Healthy teams communicate effectively, trust and challenge one another, and achieve shared goals together. And this leads to higher productivity, profitability, innovation, and more. But how do you build or become one?
From the psychological safety to share ideas and innovate - to the ability to bounce back from adversity - healthy team dynamics create a competitive advantage. To build a strong functional team you need to understand the key characteristics that all healthy teams share. Plus learn the telltale signs of team dysfunction, so you can spot them and stop them. We've asked 20+ experts to share their thoughts on the subject of healthy teams and rounded them up in this post. Read on or save it for later in a pdf format.
A healthy team means different things to different people. For some, it means an effective team that has mastered the art of working transparently and collaboratively together. Leaders have created an environment where all members feel valued, respected, appreciated, challenged, and supported to achieve their individual potential - whilst also pulling together to achieve shared goals.
A healthy team - in this context - is the opposite of a dysfunctional team. Positive team dynamics support performance through effective conflict resolution, clear communication, constructive challenge, and fruitful collaboration... And your business attracts, retains, and maximizes the productivity of talented people.
‘For me, a healthy team is a happy team. Are people feeling engaged? Are they feeling satisfied when they come to work? Are they supported and can they do the things that they want? What I want to see is people who are talkative and excited about upcoming work. Sometimes willing to and wanting to give a bit extra because they know that we will give a bit extra back to them. While we're not asking them to do extra things, they're doing it on their own accord because they care about what they're contributing to us.’ Rowan Savage, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Runn
Sherwin Chu, a Leadership Consultant and Coach with 12+ years of corporate experience says a big part of her career has been focused on how leaders can build and sustain high-performing, engaged, and resilient teams. Having worked with small teams within the advertising industry, as well as bigger teams within the media industry, she provides the following definition of healthy teams:
'Healthy and functional teams tend to be able to bounce back from challenges quickly and sustain their high performance. They are focused on the greater purpose of the team and not just on the goals on a superficial level. On the contrary, dysfunctional teams often don't have a clear team vision. They are motivated by superficial factors, such as a raise or promotion.'
For others, the term ‘healthy team’ also encompasses a literal well-being element. Managing your team to ensure their mental, emotional, and physical health are supported at work. This can embrace many activities - from mindful management to work-life balance and EDI initiatives.
Beyond the clear ethical imperative, there is also a pragmatic rationale. Protecting the health of your team also protects productivity, performance, professional acuity, brand reputation, staff satisfaction, retention, and more. It also protects against the high financial costs associated with dysfunctional workplaces, including the cost of staff turnover, burnout, and absenteeism.
Whichever way you look at it, building a healthy team is highly beneficial to your business.
Healthy teams - those that are engaged and communicate and collaborate effectively - drive bottom-line benefits for their businesses.
Collaboration is proven to create innovation, productivity, and success. Frost & Sullivan report that a company’s collaboration index increases sales by 27%, product quality by 34%, and customer satisfaction by 41%. Research from Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing also found employees were more likely to stick at tasks when collaborating compared to working alone. Perhaps explaining why an international study by Deloitte valued workplace collaboration at $1,660 per year per employee.
Furthermore, engaged employees are more likely to be productive and stick around. Research conducted by Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing/Aon Hewitt found that companies with the most engaged team members had 26% lower employee turnover, 20% lower absenteeism, and 15% greater employee productivity.
Given the cost of high employee turnover (estimated to be the equivalent of 6 to 9 months’ salary) and absenteeism ($3,600 per hourly employee per year), engaging employees makes good business sense.
Meanwhile, looking after the emotional and mental well-being of your team can avoid the high cost of employee burnout. Exhausted, overwhelmed employees quit dysfunctional workplaces, leaving employers to pick up the pieces financially and operationally.
‘Ever since we emphasized the importance of fostering a healthy team culture and engaged managers in building it, we have seen relevant changes in the company. Healthy teams have the ability to resolve any potential HR problems quickly and are much more functional in the area of human relations. Toxic situations usually don’t occur, and conflicts are nipped in the bud, so they don’t sabotage employees’ productivity and desire to give their best at work.’ Karolina Kijowska, Head of People, PhotoAiD
There are lots of opinions on what a healthy team looks like. We’ve looked at available research, talked to experts, and reflected on how things work at Runn to bring you our take on the top characteristics of healthy teams.
The opposite of a healthy team is a dysfunctional team. If you start to suspect your team is dysfunctional, you need to take decisive action to stop the rot. But what does an unhealthy team look like?
Unhealthy teams can be easy to spot in the workplace - by looking at their outcomes, their interactions, their behaviors, and even their physical appearance.
When team members are disengaged from one another - and from their work - it can manifest in numerous ways. Coming in late and leaving early. Maintaining distance and separation from coworkers. Physical signs of stress, depression, or withdrawal.
In remote and hybrid work environments, it isn’t as easy to spot physical clues. But there are other signs to look out for.
So-called ‘quiet quitting’ where people deliver the minimum required of them. Not engaging in team settings or contributing ideas. Ongoing conflict and tension between teammates. A culture of blame or passing the buck.
Once a team becomes dysfunctional, it’s the role of the team leader to get it back on track. This can be challenging and uncomfortable work. But it is essential if you want your team to perform and deliver effectively - and your teammates to be excited and energized to come to work each day.
In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, management consultant and team development specialist Patrick Lencioni describes five symptoms of dysfunctional teams.
If you recognize these telltale signs in your team, don’t worry. We’ll show you how to transform your team from dysfunctional to healthy and happy.
But, first, we recommend that you read how teams develop and consider these healthy teams myths.
Praise from the CEO for regularly acing KPIs can create a blind spot. A blind spot that stops team leaders from seeing an uncomfortable truth. Their team is high-performing but far from healthy.
Whilst this might not cause immediate issues - after all, you’re getting things done - it is a short-sighted approach to team building.
Firstly, your high-performing team might have even higher potential. If they’re performing well in the current environment, imagine how they could fly if the environment was even more conducive to team collaboration and personal achievement.
Secondly, unhealthy teams create churn. You might be extracting high performance from your people… but how long will you hold onto them? Burning out your resources can be highly detrimental - incurring high financial costs to replace staff who resign, poor brand reputation, team disruption and change to dynamics, etc.
Some leaders - often those forged in high-pressure environments themselves, who have internalized unhealthy leadership practices - can’t reconcile the concepts of ‘healthy’ and ‘high-performing’ teams. They see health and performance as opposite ends of the spectrum.
This type of leader seeks to ‘extract’ maximum value from their resources - often in terms of quantity rather than the quality of work, or inputs instead of outputs - which can lead to long hours, unrealistic expectations, and work-life conflict.
This mindset manifests as crunching in game development, for example. Crunching is a culture of high pressure, long hours, unpaid overtime, and ‘stress casualties’ that sullies the reputation of the gaming sector. Ironically, this approach is proven to reduce productivity, quality, and professional acuity.
Of course, you also need to be wary of letting the pendulum swing too far the other way. You still want your healthy team to be results-orientated. Achieving a balance between team health and performance is essential.
In some organizations, leaders can mistake company perks for a positive culture, and that can be detrimental to team health.
In her article - Is Your Culture Conducive To Creating Healthy, High-Performing Teams? - business coach and author, Jeanet Wade, explains:
‘[Some leaders] think building a healthy culture is about providing what makes people feel good in the moment—team events, ping pong tables, kombucha on tap, or avoiding conflict around the conference table. That kind of “health” can be detrimental to performance if the basic needs of the humans on their teams aren’t met.’
‘You can’t use a good game of table tennis to make up for a lack of clarity about what is expected of you on the next project for instance. And no amount of kombucha is going to help you sit through a meeting where there is no conflict and no opportunity to contribute anything of meaning either.’
Also, perks aren’t always purely perks. For example, providing a concierge service to help with housework - or an on-site gym so people don’t have to go out of their way to exercise - are just two ways consulting firms address work-life balance issues. But these apparent perks also enable consultants to put in more hours at their firm by removing some of the pressures of ‘life’ to make more room for ‘work’.
Leaders need to understand the importance of satisfying human needs in the workplace, how this is mutually beneficial to individuals and the business, and to review how well they really meet those needs.
The exact strategies you employ to create a healthy team will differ according to your organizational culture, your team maturity, and any challenges you’re currently facing. Here are 15 expert-informed insights into the steps team leaders can take to create healthy teams.
[Notice some focus on the whole team, while others focus on individuals. This just goes to prove that a team is only as strong as the sum of its parts. There’s also overlap between the different sections, showing how a holistic approach to team building is best.]
Building a healthy team usually starts even before the team is formed. According to Rahul Vij, CEO at WebSpero Solutions, a digital marketing agency, the first step to building a healthy team is to create core values and put everything about your mission into words:
'The key behind this is to stay transparent about your values and mission so that your team and co-operate and align with those values. Make sure that your employees have access to the statement. You can build it in a handbook or display those values on posters in the office. Every employee in the company must know what they should be striving for and how they should move ahead toward achieving it.'
Having a transparent set of values and a mission statement also helps to build trust and accountability within the team. When everyone understands what the company stands for, it becomes easier to work together towards common goals and make decisions that align with the company's values. This can also help to foster a positive and inclusive work environment, where everyone feels valued and supported.
Employees are people, not cogs in a machine. In some corporate cultures, this is an inconvenient truth that threatens productivity. Human needs, wants, and emotions are something to be managed and suppressed.
But this approach is short-sighted. Think of fossil fuels versus renewable energy. Your workforce isn’t a resource you can mine until you’ve extracted their value and then move on. You need to capture employees’ energy, harness and direct it.
It might take more careful management, but it is more sustainable than the reducing returns of more mercenary practices. Businesses that empower and elevate their team members can see higher productivity, more innovation, and lower voluntary staff turnover.
An important step to creating a healthy, human-centric team is empathy, according to Asma Hafejee, Senior Marketing Executive at CMR Surgical.
‘When leaders can adopt empathetic practices like active listening, conscious communication, identifying and prioritizing individual goals, and being constructive with feedback, the team is likely to have positive interpersonal relationships. If empathy is prioritized, your team is more likely to feel heard, be comfortable enough to open up, be braver with their contributions, and have an overall sense of belonging and inclusion within the company, resulting in a healthy team dynamic.’
Drawing from the experience of Sherwin Chu, a Leadership Consultant and Coach with 12+ years of corporate experience, healthy teams often are led by empathetic leaders who truly care for the well-being and development of their teams:
'To create a team culture that fosters inclusion, healthy feedback systems, and positive interpersonal relationships, leaders need to adopt a coaching approach in the way that they lead their teams. This means truly being curious about the team's development needs. They ask empowering questions to help their teams come to their own conclusions on insights to problem-solve. Additionally, they dig deep to uncover and help their teams resolve inner challenges that could be getting in the way of them achieving their goals.They celebrate wins often as well as create room for a safe space for constructive feedback.'
According to Jeanet Wade in her book The Human Team, people need six things to thrive: Clarity, Connection, Contribution, Challenge, Consideration, and Confidence. Seek to nurture these to build a healthy team.
Our experts agree that it’s essential to know your team on a personal level - not as identical work units but as people with different motivations, goals, interests, and challenges.
Understanding what makes people tick has multiple benefits. Firstly, it will help you get the best out of them at work - knowing how to motivate them can drive higher productivity and achievement. Whilst understanding their career goals lets you challenge and develop them in mutually beneficial ways.
Peter Monkhouse, Founder at ICL SA, explains:
‘It’s crucial to have each team member’s best interests at heart. This can be done by identifying and working in alignment with their long-term goals. This means assigning tasks and projects that are in the same vein and providing upskilling opportunities. If team leaders can put in the effort to do this, it’s likely to lead to individual satisfaction, growth, and ultimately harmonious interpersonal relations among the team members.’
Casey Jones, Director & Head of Marketing at CJ&CO, a top-rated digital marketing agency based in Australia, agrees.
‘I make it a point to get to know each team member on a personal level. I take the time to understand their individual goals, both professionally and personally and do my best to support them in achieving them at CJ&CO. This could be helping them develop the skills they need to start their own business, or providing flexibility to take care of a family member. Understanding and supporting each team member's goals is essential in creating a healthy team culture and ultimately, driving success for the team and the company. By understanding and supporting each team member's goals, we are able to create a more engaged, motivated, and invested team.’
To align team members’ work to their long-term goals, Davis Nguyen, founder of My Consulting Offer, recommends having employee development plans.
‘Employee Development Plans show staff members that you are invested in their long-term growth. In our employee development plans, we include the following questions: What is your dream job, even if it is not with us, and what skills do you need to be successful in it? What skills do you want to develop? What does success look like?’
With this knowledge, team leaders can nurture individuals to unleash their full potential.
Accept the fact that investing in your employees may mean they progress to other jobs - and invest in them anyway. You’ll get the benefit of their skills and loyalty as they learn. And if you treat them well and provide progression opportunities, you will retain them in the business long-term.
As Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson famously said ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’
People work best when they understand what’s expected of them. And teams work best when every team member understands their contribution to the whole. To this end, everyone in your team needs clearly defined roles and responsibilities - and these need to be understood by everyone within the team.
This provides individuals with a structure in which to experience challenges and achieve success. It also provides a sense of what’s within their purview to develop and innovate - and who they might need to consider or collaborate with if they have ideas that extend beyond their role. This can help avoid conflict and lead to a fruitful collaboration.
It also provides teams with an understanding of how work gets done. The actual mechanics of who does what and how that ladders up to team and organizational success. According to Ian Brian, CEO of Financefied, a finance-focused web publishing company based in Nairobi:
‘Proper allocation of roles and duties is what makes the team functional. Allocation of duties should consider the extent to which different activities are related. The effectiveness of each team member in their mandated duty depends on others' commitment to their tasks. Since every team member knows the success of others is partially dependent on how they discharge their duties [...] team members are in constant communication for support from each other to discharge their mandated duties in the best way.’
Transparency in roles and responsibilities also helps reduce intra-team conflict that can arise when colleagues don’t know or value what the others do, which can lead to a sense of inequality and resentment. ‘I’m working really hard on XYZ. What are they doing all day?’
It’s also important that you, as team leader, understand exactly what your team does day-to-day. Perhaps you’ve taken over a new team or your team has just grown and evolved. It can be challenging to maintain an overview of every role and process. But Stephanie Dawoud, Operations Lead at LEVELS explains how this creates a healthy culture of understanding, challenge, and innovation.
‘I believe in the importance of understanding the day-to-day work - at a sometimes detailed level - in order to recognize what chains of processes and decisions are needed or need to be iterated in order to create the most value. At the same time, it’s important to challenge the status quo and make sure we are aware of why we do certain things and are curious and open to trying new ways of working.’
Ella Steinmetz-Simon, COO at 14 Minds also recognizes the double benefit of ‘getting into the mud’ with your team - motivating your team but also surfacing room for improvement.
‘It's very easy to look at work that's being done and make assumptions. Getting down into the mud, you can see what's really going on. It really helps the team move forward when they see that you have an interest and actually care to be side by side with them, just observing and learning about what they're doing. And it also gives you insight into all the little technicalities that happen during the day, during the week, during the month.’
[For more insights from Operations Directors at leading agencies, check out our article What Successful Directors of Operations Do Differently]
As a leader, it is crucial to acknowledge that your actions have the potential to influence others, either positively or negatively, and that every decision you make will be subject to scrutiny. Kim Scott highlights in her book Radical Candor, that becoming a boss is comparable to getting arrested as everything you say or do can and will be used against you.
Similar to parents, team leaders must exhibit the behavior they wish to see from their team members. It is unreasonable to anticipate that your team will display particular characteristics if you do not embody them yourself. For instance, if you expect your team to communicate constructively or remain composed under pressure, you must demonstrate such behavior for them to emulate.
Firstly, leading by example and displaying favorable professional conduct creates an opportunity for others to follow suit. As professional behavior is not taught in schools, junior colleagues, or those who have not encountered healthy team dynamics before, may not have any experience with positive workplace behavior. Therefore, how can we anticipate them to display it if they have never witnessed it before?
Secondly, setting a positive example establishes trust. If you cannot follow the behavior you expect from your team, it is impossible to anticipate them to do so. Your team will quickly identify any hypocrisy and lose respect for you as a leader. This, in turn, will make it challenging to manage and correct team behavior.
Another way to solidify the behavior you expect is through a written code of conduct, according to Cath Garcia, Head of HR at SkillSuccess.
‘It helps to have an agreed-upon code of conduct that all team members agree to abide by. For example, respect for others’ opinions; listening before offering advice; no gossiping about colleagues or clients; seeking clarification if needed. This will help foster an environment where everyone feels included and respected—allowing the team to work together in a productive manner without judgment or criticism from any one group member.’
One final tip for leading by example is to be a tireless champion for your team. After all, if you don’t believe in them, who will? Whenever you talk about your team - in front of them or behind closed doors - be positive about their achievements, potential, and individual members. Alex Armstrong-Paling, Managing Director of Toolfit, says:
‘Ensure that your behavior aligns with the culture your team will adopt. Continuously set an example of how much you value your team and the culture you've encouraged them to join. It indicates your team's ability to complete the duties you provide them, which typically promotes the formation of strong relationships and a rise in trust.’
Your team’s culture will become a reflection of your strengths. Your enthusiasm and positivity can inspire your team’s energy, your communication style can support positive collaboration, and your respect for others can foster a team culture where everyone feels valued and safe to be vulnerable. As Rowan Savage, Co-founder and CTO at Runn explains:
‘Leading by example for me is a lot about showing humility and asking for help. One thing I've always noticed - even at Runn and in other work environments - is that especially our junior staff can struggle to ask for help because they feel like ‘Oh, I should know this already. I should already understand this. What am I doing wrong?’ So I am always out there asking for people to help me with anything that I'm stuck on. I go out and I openly ask ‘Hey, can someone help me? I'm stuck here.’ And that's part of showing, no matter who you are, getting help from your teammates, getting people around you to support you, gives you the best possible outcomes.’
According to Gregg Tate, executive mentor and leadership coach, ‘Healthy teams are about respect for diversity of ideas, thoughts, background and experience, and those voices being heard and an integral part of the process.’
That can’t happen if you have an autocratic despot making all the decisions.
Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a form of shared leadership where each group member can freely voice their opinions and share their knowledge. This demonstration of mutual respect makes the team feel involved, recognized, and satisfied in their organizational roles.
Participatory leaders are the ones to make the final decision, but only once they've heard from the whole team. Skillful democratic leaders are able to show that all opinions matter, whilst acknowledging that they can't make everyone happy with their decision.
Trevor Sookraj, CEO at Divisional, believes democratic leadership is key to building a healthy team:
'Having an environment where all members feel comfortable to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and critiques is essential for a successful team dynamic. Everyone should be encouraged to voice their opinion and constructively criticize each other as needed - when everyone feels safe doing this, it will lead to meaningful conversations and productive collaboration. Creating a team culture that fosters inclusion means emphasizing respect for diversity by valuing individuals for their unique personal qualities, skills, and backgrounds.
These qualities are often what give teams their edge over the competition - so make sure you build on that by cultivating a welcoming, non-discriminatory atmosphere. Taking time to understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses in the team can help create positive interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, having a functional team requires effort from both management as well as individual members; with consistent care, it will become easier over time to ensure your workplace remains productive, collaborative, and diverse.'
One of the advantages of democratic leadership is that it enables members to develop innovative ideas, especially during brainstorming sessions. Unlike autocratic leaders, who make decisions on their own, or laissez-faire leaders who fail to provide direction, a democratic leader offers direction and boundaries within which the team is able to experiment. [Read more about the democratic leadership style].
‘Healthy teams foster an environment of inclusion and respect for all team members. This means that everyone is given the opportunity to contribute and their opinions are valued. I remember from my experience when our team was struggling with a project deadline. We had been working on the project for weeks but were still behind schedule due to various issues that had arisen along the way. In order to get back on track, we held an open discussion where everyone was able to voice their concerns and ideas on how we could move forward with the project more efficiently. This allowed us to come up with creative solutions that ultimately helped us meet our deadline successfully.’ Iryna Gazhala, Head of Recruitment, Belkins
We all know there’s no ‘I’ in a team. It’s a cliche but it’s the cornerstone of healthy team dynamics. Creating a ‘one team’ mindset helps individuals rally around shared goals, support one another, and achieve together.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni highlights the risk of an individual ego. When team members pay excessive attention to their own professional objectives - such as career progression or being seen to be a star performer - it can undermine wider team goals.
Lencioni says that teams are rarely results-oriented - and no matter how much effort a team puts in - it's the results that ultimately matter. Lencioni recommends setting bold team goals and using result-based rewards to motivate people to rally around them.
A ‘one team’ goal - rather than individual goals and KPIs - can incentivize teamwork, eradicate bottlenecks, and improve collaboration. It’s also an important step to eradicating unhelpful blame culture and competition between individuals.
‘At Runn, we have no blame culture,’ says Rowan Savage, Runn’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer.
‘For every single change that occurs in our application, we have a person who creates a change and a person who reviews the change. That's how something gets approved and put into an application. As soon as it goes into the application, the change is no longer owned by the person who created it. It belongs to everyone on the team. So if there’s a problem with that - if there's a bug that needs to be fixed - it’s a shared issue. We don't go back to the person who originally did it. We approved it as a team. So now we work out how to fix it as a team.’
Automotive legend Lee Iacocca, best known for the development of the Ford Mustang, famously attributed his success to the fact ‘I hire smart people and get out of their way’. It’s a principle articulated by business leaders throughout history - and our experts agree too - that micromanagement doesn’t work.
Micromanagement creates a restrictive culture when team members are denied their autonomy to make decisions, take risks, and grow. Three of Jeanet Wade’s six needs of a human team are contribution, challenge, and consideration. Micromanagement robs your team of this satisfaction, causing disillusionment and distrust. A healthy team is built on the understanding that every team member has valuable knowledge that contributes to team success - not just the team leader.
It also limits innovation because the team leader makes decisions and directs activities based on their own limited sphere of understanding. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once quipped, ‘It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.’
Micromanagement can cause staff members to question their role at the company. Ian Brian, CEO of Financefied, explains that micromanagement can make employees feel that they’ve reached the limit of their professional development, which can lead to stagnation and even staff turnover.
‘The culture of micromanagement of every team member is an unhealthy one. It limits the flexibility of team members to nurture their skills and critical thinking. It makes team members feel like they have reached a certain level beyond which they are not learning anymore.’
It also encourages a culture of dependency, where your team becomes so used to relying on you for direction and decision-making that they don’t even try to take the initiative. As Simon Sinek said, ‘When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.’
This means a culture of dependency is problematic for you as the team leader - who carries all the burden of decision-making and can become a bottleneck to project progress - and for your organization, which is left with ‘workers’ instead of ‘leaders’.
‘I still recall with crystal clarity the annoyance that I experienced when I was given responsibility without the authority to make decisions regarding the matter. When we talk about empowering people, what we mean is that we want to give them the authority to make decisions on their own, as long as those decisions fall within the constraints of their employment.’ Tia Campbell, Director of Marketing, Practice Reasoning Tests
Our experts agree that a cornerstone of healthy team culture is communication. Communication is the foundation of trust, collaboration, productivity… You name it, it needs effective communication.
First off, you need an effective process for communicating goals, objectives, and expectations of your team - such as 1:1s, team meetings, and even written resources like a team mission statement. In these cases, prioritize clarity. For example, when setting goals, state what’s expected and invite your colleague to repeat it back to you to check their understanding. Don't be afraid to overcommunicate. Repetition helps cement things into the listeners’ brains so they can act on them later, which is what you want when trying to create long-lasting change.
You also need to be able to cascade important information down from senior management - and show how team responsibilities ladder up to organizational success. This provides team members with ‘big picture’ they need to understand their contribution and feel vocationally fulfilled.
Ivan Lovre Marusic, CEO Game Taco, says:
‘Dysfunctional teams often operate with a sense of exclusion, where members feel excluded from important conversations and decision-making. This can lead to a feeling of powerlessness and resentment, which ultimately harms the team's ability to work together effectively. In contrast, healthy teams foster a culture of inclusion by actively encouraging communication and participation from all members. This allows everyone on the team to share their insights and ideas, and helps build trust and camaraderie.’
You also have to support effective communication within your team and between individual members. This means providing mechanisms for effective communication, as well as providing guidance on what constructive communication looks like in your team. Much of this comes by modeling positive communication yourself - showing respect, listening to diverse opinions, etc.
Clear lines of communication make team members feel safe because they know how to voice concerns, seek clarification, explore new ideas, etc. Let team members know the appropriate place for different matters they want to address - for example, the weekly team meeting is the perfect place to discuss new ideas, but a complaint about a colleague is better addressed immediately and in private.
A regular meeting schedule can also help team clarity and cohesion. It can be tempting to skip these when you’re busy. But a daily or weekly huddle with your coworkers is very beneficial. It provides a channel for you to share useful information with your team, but also keep your finger on their collective pulse.
How are they progressing towards goals? What’s causing them issues? Is there something different you should be doing? Two-way conversations like this can resolve issues quickly and collaboratively, and strengthen team dynamics.
Team meetings - where every member feels safe, respected, and able to contribute - can generate innovative ideas and solutions to problems. They’re also great for team development and bonding - a place for sharing successes, spitballing new ideas, and airing any issues before they fester.
Make sure meetings aren’t just about business. Take time to celebrate successes and learn more about the person behind the profession.
When working hybrid, choose the right time and place for different types of communication, advises Andrew Dipper, Senior Marketing Consultant at Engagement Factory.
‘Organizations need to consider when and why people go into the office. Going into the office is perfect for creative, collaborative activities - when you need to bring groups together to brainstorm ideas, for example. It’s also better for those personal, private conversations you might need to have.’
You should also be aware of different communication styles and preferences within your team. For example, some people prefer email while others would rather jump on a call. Don’t be afraid to try different ways to communicate. Recording a Loom video or leaving a voice note might be easier for someone to digest than reading a lengthy written memo. If it doesn’t work… ditch it. At least you’ve tried.
Working in an international remote team like we do at Runn? There are benefits to asynchronous communication too, as Rowan Savage, our Co-founder and CTO explains.
‘We do a lot of async communication. When someone asks a question, people can take a few days to respond to that. And while there are negative sides to that - such as it takes longer to make decisions - the positive side is that people who normally don't get to speak up, get to contribute. So you suddenly get a lot more voices rather than just the loudest voices. Plus, it lets people stop and think about what they actually want to say. Do I even have something important to say or am I just responding because I felt like I have to? So I think there are really strong benefits of a written slow, asynchronous communication style over the standard.’
Our experts all agree on one thing - feedback is essential in the formation of healthy teams.
In dysfunctional teams, feedback might not be provided at all. This leaves individuals unsure about how well they’re performing against expectations, unable to resolve any problems, and likely to be blind-sided if issues are raised at a later date.
Without feedback, people have no opportunity to improve their performance, which can impact team productivity. And when they don’t get recognition for a job well done, it can undermine morale.
In contrast, healthy teams have constructive feedback systems that help individuals and the wider team improve their performance, develop new skills, and celebrate their successes together.
Amanda Painter, Co-author of a four-book series on team building and co-founder of Joy of Pursuit, says:
‘Team culture is based on relationships and communication. Those that do those components well will see a healthy culture as the result. Communication, especially feedback is critical. Feedback shouldn’t be considered a threat and should flow freely up and down the hierarchy of an organization. Also, there should be intentional opportunities to gain and provide feedback.’
A key word here is ‘intentional’. When providing feedback, it’s important to remember what you want to achieve by providing it. Typically this will be to
To achieve those goals, your feedback needs to be timely. It isn’t helpful to hold onto feedback until a quarterly - or even annual - performance review. Aim to provide feedback in as close to real-time as possible. That doesn’t mean watching over someone’s shoulder all day - but perhaps adding a standing item to your weekly meeting agenda for shout-outs to the team.
Choose the appropriate setting for feedback and deliver it in line with different team personalities. If you have difficult feedback to deliver, it may be best to wait until you can do so privately and face-to-face. Whereas positive feedback could be public and shared via email.
As a leader, you shouldn’t just be giving feedback, of course. It’s also essential that you receive it.
360 feedback is the process of receiving feedback from every angle - your managers, your direct reports, and others in the organization. It is a great way to understand and improve your own professional practice. And how you deal with the feedback is also an opportunity to model positive professional behavior for your team - listening, assessing, and acting.
Casey Jones describes their approach to feedback at CJ&CO.
‘Having a positive feedback system in place is also crucial for a healthy team culture at CJ&CO. I regularly schedule 360-degree feedback, and have an open-door policy to encourage constructive feedback and continuous learning and improvement. If someone isn't happy about something or has ideas on what we could be doing better - I want to know! And I want the rest of the team to know as well, so we can all learn and progress as a collective.’
You should also get feedback on your team culture if you’re consciously trying to cultivate it, as Anthony Mixides, Managing Director of Bond Media, explains:
‘It is essential to regularly assess how your employees perceive your company's culture in order to make adjustments as necessary. Instead of waiting until there is a problem, leadership teams should obtain feedback on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be a formal or complicated procedure. Culture should be discussed openly in team meetings, company gatherings, and one-on-ones between managers and direct reports.’
It sounds obvious but everyone is different. From contemplative introverts who need time and space to think things through, to outgoing extroverts who thrive on interaction and team energy.
In a work setting, the differences between professional personalities can become a source of conflict. But by identifying different working styles - and proactively seeking to accommodate them - you can help your team work more effectively together.
There are several well-known ways to identify different work personalities. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, for example, identifies people as one of 16 personality types based on introversion extroversion, decision-making, information collection, and how they view the world.
This results in a four-letter description of their working style. For example, an INFJ is the ‘advocate type’ who approaches life with deep thoughtfulness and quiet consideration. Whereas an ESTP is the ’entrepreneur type’ who is energetic, action-orientated, and leaps before they look.
There are other approaches - like the Birkman method - that assign colors to people based on similar criteria. A very basic interpretation of this method is that
Each personality type brings something valuable to the table. But looking at even this basic assessment of work personalities, you’ll be able to see the potential for conflict.
A task-oriented red can easily become frustrated by a thinking blue, and vice versa. The red can think blue is delaying taking action and the blue can think red is rushing into things. But whilst blue may be less likely to voice these concerns, red will have no such qualms.
When we asked our experts about how to create a healthy team, almost everyone mentioned trust. Trust between team members as well as trust in the team leader. So why is trust so important?
Firstly, collaboration is based on trust. Trust that if you contribute to a team task, your colleagues will contribute equally. Or that if you challenge someone, it won’t be held against you. Whilst this sort of trust may be given freely, it needs to be rewarded. A betrayal of trust can undermine willingness to collaborate in the future.
Trust also builds psychological safety, which is essential to pushing boundaries and developing new ideas. When team members feel psychologically safe - and able to be vulnerable with one another - they’re more able to:
Psychological safety is a complex matter. Their past experiences matter - especially if they’ve worked in dysfunctional or punitive teams in the past. Some team members may need extra nurturing to feel safe to contribute and bring their authentic selves to work.
Trust in you as a team leader is also important. It can take many forms. Trust that you’ll do as you say, that you’ll protect individual and team interests, that your decisions are well-informed… You can build this trust through professional integrity and clear communication about the decisions you make.
Your team also needs trust in their employer - trust that their hard work will be recognized, and that they’ll get a fair shot at new opportunities. If this trust is eroded, morale will drop, and performance may follow. Ensure that rules are applied fairly to all team members, particularly in relation to recognition and reward.
Resilience is the ability to recover from challenges and setbacks. To get knocked down and get back up again. In a team setting, it’s about brushing yourself down after something goes wrong and recommitting to the task at hand. It’s the ability to fail and try again.
It’s clear that resilience is essential for any kind of success. If teams gave up every time something went wrong, the wheels of industry would grind to a halt, especially in a landscape characterized by change and disruption. But some teams are better at weathering a storm than others.
Psychologist Carol Dweck studied the traits that enabled people to rebound from challenge and failure, and characterized this set of beliefs as a ‘growth mindset’. Writing in Harvard Business Review, Dweck explains:
‘Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation.
Try to steer your team away from binary thinking that they either ‘can’ or ‘can’t’ do something. Encourage a culture of experimentation and reframe ‘failure’ as a ‘first attempt in learning’. As Thomas Edison said ‘I have not failed. I've just found 1000 ways that won't work.’ This attitude encourages determination and innovation, which can lead to unexpected solutions.
Resourcefulness is also a key facet of resilient teams. Resilient teams are capable of working closely together to make the most of what they have. They are not afraid to think outside the box and test their ideas to find creative answers.
Another way to build resilience is through mentoring and mental health coaching. By learning more about mental well-being and techniques to improve it, they can strengthen their own resilience, and learn to support colleagues who may be struggling.
And, of course, as with almost all of the expert tips here, as a team leader, you can help your team develop resilience by demonstrating it yourself. A growth mindset and glass-half-full approach to even challenging tasks can help your team grow stronger and more resilient.
Read more about how to build team resilience.
Intra-team conflict can be highly disruptive. Colleagues lose faith in one another, perhaps even refuse to work together. Time is wasted on bickering and gossip. Unchecked, it can spread and fester.
Where healthy and dysfunctional teams differ is not in an absence of conflict, but in how they deal with it. Healthy teams surface conflict in order to resolve it, whilst unhealthy teams bury their collective heads in the sand. Indeed, ‘fear of conflict’ is one of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
Addressing conflict in a constructive way can strengthen trust and psychological safety. By showing that problems can be overcome without any negative impact for those involved, team members are more likely to raise and resolve issues in the future. Over time, this approach to conflict resolution means healthy teams are less likely to experience disruptive conflict than teams that sweep conflict under the proverbial carpet.
Lencioni recommends ‘mining’ conflicts to extract the source of the problem, reminding those involved that conflict can be productive, and giving them permission to speak on negative topics. Lencioni also points to the Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) as a way for leaders to identify different conflict styles, to help them resolve conflicts effectively.
Constructive criticism and challenge are similarly to be encouraged. Too much deference is one sign of a poor team dynamic. It can lead to an echo chamber or ‘group think’ that fails to generate new ideas. As the team leader, you need to encourage a certain level of conflict and critique - providing and enforcing clear rules of engagement.
Building individual and team resilience will support this goal. Robust conversations require resilient participants.
Finally, to create a healthy team, you need to create healthy boundaries between life and work. It’s important to recognize the value of your workers being well-rested and satisfied with their work-life balance.
Work-life balance has come under increasing scrutiny since the Coronavirus pandemic. As we’ve returned to work after our collective ‘dark night of the soul’, we’ve challenged the status quo and demanded more from life. Many organizations have responded with a raft of changes - from hybrid working and four-day weeks to increased flexibility and humanity in leadership.
Iryna Gazhala, Head of Recruitment at Belkins, a B2B lead generation services agency, explains some simple but effective changes post-pandemic.
‘The challenges we are facing due to the pandemic have made it even more important for us to create a healthy team culture in order to stay productive and motivated while working remotely. To this end, we have implemented various initiatives such as virtual coffee breaks, online team-building activities, and regular check-ins with each other so that we can stay connected despite being physically apart from one another.’
However, in some organizations, work-life conflict is still rife. Long hours and overtime. The expectation you’ll respond to work messages outside work hours. Unrealistic workloads. This can cause stress and lead to burnout if it goes on too long. In turn, this leads to reduced productivity, periods of sick leave, higher staff turnover, and low morale. Which doesn’t sound healthy at all…
Creating a healthy team means creating and maintaining work-life boundaries - like leaving on time, proactively addressing workload issues, and not responding to emails outside of work hours. It’s important that these are modeled and respected by team leaders and senior managers. You can’t expect a co-worker to relax in the evenings if you’ve sent an email marked ‘Urgent’ at 9 pm.
One simple mindset shift can help put work-life balance on the agenda in your business. Encourage employees to stop thinking ‘Have I worked hard enough to deserve a break?’ to ‘Am I well-rested enough to do a great job?’
This is our approach at Runn, as co-founder and CTO Rowan Savage explains.
‘We build a culture - and offer benefits - that try to allow people to live their best life and their happiest life. We operate an asynchronous work culture, which allows people to work when it suits them, so they fit their work around their lifestyle. Not the other way around.
That can be picking up kids from school. It can be going out mountain biking with friends. It can be sleeping in, you know. It can be traveling. It can also just be when you're not in the right mood to work. Sometimes you just can't get into the rhythm.
If you work in a nine-to-five job in the office, you have no choice. You just sit there being unproductive. We encourage people ‘No, go take the time off. Go do something else. You don't have to be here. You can be here when you are ready and you're happy when you're feeling engaged to do that.’
Want to hear more from Rowan? Check out this interview.
Finally, you can support work-life balance by keeping workload at a manageable level. Sometimes you’ll need staff to work extra hours to meet deadlines or control a crisis. But as the old saying goes ‘It’s OVERTIME, not ALL the time’. Working extended hours should be the exception, not the rule.
Proactively manage workload to ensure no one is consistently working over capacity. That’s the fast track to burnout, low morale, and reduced productivity.
If you’ve read this far, we know you’re an empathetic leader who wants the best for their team. And you understand how people-focused team leadership contributes to business success. You’re our kinda person.
With your focus on healthy team dynamics and individual well-being, you may be interested in Runn resource management software.
Hundreds of businesses use Runn to improve how they distribute work between their people.
There are too many benefits to go into them all here. But in terms of building healthy teams, Runn lets leaders:
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