An Aware Team is an Effective Team

By Dr. Francis Eberle

One of my clients recently asked for help improving the effectiveness of his team. He reported that the team was not readily sharing information, not treating each other with respect, and not pitching in when one member was unable to complete his or her work.

These concerns probably sound familiar. I see them, or some version of them, often in the companies I work with. So how can you overcome issues like this and create an effective team?

The ADP Research Institute recently completed a study of teams, and discovered that the key to increased engagement is not in the perks, but in people. Data continues to report that effective teams have several things in common: a clear sense of purpose, a commonly held notion of what’s important, feelings of psychological safety, and confidence about the future (The Power Hidden Teams, Harvard Business Review 2019).

When I work with teams, I start by having the team reflect on what has worked and not worked in the past, and I take measurement of each team member’s perceptions of the current situation. With that information, I begin to focus on building psychological safety and a clear sense of purpose for the group through increasing self-awareness, awareness of others, and an understanding of how these behaviors affect the team.

Self-Awareness: We often think we know ourselves well, but building self-awareness takes time and is more complicated than simply spending time in self-reflection. When you rely on self-reflection, you are using only your own knowledge. Two simple tasks—asking others for feedback and a taking a self-assessment—can provide new data for self-reflection.

When it comes to feedback, be specific with your questions. Asking, “How am I doing?” will likely result in “Fine,” “Great,” or “No worries.” But asking, “Will you watch me and tell me if I interrupt others when they are talking?” is a focused question that will get you results.

There are many self-assessment tools on the market. We use the TTISI Talent Insights assessment because of its scientific basis. Whichever assessment you choose, it is helpful to have a coach debrief it with you and your team members. This fosters connection between the team and helps them understand how their behaviors might impact the group as a whole.

Awareness of Others: Once team members have insights into their own behaviors and motivators, connecting that knowledge to others on the team is key. I like to give teams an opportunity to learn and interact with each other around their assessment results. I find that the more they discuss their reports, the more they begin to connect their own tendencies with those of their teammates, and they start to uncover how it is affecting the team as a whole. I tell them to spend time thinking about the impact on their larger departmental team as well as their smaller work groups, asking questions such as:

  • What similarities do you have?
  • What differences do you have?
  • What are the implications, from the knowledge of your team behaviors, when there is a deadline, making decisions, or seeking all voices?

An assessment tool lowers the barriers to communicating about the challenges teams experience. It also allows for the creation of team reports, which map out and compare team behaviors in a single report, to enhance the focus on the differences and similarities. This helps teams become more familiar with each other and what they can do to improve their interactions. If the team assessment reveals team gaps, such as conflicts or a lack of communication, then specific actions can be taken to bridge those gaps.

Effective Teams: Teams need constant nurturing, just as any relationship does, as they are subject to regressing over time. In Andy Johnson’s book Pushing Back Entropy, he recommends renewing team awareness and ongoing cultivation of a team, particularly when a new member joins or someone leaves. Any type of transition or change impacts the way the team interacts.

One impactful way to nurture teams is through experiential activities designed to get them out of their comfort zone. These exercises can seem like a game, but soon participants realize that their behavior during the activity actually mirrors their behavior in the office, during meetings, on projects, and more. A thorough debrief of the activity can solidify the message of what they need to change.

A final step to providing a path forward is writing a team covenant or charter. A charter is designed to describe the team’s goals, the way they will do the work, and actions they have committed to. If done in sync with the goals of the organization, it can provide intrinsic motivation and higher engagement. The charter can be posted in the room where the team regularly meets and act as a reminder and an accountability guide.

Many times, teams just need to get reacquainted and become better aligned with what they want to achieve. A process for generating thoughtful reflection and building trust opens the way for identifying who they are and why they come to work.

When I took my client’s team through this process, new workflows were created, and new communication patterns emerged, improving the team’s performance and morale. They have become more confident in their work and were reminded of why they work at the company. They have been using a common language, which causes alignment and results in achieving more as they work together.

If you’d like to talk to Francis about improving your team dynamics, email him at