A Simple Guide to Building a Great Team

Richard Wills
Richard Wills
December 16th 2019 - 5 Minute Read

There is a myth that a single visionary is required to build great products. Rubbish. Great teams build great products; moreover, in my experience, the greatest teams prioritise and nurture a healthy and positive internal culture because they understand it is critical to success.

I’ve worked with many teams over the years, ranging from small private sector firms to gigantic public sector organisations and I have become obsessed with the differences between a successful team and a merely effective one. Inevitably what makes or breaks a team depends on its ability to evolve skills and competencies while remaining fastidiously creative. However, simple adaptability is not enough. In an ever-changing hyper-competitive landscape, what I’ve found to be even more important is the value of laughter, empathy, a collective responsibility and a distinct lack of ego.

My personal measure of success has been creating teams and cultures in which people love to come to work, and visitors remark how positive and creative it feels.

The following, is a sneak peek at some sections of my guide that helps make a workplace happy, functional and sustainable. Of course, these headings will ebb and flow to varying degrees and should not be considered concrete rules. Rather, these behaviours serve as a guideline for creating a consistently positive, and as a result, a consistently more creative place to work.


Say Good Morning and Good Night

Sounds silly I know, but politeness dictates that when you walk into a room that you say “Hello” and when you leave say “Goodbye.” It’s not that complicated. But this common courtesy is important and plays a functional role in an office.

Because teamwork is naturally collaborative there needs to be some type of announcement that declares, “Here I am. I am going to contribute.” As someone who leads and listens to a lot of teams, I often use the way in which somebody says “Good morning” as a barometer of their mood. It tells me how they are feeling without me having to ask.

Alternatively, it is important that we end the day with “Goodnight, I am leaving.” Practically speaking it is good to know when someone leaves because you don’t know if they will return the next morning. Seriously though, “Goodnight” is something we tell our children, our partners and our parents. Invoking a ‘goodnight’ upon departure subliminally colours the family with a similar familial spirit.


Be Optimistic, Embrace Failure and Laugh More

Successful business people know that success comes with constant iteration. Iteration means failure and repeated failure. The challenge then becomes, “How do you deal with repeated failure?”

The answer is constant optimism. It is a key ingredient to iteration. It fuels the persistence and tenacity necessary for sustaining the creative process, especially during challenging times. For example, the difficulty of innovating within a large organisation reflects a work environment where people often say, “No” or “I don’t understand” because change in corporate culture is often uncomfortable and slow. As a result, negativity must be confronted and countered  –  not just in a brainstorming session or during a proposal – but on a daily basis.

The role of laughter in an effective office also cannot be understated. Laughter can be exclusive or inclusive: how one defines the role of laughter within the office defines the office itself. If we cannot laugh at and laugh with, then we cannot function.

  • Laughter deflates conflict when a moment becomes too serious.
  • Laughter invites participation and draws a team closer together.
  • Laughter offers a rallying cry (“Laughing in the face of adversity’), especially when “The Business” asks the team to “do more with less.”
  • Laughter leads to creativity.
  • Laughter is serious business.

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Eat Together as Much as Possible

What applies to a family often applies to an office. I was raised in a household that believed, “A family that eats together stays together.” There is something so natural and primitive about coming together to eat. People (even overly serious, so-called managers) let their guard down when they eat – and that’s a good thing. History supports this observation. Great bands, movements and many great businesses have all started around a kitchen table – invariably with wine – but I’ll save my blog “The Value of Alcohol” for another day.

Lunchtime marks a natural pause in the day and becomes a great opportunity for conversation and ultimately creativity. Eating at your desk or in one’s cubicle seems so awful to me and far too solitary for a culture tied so closely to collaboration. Instead, find a table so that members of the team can eat together as a group – doing so will bring a team together. Therefore, an office should prioritise eating together. You are bound to learn something about your colleagues or yourself.


Good Offices Build Good Walls

It is important when you walk into any office that you feel as much as see what is being built – the office should crackle with creative energy. Specifically, I believe you can determine the health of any workplace simply by looking at its walls. Here you should see pictures of team experiences, successful products, customer’s testimonials, you name it.

The benefit of getting stuff out of your computer and onto the walls of an office are as follows:

  • Increases Visibility: Walls move work from the virtual to the physical world, allowing it to become even more visible, interactive, tangible, and environmental.
  • Facilitate Conversations: Walls facilitate conversation and informal reviews because people naturally gather in front of them.
  • Grows Collective Ownership: Walls create a culture of collective ownership because they invite people to literally build upon the ideas of others.
  • Facilitates Iteration: Walls with heavy layering reflect healthy projects because they show that there have been several iterations to the work.

An office’s walls are living walls. Their viability depends on gardening and nurturing to foster creativity and productivity. This analogy extends to both their creation and destruction —both seeding and harvesting.

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Meet in the Open

There are very few highly confidential things in an effective office, so why go in a room and close the door? Instead, move most conversations out in the open. They will be better as a result.

Conversations in the open allow others to tune in, tune out or overhear what is going on. Sometimes people, not initially part of the conversation, will spontaneously jump in, taking the conversation in a new and more interesting direction.

Moreover, if there are difficult things that people need to say, maybe they will pick their words a little more carefully if conversations take place out in the open. The potential for damage and offense is much greater behind closed doors, than out in the open.


Everyone Leads at Some Point

I don’t believe you should bind line management with creative leadership. If you do, a team will quickly become subservient and will do only what they are instructed to do.

This style of management also contradicts the very nature of creative teams, which at their heart are amorphous, tangible, evolving things. You can shape them and deflect them and nudge them in the right direction. They need to be “fed, watered and nurtured.” Sometimes they are weak and sometimes they are robust, but they always need love.

At any point everyone should feel the responsibility, or the opportunity, to lead. It is so important to be collectively responsible. No one person can lead dynamic projects effectively in an office because they are never two-dimensional.

This also creates collective accountability, generating a feeling that at least one piece of a project belongs to an individual. Thus, at any moment a member of the team should be able to point to the project as say, “We made this and I did that.”

There are other headings under my philosophy including competition, bring the outside in, no idiots allowed, put up a mirror, mind your language.

So the greatest teams do all of this. Does your team? What can you implement to help improve things?

I can help you get there, as can my friends at The One Question who as well as being outrageously passionate about helping businesses go above and beyond, they can help you discover the only system in the world that measures and manages your employee happiness in real-time. I recommend that you give them a shout to find out more.


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Richard Wills

Public speaker, trainer, motivator, strategic thinker and lover of everything EQ

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