about or wants to learn a new skill that could be valuable in your business. Allowing your team members to grow within your team reduces the likelihood that they’ll start looking elsewhere.
How to build a successful team FAQ
How do you measure team success?
To measure team success, clearly define team goals and metrics to go along with them. These goals and metrics will look different for every team—maybe there’s a sales goal, a number of views, or new followers.
What is the most common challenge in team building?
Communication is the biggest challenge in team building. Often, teams consist of skilled professionals who struggle to collaborate with one another. Setting clear goals and expectations and formalizing the feedback process can facilitate communication between team members, increasing productivity and worker satisfaction.
What role does leadership play in building a successful team?
The leader sets the tone for the entire team. Successful team leaders uphold team values and are responsible for ensuring every person on their team knows their goals and has the tools they need to succeed.