The Responsibilities of Management Series, #6: Build Teamwork that Works to Win

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 18, Issue No. 1a
May 1, 2019

By Dan Coughlin


True teamwork is difficult to build in sports, and it’s even harder to build inside of a business. However, the benefits for the individuals and the organization are well worth it.

I define teamwork as a group of individuals who support one another toward achieving meaningful objectives and fulfilling a meaningful purpose.

This is so easy to type and so hard to create for any length of time.

There are four parts in building a team:

  • A clear purpose as to why the group exists.
  • Measurable and challenging outcomes for the team to achieve.
  • Individuals who have the abilities to do the work that needs to be done, the values that support the desired culture for the organization, and the desire to apply their passions and talents toward fulfilling the purpose and achieving the objectives.
  • A willingness on the part of the individuals to actively support each other even if it means hurting their own individual recognition and rewards.

That is a lot to ask of any group of people. When it happens, the participants never forget the experience. They talk about it many years after it happened. They look back at this experience of teamwork and the results that were generated with fond memories of a magical time in their lives.

Keys to Building Teamwork

Clarify the Purpose

You can either clarify the purpose of the group before the members are recruited or you can do it after the group has been assembled. Either way the group needs a reason for existence before they will ever become a true team.

Answer any of these questions, “Why does this group exist? What will be better off as a result of this group’s existence? What will be worse off if this group never existed?”

Don’t copy your purpose from another group. Really think about it, discuss it, clarify it, and then communicate it over and over and over. Talk about it in conversational language, not some high-falutin statement that only a professional wordsmith could craft.

In sports this is easy. We’re working to win the Super Bowl. In business it’s not always so easy. You need a purpose that people can rally around. Take the time to clarify it.

Establish Meaningful Objectives

What are the measurable outcomes you need to achieve to show progress toward fulfilling your purpose? What are the three to five measurable indicators of progress that the whole team can work toward achieving?

Make sure these objectives are challenging but realistic.

Measure them on a regular basis.

Communicate to the whole team how it is doing in terms of these measurable objectives.

A purpose is deeply satisfying, but you need measurable outcomes to really know if you are making progress at all.

Select Team Members Carefully

Not every person is right for every team. You need specific attributes in order to build the type of team that you want to build.

I suggest you need to answer these questions to find the right type of person for your team:

  • What does the person need to be able to do well in order to do this job?
  • In order to fit into our culture, what does this person need to believe is so important that it drives his or her behaviors on a consistent basis?
  • How can this person use his or her passions and talents to make a meaningful contribution to our team?

Create an Environment of Supporting Each Other

This is one of your most important jobs. In your words and in your actions you will either guide the group toward supporting one another or you will guide the group toward working in silos and looking out for themselves to the detriment of the team.

The way you talk about team members, especially behind their back, will impact whether they feel safe in supporting team members or feel in danger.

The way you highlight the achievements of the group will either send a message that it’s all about individual stars or it’s about the team efforts.

The way you work to support the group will either send a message that you truly care about the team or you truly care about yourself, your reputation, and your future career.

People will imitate the path you set. I encourage you to really think about sending messages that show you applaud people’s efforts to support each other in fulfilling the purpose of the team and achieving the desired team outcomes.

Keys to Ruining Teamwork

Maintain Contempt toward Team Members

Dr. John Gottman has conducted more than forty years of research into relationships and marriage. He has discovered that the number one reason for divorce is contempt, where one person has an attitude of superiority toward the other person and expresses this sense of superiority in dismissive, disdainful, and demeaning statements.

I believe Gottman’s work applies to business groups as well. People will work incredibly hard to help other people on the road to achieving something extraordinary and meaningful. However, the wind flies out of their sails when they feel the other person has an attitude of contempt. If they get a sense that this person feels he or she is better than everyone else and looks down on everyone else, then the teamwork begins to crumble. People fall into small packs and waste an enormous amount of time in complaining about The Contemptuous Ones.

Promote Your Personal Agenda Items

If people get the idea that you have two or three issues that are important to you personally, and that you are working the group to achieve what you personally want accomplished, the teamwork will disintegrate.

The manager plays an incredibly important role in the creation of teamwork. The manager has to set aside his or her personal agenda and work with the group to fulfill a clear, meaningful purpose and achieve important objectives. The manager is the guide for the group to become a team. If it’s partly about your personal agenda, you have lost your credibility as that guide.


It is worth it to build true teamwork in an organization.

It is hard work to build true teamwork in an organization.

Stay the course and you can do something that people will look back on twenty years from now and be thankful that they were a part of that group.



Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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