Five Ways to Build an Effective Team

The following is an excerpt from a presentation Boise local office manager Derek Harris gave  at the Mountain Home Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. prayer breakfast on Jan. 19.DerekHarris Idaho Department of Labor

Today’s theme is Teamwork makes the Dream work – so how do you put together a team? I want to share some thoughts on what it takes to form an effective team – a team that’s committed to achieving your goals – or in our case, putting Idahoans back to work.

Foster a Culture of Collaboration

First make sure your office culture fosters collaboration – one made up of the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors shared by the group. It’s a powerful element that shapes your work environment, your work relationships and your processes. And if built correctly, your employees will look forward to going to work, feel energized, respected, valued and proud when describing their work to others. They will also enjoy and respect their co-workers more.

Assemble the Best Team Possible

The people Martin Luther King surrounded himself with were committed to a cause larger than themselves and motivated by a calling, a purpose, not their own immediate needs.

When assembling a team, never lose sight of the purpose. Assemble the team with your head, not your heart. And remember there is no “I” in we.  No one individual is smarter or has more ideas than the collective minds of a team.

When putting together a team, remember to look for these characteristics as you choose members: people who are enthusiastic, driven, have a positive attitude, a sense of humor and committed to your mission.

And if you are a member of a team or are joining a team (and want to add value), make sure you bring these qualities.


Keep Your Team Focused and Motivated

Make sure you as a leader set and communicate clear expectations to your employees. It’s what helps keeps us focused and motivated.

Team members and employees are also motivated and most satisfied when their needs and values are consistent with your workplace culture.

Hire the Very Best

If you make a bad selection or have a “misfit” on the team, guess what the lunchroom conversation is going to be about: not the BSU game, NFL playoffs, or Lance Armstrong. It’s going to be “what was Derek thinking when he hired this person?” Remember the adage, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch?”

A culture of collaboration is also built by selecting / hiring the right people, so put in the time and effort in up front to hire the very best people you can – people with different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, men and women. From the initial application until a new employee is hired, both the employer and the employees should work together to determine if the candidate is a good cultural fit.

Seek individuals with certain characteristics, people who are enthusiastic, driven, have a positive attitude, a sense of humor and related experience.

It amazes me how often employers tell us they let someone go because “they were not a good fit.” Hiring mistakes lead to additional training costs to replace that person, not to mention the impact it has on their unemployment insurance tax rates.

Ask the right questions

Asking the right questions during the interview will give you insight and usually that “gut feeling” if the person is right for your team/office.

Ask for internal referrals first. Include current members in the selection process who are familiar with the dynamics of the team and can identify people who will work well together. They also know their credibility is on the line, so they are inclined to make good referrals.

Enthusiasm plays a huge part in my selection process. Often it is not necessarily the person with the best skill set that gets the job, but the person who demonstrates the most passion for the work that we do. If you made it to the interview, I’ve already determined you probably have the skills and experience to do the job. I’m now trying to decide if you would be a good fit for the team.

Positive attitude– I can’t say enough about the importance of a positive attitude.  Attitude is a choice and it impacts others on the team. How many of you have seen something positive come from a negative attitude?  I haven’t (especially with my golf game). Negative attitudes attract negative results.

Another way to avoid making a bad selection is to hire temporary employees – One of my strategies is advertising an opening as “Temporary” which scares off a lot of potential applicants. I use this to my advantage because it helps screen out those not seriously interested in the work we do.  It also helps screen out job seekers looking to use the position as a stepping stone to get to somewhere else they want to work. I compare it to buying a car – I wouldn’t buy it without driving it first.  The same applies to new employees – I want to try them out first.