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Why team design works (and how to ensure team success)

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They may seem the same at first glance, but there’s one key difference between a set of individuals and a team—and that’s intention. 

You can gather a group of random people together and give them some instructions, but they’re unlikely to function effectively as a team without shared interest and collective effort. 

A team is a cohesive unit working toward a common goal. Achieving that goal requires communication, collaboration, and an understanding of the objective—and team design helps make all of that possible. 

What is team design?

Team design is the process of organizing individuals into a cohesive coalition—one that makes a concerted effort to achieve a shared outcome. 

Teamwork has a lot of advantages: combined brain power, complementary skills, and a broad range of information and experience, to name a few. Yet, it can also present a variety of challenges. 

Poor project management, dysfunctional communication, inconsistent instructions, and unrealistic expectations can be disruptive under any circumstances. At worst, those disruptions can be exponentially damaging to your organization, especially when multiple people (or teams) are involved or affected. 

Team design helps you structure a team and its goals in a way that minimizes disruptions and maximizes efficiency. By practicing team design principles, you can boost morale, improve engagement, and unlock a new level of team productivity. 

Why is designing a team crucial?

A well-organized team has the potential to achieve larger, complex goals by leveraging their collective skills, experience, and perspectives to generate new ideas, solve problems, and complete team tasks. 

Strategically designing teams can improve more than just your end result and bottom line; an effective team can also contribute to a more positive work environment and enhance the overall employee experience. 

A team that functions well offers individuals the autonomy to do focused work in their areas of interest or expertise. The leader of an autonomous team trusts their teammates to complete their work in a timely manner, knowing that everyone’s individual contributions and collaborative efforts will result in a successful outcome. 

The most effective teams tend to share a few common traits, including a foundation of trust and awareness, clarity around team roles and decision-making authority, and an understanding of the communication styles and behavioral drives of team members.

Learn more:

What does the team design process involve?

There are many different decisions involved with the team design process, including: 

Type of team

Determining your team function is critical to optimizing how you get work done.

For instance, project teams will have members working on different tasks toward the same outcome, and are usually designed to last for a short duration. Problem-solving teams are also generally temporary in nature, and are formed to tackle a specific issue. A self-managed team doesn’t need a team leader or project manager, and its members are responsible for every aspect of the decision-making process, including the division of labor.

There are many different types of teams, and deciding which best suits your objective is the first step of successful team design.

Team composition

Your team size is another critical factor in the art of team design. Very large teams can be difficult to coordinate and tend to make team management more challenging. A large team, or a very complex project, may need to include subteams to work effectively.

It’s important to align the size of your team with the complexity of the project so that workloads can be evenly distributed. 

Diversity of team members

Some teams consist of team members that have a similar area of expertise (such as an engineering team); for other projects, however, you may need a wider range of skills and experience. A cross-functional team, for instance, brings members of different departments together to work on a shared objective.

Behavioral diversity is another critical part of the equation. When a team consists of people with the exact same behavioral makeup, you may lack the “balancing” personalities needed to think holistically and make objective decisions.

It’s important, then, to design teams that feature a diverse set of behaviors, competencies, and experiences. In doing so, you can maximize brainpower, identify potential obstacles, and mitigate them before they become a problem.

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How to design a high-performing team

Every team needs a few basics to get started, such as clear direction, task delegation, the right resources, empowerment to make decisions about their work, and smart performance goals. However, the basics are just the bare minimum. 

Designing a high-performing team requires a deeper understanding of the participating individuals and their communication styles, behavioral drives, and experience. Knowing how and why different people work the way they do offers important clues about how they will all work together, which provides valuable insight into building a productive team.

According to talent optimization principles, leaders should consider the team as a whole instead of the skills of each individual contributor. Team members are the stars that power your organization, and failure is more likely to occur if those stars don’t align. 

The most effective teams are designed to support collaboration, clear communication, and accountability. Strong team leadership can serve as a foundation that fortifies the group dynamic around those essential elements.

Leadership skills that improve team performance include: 

  • Enforcing company protocols
  • Setting quality standards and measurable goals 
  • Encouraging tactical problem-solving
  • Mentoring and motivating team members 
  • Encouraging open communication and collaboration 
  • Demonstrating empathy 
  • Acknowledging hard work and challenges 

High-performing teams operate on trust and awareness. Team members that rely on one another—and understand what needs to happen, when, and how—are more invested in their contributions and have more confidence in the overall outcome of their combined efforts. 

Learn more about designing high-performing teams: 

How PI can help support team design

The world’s leading talent optimization platform, The Predictive Index helps you hire ideal candidates, inspire their best work, and keep them engaged—all crucial elements of the team design process. 

  • PI Hire: Hire the right people for the right roles using science-backed behavioral assessments.
  • PI Design: Maximize productivity by designing teams that leverage people’s behavioral superpowers. 
  • PI Diagnose: Get candid employee feedback using our pulse surveys, and build a world-class culture. 

With PI, you can make teamwork measurable and transform any group of individuals into a cohesive team designed for success. 

Put talent optimization to work for you, and turn every team into a dream team. 

Ashley McCann is a content writer who specializes in the things that matter most to people. She loves travel, the Oxford comma, and those tiny kitchen cooking videos.

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