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Highlights | How the best teams find success 

  • Organizational psychologist Ryan Fehr, PhD, shares his tips for building and sustaining effective teams. 
  • Successful teams have attentive, caring managers at their core. 
  • Employees should model the behaviors they want to see in their colleagues. 
  • As an employee or a manager, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. 

Working on a team can come with difficulties, from potential conflict between team members to miscommunication with your manager. However, it is possible to effectively work as a team to meet your goals — and find success while doing so. 

Ryan Fehr, PhD, an organizational psychologist and professor of management at the UW Foster School of Business, says that an effective team is the sum of its parts. 

“A group of effective individual contributors won’t excel without systems in place to ensure that the team works well as a unit,” says Fehr. “This means thinking carefully about team processes, such as how the team collaborates, works together to share information and how they leverage each other’s strengths.” 

Fehr shares his top tips for building and sustaining effective teams. 

Managers, set the tone

Effective teams have strong relationships at their core. As a manager, it’s essential to take the time to build these strong relationships with each of your employees.  

Fehr says that when team members can trust and relate with each other, they become more satisfied with the team, more committed to the team and develop a culture of “psychological safety.” 

“A psychologically safe team is one where team members feel comfortable speaking up, expressing their perspectives and taking risks,” says Fehr. “An unsafe team, on the other hand, is one guided by discomfort and fear, where team members are constantly worrying about how they are perceived, and where differences of opinion often lead to personal conflict.” 

To create a psychologically safe team, managers can start by encouraging their employees to speak up and share their perspectives. One of Fehr’s favorite recommendations for managers? Show appreciation for your employees. 

“Acts of appreciation can be as simple as a quick thank you at the end of a meeting, or as involved as personal, handwritten notes to employees at the end of the year,” says Fehr. “The goal is to infuse your daily interactions with signs of appreciation both big and small, so that over time it simply becomes a part of the way your team works together.” 

Employees, model the change you want to see on your team 

Team members can help keep their team effective and efficient by modeling the types of behaviors they want to see in their teammates. 

This includes, Fehr says, helping your teammates when they’re struggling, clearly communicating your perspective on important issues and ensuring that any conflict that arises remains in a place of constructive disagreement.  

It’s OK to have different opinions than those of the people you work with, but conversations should come from a place of mutual respect. 

Breaking habits to foster growth 

It can be challenging, but Fehr suggests that team members do their best to avoid “groupthink.” 

“It’s easy for teams to fall into comfortable patterns and trust each other so much that they stop thinking carefully about what the team might be doing wrong and what the team might need to do to improve,” says Fehr.  

The most effective teams have strong, collaborative environments but also feel comfortable bringing up — and working through — any disagreements about how the work should be done. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help 

In an ideal world, everyone would feel comfortable having an honest dialogue with their leader about their struggles. But sometimes, that’s not always possible. 

“If an employee feels uncomfortable speaking about their struggles within the team, it can also be useful to speak with someone outside the team, such as a trusted mentor,” says Fehr. 

Sometimes, an outside perspective can help you identify a path forward — and get you one step closer to practicing habits needed to sustain your part in your team’s success.