lighthouse counsel logo
Developing as a Team

Developing as a Team

February 20, 2024
Howard Cohen

Good teamwork requires coordination, communication and cooperation among teammates. Unfortunately, too often “teams” are little more than collections of individuals who happen to report to the same leader and who meet together on a regular basis at the leader’s direction. 

Members of the group may lead or manage different parts of an organization and thus may see one another as rivals for resources or for their leader’s time and attention. Members of such teams may see their teammates as competitors and often tend to see their relationship with their team leader as one-to-one only.

The challenge for the leader of such a collection of direct reports is to transform it from a group of competitors to a cooperative enterprise with a common agenda. As we saw in Blog Post 8, “The Agenda,” the staff meeting is the place in which teamwork can solidify over time. But what if the attendees don’t yet see themselves as true teammates working for the good of the organization as a whole, with the best chance of succeeding personally if the team as a whole does?

The transformation in attitudes and orientation should begin with an assessment of the extent to which the “team” works as a team. I say “should” because you are not likely to improve what you don’t measure. 

We tend to be practiced at how to measure the strengths and weaknesses
 of individuals, but not so practiced at how to measure the strengths
and weaknesses of teams.

Unlike personal staff reviews, evaluating a team’s effectiveness is a job for the team as a whole. It can be the first step in becoming more than a collection of direct reports. In other words, this is not a task for the team leader alone.

If this idea is new to you, you may need help in thinking through what to measure. I would suggest a questionnaire focused on the following dimensions of teamwork.

Communication Needs ImprovementMeetsExceedsDon’t know
1.  Team members share important information 

2.  Communication among members is thorough

4.  Members listen well to one another

5.  Members protect confidential information

6.  Team members consistently shares meeting results with the organization

Interpersonal Relationships:Needs ImprovementMeetsExceedsDon’t know
1.  Members seek out feedback, constructive criticism from others on team

2.  Members are able to change their positions based on feedback

3.  Members are respectful of other members’ views

4.  Members demonstrate a high level of professionalism

5.  Members make time available to other  members outside a team meeting

6.  Members are able to resolve conflicts that arise in a meeting

Team Leadership:Needs ImprovementMeetsExceedsDon’t know
1.  The team is able to establish a focus and direction

2. The team is regarded as an organizational leader

3.  Team members publicly support team decisions

4.  The team is perceived to embody the organization’s vision and values

5.  The team is seen as committed to the organization’s strategic goals

6.  The team demonstrates pride in the organization

Meeting DynamicsNeeds ImprovementMeetsExceedsDon’t know
1.  There are an appropriate number of meetings

2.  Meeting participation is high

3.  The meeting follows an agenda that has been distributed in advance

4.  All team members participate appropriately

5.  Meetings result in decisions and actions

6.  Meetings address important issues

Decision Making:Needs ImprovementMeetsExceedsDon’t know
1.  The team establishes goals and milestones

2. Team goals are measurable

3.  The team leader assigns responsibility for implementation of decisions

4. The team uses effective processes to arrive at decisions

5. The team monitors its own performance

6. The team demonstrates the ability to make corrections

7. The team leader encourages innovation

8.  The team is an effective change agent

My suggestion is that the first assessment be conducted by an independent external consultant. Results should be reported in aggregate. Neither the team leader nor anyone else in the organization should see individual responses. Outliers will be able to self-identify by comparing how they know they responded to questions against the aggregate data the consultant provides to the team. If the team develops to a level of high trust, they may be able to conduct this exercise on their own at some time in the future.

There will be a lot to digest in the collective response to this questionnaire, probably too much to absorb and address all at once. Initially, I would recommend that the team identify the top five things it collectively believes it does best and the top five things it collectively believes most need improvement. These items could be the beginning of a discussion about how to become a more effective team. The discussion should be forward looking. The idea is not to assign blame for past ineffectiveness but to decide what to do to become better. It might make sense to have the outside consultant lead the discussion.

The use of a collective assessment tool keeps the team focused on how its success
depends on working together to achieve collective goals.

 Individual team members still have their own parts of the organization to manage, and they are still accountable to the organization leader to manage them well. However, the collective assessment is a reminder that taking care of their own domain is only part of their job. For the rest of it, their success also depends on the success of their teammates. 


Howard Cohen

Howard is chancellor emeritus at Purdue University Northwest. His career in higher education has spanned more than 50 years. His areas of practice include strategic and academic planning, department chair leadership, leadership team development and organization structural transformation. Howard has held academic appointments as a professor of philosophy and administrative appointments as department chair, program director, dean, provost and chancellor, serving at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Purdue University Northwest and SUNY Buffalo State. He formerly was a senior associate and executive director of AASCU Consulting, a group that works primarily with public regional universities. Howard’s teaching and research interests have focused in the areas of social philosophy and ethics, as he addresses questions related to the obligations of those in positions of authority who make decisions for others. He is the author of two books — “Equal Rights for Children” and “Power and Restraint: The Moral Dimensions of Police Work” — and numerous journal articles. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Minnesota and masters and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Harvard University.