If we’ve learned one thing from the global COVID-19 pandemic and new ways of hybrid working in its aftermath, it’s that teams and team effectiveness are more critical than ever.  While managers and human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) professionals have long known about the benefits of having a positive team climate, for many organizations that have historically focused on individual capabilities and performance, the lack of team cohesion has come as a surprise. The dramatic rise of videoconferencing as a way of doing business even for local teams has made it abundantly clear that as hybrid work is here to stay so is the need to focus on team effectiveness. Disengaged team members quickly become disengaged employees with significantly increased chances of leaving the organization entirely.

Decades of research has shown that team climate and effectiveness are important factors for determining high performance, yet organizations have typically focused on individual effectiveness and development instead.  While leadership development programs often include a cohort-based component where a team project (e.g., an action learning approach) might be a central facet, the emphasis is typically on being a better leader or manager and not on building effective teams from within the group.

As the old school interventions of “ropes and rocks” and “trust falls” are no longer as meaningful with team members facing social distancing and videoconferencing, managers have struggled with how best to align to a common direction, energize and motivate, and establish new ways of working together.  Sure, personality assessments and other measures of team dynamics can be fun and even helpful if they are based on research (such as the Hogan). But that is only part of the equation. What organizations are looking for now is a holistic framework for enhancing team effectiveness that is accessible to all and can be implemented throughout an organization.

What Makes a Team Effective?

The key to widespread adoption of a new framework is making it meaningful and actionable for managers, and trainable for HR and L&D professionals. Once an organization has a consistent framework in place, they can roll it out in the same way they communicate other large-scale cultural initiatives such as vision and values or leadership models. While there are many different approaches and models of team effectiveness readily available, these can all be captured in five key areas.

  1. Set a shared direction and strategy. Managers are bombarded with advice around creating an inspirational message or guiding strategy. But often overlooked is describing how the team’s goals ladder up to the organization at large. In other words, team members ask the question, “Does our work really contribute to the organization at large?” The focus here is on linking the team outputs to the broader business strategy and ensuring each team member can articulate the shared purpose and objectives.
  2. Understand unique skills and styles. Team members need to have a solid understanding of how others can help drive performance. But building camaraderie and understanding is deceptively difficult and is perhaps one reason why this space is overflowing with consultancies ready to assist beleaguered managers. This is where well researched personality tools such as the Hogan Suite can add real value.
  3. Perfect the process. Norms and ways of working are the heart of teamwork, and managers need to make expectations loud and clear for every team member. But beyond managers, team members need to have the tools and processes to maximize their performance together. Team norms are also critical in establishing ways of working together particularly in the context of hybrid work.
  4. Engage and energize. An engaging team atmosphere is maintained by celebrating the success of the team, with watchouts being conflict avoidance or improper resolution. Engagement is contagious, and when other teams see the level of commitment and passion teams have when working together, it sets a high bar for others to perform as well. Of utmost importance here is working constructively and establishing trust in one another to do the right thing for the team and the organization rather than focusing solely on themselves.
  5. Re-evaluate and reinforce for results. The best teams constantly review their performance and tweak methods to be more effective. Looking in the mirror can be difficult but making it a habit enables success. Often this requires an emphasis on learning within the team, not only from within but also outside with respect to other key stakeholders. A best practice here is ensuring that team feedback happens on a regular basis and shared objectives exist for everyone to work together even better in the future.

Team Effectiveness at PepsiCo

PepsiCo, a global consumer products organization known for excellence in developing leaders, faced what is increasing becoming a familiar challenge.  In response to the chief of human resources’s ask in 2020 during the covid pandemic for an equally compelling model to the organization’s popular GREAT5 Leadership Model, a new emphasis on teams was launched.

Based on research and best practice sharing both from within the organization and benchmarking with other companies, the Talent Management Center of Expertise put these five dimensions into practice.  These have been described at PepsiCo as the SUPER5 framework for effective teams and has been very successful in the first few years since its launch.

The SUPER5 model is very intuitive, and parts will be familiar to many — but rarely do teams manage to do all five things well or track their capabilities over time. The nice thing about the approach is that any organization can use this same framework by tailoring their own internal offerings under each element.

Where Is the Best Place to Start?

While all five of the areas are important, they are not all equally important at every stage of team development. Sometimes it is best to enter at the S stage when a team is forming and moves through the framework. With more established teams, however, or when new members join it might be best to begin with the U stage or even E say if a new manager has joined.

What Is the Role of the Manager in Building Effective Teams?

The most important thing a manager can do to enhance their team’s effectiveness is to dedicate time and accountability for improvement. It’s not hard, but it does take commitment. This can be done by:

  • Conducting a team audit via survey, focus groups or interviews of the team member perceptions about each of these five areas. External stakeholder surveys or focus groups can also help shed light on the functioning of the team and how they engage with others in the organization.
  • Sharing the results of this diagnostic with the team in an open, transparent and engaging way that ensures team members can internalize the results and create a felt need for change.
  • Create an action plan and accountability timeline for making changes (which might be in any one or more of the five areas) which will lead to better functioning and performance of the entire team.
  • Integrating a focus on team effectiveness and progress against those shared objectives for improvement as a part of regular staff meetings, and sharing that effort with the broader organization via functional meetings, town halls, etc.
  • Finally, role model expectations and behaviors themselves that are consistent with the shared norms, objectives of the team and encouraging a “productive challenge” approach for team members calling each other out when they are not demonstrating the positive behaviors.

What Is the Role of HR and L&D in Building Effective Teams?

While managers and team members are the most visible team builders, HR and L&D are responsible for sowing the seeds and monitoring progress and change.  Managers need guidance and coaching, and HR and L&D professionals can fill that role. They can also help measure progress for leaders (by collecting data pre- and post-interventions), and for the organization through storytelling. By doing so, HR and L&D can help build accountability for change long-term and models the shift from a solely individual development focus to a team effectiveness mindset.

Finally, HR and L&D leaders can build capability for the organization — both in managers and in other business partners. Skilled professionals can be ready to handle some of the toughest or highest profile team issues in house. By developing a cadre of “black belt” coaches in team effectiveness, HR and L&D can ensure a seat at the table and putt talent management capabilities in the spotlight.