How to Build a Successful Team: A Manager's Step-By-Step Guide to Get Started

How to Build a Successful Team: A Manager's Step-By-Step Guide to Get Started

Every manager wants a team that makes their role easier by solving problems and working together collaboratively. You don't want to spend each day putting out fires or breaking up arguments. What you need is a successful team that you can encourage to do remarkable things for your organization.

Building that team takes time and patience, plus the ability to recognize a good organizational fit. There's no "perfect" team waiting out there for you, but you can find the right people to fill the roles and skill gaps you face. This guide is to help you get on the right path by:

  • Defining a successful team
  • Discussing what qualities will help you in your search
  • Offering 14 steps to build a team and help them succeed
  • Noting what works for team development
  • Giving suggestions for how to put these elements into practice

Let's start with understanding what a successful team looks like and why success can be found in many different group settings, makeups, and orientations.

What are the characteristics and qualities of a successful team?

When we talk about a successful team, we're speaking of one that works together well, is able to accomplish company goals, and is encouraging to each other. This can help you reduce turnover, improve the quality of your work, and make the job of managing much easier.

The makeup of your team will change over time, but here are the characteristics and qualities you want to maintain in order to stay successful:

  • Goal-oriented: Teams need to share goals and results in order to work together. By being goal-oriented, your team will naturally lend itself to more collaborative efforts in order to reach that common purpose.
  • Share accountability and ownership: When teams share these aspects, they celebrate wins together and avoiding blaming any one individual for a problem. Everyone contributes and helps when a team member needs it.
  • Eager to learn: Businesses change constantly and often rapidly. When your team is ready to embrace changes and learn something new, you'll have less trouble adopting best practices, new software, or meeting other business requirements.
  • Diverse: Diversity of experiences, personalities, and characteristics creates teams that are more resilient and better able to help customers and solve problems. Diversity can help a team from getting stale and falling into ruts.
  • Communicate well: Communication is essential to getting any work done. However, great teams take this a step further by being open about what works, where an issue is, and sharing opinions to improve things. When managers work to keep communication positive and productive, their teams flourish and tackle projects together.
  • Support each other: If your team members are happy to help each other, they're building positive relationships that foster support. This can reduce turnover rates and keep projects on schedule, even if issues arise. Teams are also more productive when they get support from you—remember, you're a part of the team too!

14 steps to building a successful and effective team

Managers need a team they can rely on to perform their duties successfully and consistently, so they can plan larger moves to protect and grow their organization. Your team's makeup will be unique to your needs, but there are some common steps to finding and maximizing the talent available to you, whether that's local or remote.

Here are 14 steps specifically designed to help you build a reliable team that’s driven to helping you succeed.

1. Set organization goals and start planning

Leading managers rely on goals for their hiring and team management efforts. These serve as guides to help you to start thinking about how to meet business needs. Clearly define your goals, such as landing more clients or improving the success of the next marketing campaign. Then, review past efforts and your current situation to see what you need to do to address these concerns.

From there, you'll want to start making your plan to achieve these goals. Plans touch on the people, processes, equipment, and relationships needed to address all aspects of your goals. This will help you see any gaps or adjustments you need to make.

2. Define the roles within your team

Creating your plan will give you a list of business needs. Address them by defining who’s responsible for each aspect of your goal. These assignments translate to the specific roles your team needs. If you have an existing team, see who can fill each role and adjust assignments accordingly. If you're hiring, look for skill sets to meet each role and the experience required to perform those tasks.

Defining roles and responsibilities can make an enormous difference in your team's success because everyone knows what’s required of them. People can tell if they're meeting goals and tasks, and will know who to ask for help when the need arises. Roles also help your staff understand how their performance will be evaluated, and meeting those expectations can improve morale.

3. Maximize the skills of your team member

A strong leader knows and utilizes the skills and strengths of each team member. Your goal is to do this with each employee individually while also identifying where people have complementary skills. Review the capabilities of each person on your team, including their strengths and weaknesses. Giving someone backup or a partner who excels where they struggle can keep morale high and limit workplace frustration.

Your employees want to be on successful teams. Providing this help empowers them to do their best while also minimizing your turnover risks.

4. Embrace diversity

Diverse organizations not only perform better but operate more cohesively and improve internal relationships. Your key is to approach diversity in a variety of ways. You want team members who come from diverse backgrounds and have multiple ways of accomplishing tasks.

Diversity covers inherent characteristics such as age, race, gender identity, as well as learned or acquired characteristics including life experiences, socioeconomic circumstances, and communication style.

Look for staff who are diverse in many ways to help you create a team that tackles each problem from multiple vantage points. It'll help you address concerns that your customers may have or discover a niche with a need you can fill.

One of the best skills for any manager or leader is the ability to listen. Give your team members time and space to express themselves, especially in areas related to diversity. This communication will help you best understand how you can meet their needs and realize skills and capabilities you may have overlooked.

5. Set expectations from day one

After setting roles, you want to tell your team what it looks like to meet their goals and requirements successfully. Expectations for positions as well as work on individual projects helps your employees understand what they need to do. Clearly defining expectations from day one will help you keep projects on track and shepherd them to completion. It also helps avoid delays and complaints that someone didn't realize a certain task was their responsibility.

The key to setting expectations is communication. Tell them directly what you want from them and provide direction on getting started. If your team is self-sufficient, then create times for them to bring issues to you. If team members are new to their roles or the workforce, make sure they know how to update you and fellow staff when each aspect of their work is complete.

6. Allow your team to take risks and experiment

Taking risks helps your team grow and find innovative solutions to existing problems. You may uncover something that works better or is more affordable than current methods, or even unlock a new area of business. Or you might not.

No risk or experiment guarantees positive results. As a manager, your job is to guide these efforts to keep them reasonable for your company and protect the bottom line. However, when you allow someone to take a risk, you'll want to reward that behavior regardless of the outcome. Encourage them so that people feel confident to try something new. You'll also get to see how different employees drive their work when put in charge, reinforcing your understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

7. Celebrate successes and failures

Beyond allowing teams to take risks, you'll want to celebrate them, too. When your team meets a goal, praise them. You couldn't have accomplished everything on your own, so take time to thank them and acknowledge their actions.

Employees need recognition and appreciation:

  • Recognition is based on performance. You're celebrating the results they achieved or that they made an effort. It’s about something that has been finished, such as getting a project in on time.
  • Appreciation is focused on who the person is. You're celebrating the person they are and what that brings to the team. This could be a willingness to try new things, how kind someone is, or their ability to help the rest of your team do well.

Learn who your employees are and celebrate who they are. This allows you to maintain a positive atmosphere even if a risk taken doesn't turn out well or misses a sales goal. Appreciation makes your team more likely to stay, and there are great opportunities to celebrate your team even when everyone is remote.

8. Promote individual development

It's very likely that your team wants to continue to grow in their roles, capabilities, and career. Many will find life satisfaction in their work. Foster that by encouraging them to take the next steps in their career and develop as individuals, not just as a person at your company.

Employee development can also help your team gain the skills the organization needs to continue on its growth trajectory. As a manager, part of improving your role and skill set is laying the foundation for individual development. Some methods to consider include:

  • Offer professional training on software, tools, and best practices
  • Bring in coaches to train leaders on management skills
  • Encourage people from different teams to work together and build cross-department relationships
  • Give employees time to pursue outside education opportunities, such as relevant certificates
  • Have workshops on soft skills, such as communication, relationship building, collaboration, and trust

Many companies also encourage outside activities that promote a positive community or culture. Consider allowing team members time to donate or volunteer, or starting company efforts for local charities.

9. Avoid micromanagement

Constantly staring over your team's shoulder can set them on edge or make them more worried about you than about completing their tasks. Looking at every email, listening to all calls, and interjecting at any moment will prevent them from feeling trusted and can reduce both effectiveness and your turnover rate.

Allow people the freedom and self-determination they need to get their work done, based on what's appropriate for the role. Someone working in a kitchen has specific tasks that must be done in a certain order, for example, but your sales team's goal is often to hit a quota, which gives flexibility in when and how they sell.

Let your team complete tasks with some autonomy and have regular meetings or requirements for people to report that status. Autonomy is a desired workplace perk and can help your team deliver more value to your organization.

As an added benefit, this will free you up to finish your own projects more quickly and effectively.

10. Motivate your team with positivity

Your team is going to face problems throughout the year. How you respond to these issues will impact how much they trust you and each other, as well as how honest they are when the next issue arises. Build trust and help your team feel protected by remaining positive in your reactions and motivation.

Just like encouraging risk-taking requires celebration of failure, motivation after a problem requires positivity. Support your team respectfully and help them when they need it. Demonstrate that you understand the work they're doing and discuss how it improves your company.

You can get people to take risks and improve their performance when they know these behaviors are encouraged and that failures don't come with public humiliation. While negativity may get you some short-term rewards, it tends to do institutional harm to your team and company over the long term.

11. Establish strong leadership

Your ultimate goal as a manager is to be a good, strong leader. That can mean many different things to different people, so let's set a quick definition. By strong leadership, we're talking about the ability to bring your team together to accomplish unified goals while inspiring them to take their personal careers to new heights.

Strong leaders have more effective teams, better communication, and are able to resolve issues more quickly. You're not only leading by example, but you're helping people to enjoy their work and take pride in it, leading to improved productivity.

Establishing strong leadership is about first looking inward. Define your strengths and weaknesses, and ask for help where you need it. This includes admitting to your team when you make a mistake. Honesty creates a solid foundation and encourages your team to regularly communicate with you (another pillar of good leadership and great teams).

Our final note on strong leadership is that you need to take responsibility for the team. When something goes wrong, discuss it and own it, especially if a higher manager or executive has an issue. Protect your team. When something goes wrong within your team, pursue a solution instead of blame.

12. Create a team culture

Your team will be more effective when they share a vision of what they want to accomplish. Getting everyone on the same page for goals and how they are achieved creates room for cooperation and planning. Creating a "big picture" helps everyone understand what you're striving to do and enables them to take risks to achieve it.

This vision is a core component of your culture. Company culture is a shared set of goals, ideals, and attitudes. It defines what you want your team to achieve, the methods to meet those goals, and how people within the team will behave.

When your team agrees with your culture, they're more likely to enjoy their jobs, build better relationships, and perform better.

13. Foster connections within the team

Team building exercises can feel hokey, but they work when they create connections within your team. People get to know each other and create bonds that allow them to work better together. Your job in this is to set some activities, not just icebreakers, for your team to engage with and monitor them to keep things appropriate and positive.

Interactions can be small and simple, such as asking people what they did over the weekend or what they're watching. Or you can get more involved and try some light-hearted team building activities to help everyone feel more comfortable with each other.

If you're unsure how to start these connections or are struggling due to the rise of remote work, consider asking your team to look at photos together online, for example.

14. Communicate frequently and effectively

Every other step in our list is built on the foundation of communication. We've saved it for last because it's always good to remind yourself that you need to communicate clearly and frequently.

Effective communication sets goals for your team, helps them feel encouraged and can identify issues before they become big problems. Something as simple as a Slack message in the morning asking how a project is going or if there's a bottleneck can help you tackle an issue and remind your team that you’re there to support their efforts.

Clear communication is also how you ensure that your positivity and celebration are received. Think about how you can thank someone directly and how you can communicate it to the whole team. The nuances you use for that whole-team discussion will help you understand how to frame concerns as well. Instead of blaming someone for taking a risk, you can get the team together to discuss what happened and how to make improvements for next time.

Positive communication will rally the troops when they need to be inspired and help your team members achieve their goals.

Starting your new team journey

If you're looking through our 14 steps and are ready to try them on your team but realize you have some gaps to fill, it's time to start your search for new talent. Upwork provides an effortless way to access global talent, fill specific skills gaps, or discover innovative minds to keep you fresh.

Start building your new team today in just a few minutes by creating a job post on Upwork or getting help from a Talent Scout.

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Author Spotlight

How to Build a Successful Team: A Manager's Step-By-Step Guide to Get Started
Geoffrey Whiting
Writer and Business Analyst

Geoffrey has worked as a writer and analyst for more than a decade, focusing on how businesses can improve talent, services, and operations. Thanks to platforms like Upwork, he's worked with some of the largest software, shipping, insurance, and internal audit firms in the world.

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