Understanding team effectiveness: Mural’s guide for managers and team leaders

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
December 7, 2023
An image of a team working around a table outside on a restaurant patio
Understanding team effectiveness: Mural’s guide for managers and team leaders
Written by 
Bryan Kitch
December 7, 2023

We’ve all been on bad teams before.

Whether due to a lack of trust in leadership or other teammates, poor workflow structure, ineffective communication, unreliable tools, or other external factors, low-performing teams can hinder your company’s success.

Remote work can exacerbate these problems, but thankfully, technology has provided some solutions. However, it’s not just down to technology — you need to combine technology with methods that help make collaboration effective, cutting through the noisy world of modern work and getting to the meaningful stuff. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll teach you the meaning of team effectiveness and how to create an environment in which teams’ working relationships can thrive. By learning about the potential roadblocks and the reasons team effectiveness is important and ways to improve it, you can hit the ground running within your own organization.

Team effectiveness and potential roadblocks

In 2002, renowned psychologist and Harvard professor J. Richard Hackman published a book titled Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Hackman studied the traits of effective teams — from flight crews to musical groups — and came up with five key factors that created successful teams. These factors of the Hackman model are: 

  • Being a real team: Being bounded (defining who’s “in” and who isn't), being stable (consistent membership), and being interdependent (relying on each other to accomplish work goals)
  • Having a compelling direction: A clear path that energizes and engages members
  • Being structured to enable teamwork: Work design, group composition, and core conduct norms that foster team performance
  • Creating a supportive context: Being a part of an organization that provides the necessary resources, information, and reinforcement of good teamwork
  • Practicing expert coaching: Leadership that can develop the team and help them continually improve

Hackman says that team effectiveness can be determined by three criteria:

  • Output (performance): Meeting or exceeding expectations
  • Ability to collaborate: Team cohesion and working together well
  • Learning and well-being of each member: Individuals develop new skills and expand their knowledge, which leads to a sense of belonging

Fast forward a decade — Google sets out on a quest to discover how to build the perfect team. They called this “Project Aristotle” based on the Greek philosopher and his quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Over the course of two years, Google combed through countless resources and studied 180 teams to determine what made them work and developed a model of team effectiveness:

  • Psychological safety: Team members don’t worry about being embarrassed or punished for taking risks.
  • Dependability: All team members complete high-quality work on time.
  • Structure and clarity: Everyone understands what's expected of each member — and these expectations are challenging yet attainable.
  • Meaning: Each member feels a sense of purpose in the work itself or based on the results.
  • Impact: Everyone can see how their individual work contributes to their organization’s goals.

And there are even more team and group effectiveness models out there:

This isn’t even a comprehensive list — these are just the most popular. Regardless of the model, all of them place a major emphasis on a team’s structure, support, and purpose. And when any of these are lacking within a professional group of people, it could lead to significant roadblocks. Let’s dive deeper into what this could look like and how it could impact team effectiveness.

Lack of alignment

The first roadblock that may impede team effectiveness is a lack of alignment or the team’s understanding of your company’s mission and how shared goals and actions can add to (or subtract from) them. 

Poor team alignment can lead to a lack of a team vision, a negative effect on team culture, a lack of clarity between members and team leadership, and, of course, decreased team effectiveness.

Changing goals and objectives

According to LinkedIn Learning, the top priority of learning and development (L&D) teams this year is “aligning learning programs to business goals.” But if those business goals are constantly changing, how are L&D teams and employees supposed to know what to focus on?

When teams have too many — or shifting — priorities, none of them get the attention they need. Goals and objectives can’t be accomplished when the target is always moving. Most importantly, constantly changing goals will cause even high-performing teams to suffer.

Unclear or unrealistic expectations

It’s hard for teams to do their best work and perform efficiently if they don’t know what’s expected of them. According to the American Psychological Association, 48% of American workers’ stress levels were impacted by unrealistic job expectations in 2021, up from 43% in 2019. 

Additionally, a 2018 LinkedIn Learning survey of nearly 3,000 professionals shows that “the most frustrating thing a manager can do” is have unclear expectations. And, sure, this was 2018. But one can imagine that this has only increased with the rise of remote work and lack of IRL manager face-time.

Bottom line, unclear expectations create teams that aren’t on the same page.

Poor communication

Poor communication is perhaps the biggest threat to team effectiveness. According to an OfficeClip survey, a whopping 97% of employees believe communication affects their daily task efficacy, and 86% cite a lack of communication as the main cause of on-the-job failures.

Grammarly’s “The State of Business Communication” report shows that nearly nine in 10 organizational leaders have experienced the negative impact of poor communication. In fact, they found that communication breakdowns can cause U.S. companies to lose up to $1.2 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) each year.

Poor workplace communication can create unpredictability, team conflict, and low morale. These factors will cause productivity to nosedive as employees won’t be motivated to give tasks their all.

Why team effectiveness is important

The benefits of team effectiveness are vast. The book Teams That Work‌ — ‌The Seven Drivers of Effectiveness states that effective teams benefit from:

  • Sustained performance: The team can generate positive results over time.
  • Improved resilience: Teams can work through challenges and recover from setbacks.
  • Increased vitality: Teams can maintain energy and vibrancy and harness these to use for future success.

But these aren’t the only benefits. Let’s take a look at three additional reasons team effectiveness is important.

Happier employees

An Atlassian survey shows that when personal openness, honest feedback, and mutual respect — important factors of team effectiveness — were encouraged within teams, members were 80% more likely to report increased emotional well-being.

Accomplishing goals gives team members a sense of meaning and purpose and keeps them engaged and interested — all factors that lead to increased happiness. And happy employees are more productive employees. Researchers from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick found that happiness makes people approximately 12% more productive. 

An overall positive attitude can help teams overcome a variety of hurdles. It can help teams build trust and enthusiasm and bond them on an emotional level. 

Smarter risk-taking

When employees work alone, they may be less likely to try something risky (that could have a huge payoff for the company). But when teams are working together effectively, they’re all in it as one. They have each other to fall back on for support in case of failure. 

If teams never take risks, it can limit their ability to be creative and innovate, leading to decreased potential and performance. Creating a psychologically safe space (more on this later) allows teams to take well-planned risks and then analyze them together to determine their success.

Lower risk of burnout

According to an Indeed report, more than half of people (52%) feel burnt out. And it’s likely common knowledge that sharing the load can help people feel less burnt out. 

Just in case you’re not convinced, one recent scientific study concluded that a “surge in teamwork quality leads to reduced emotional exhaustion and reduced depersonalization while simultaneously increasing professional accomplishment.” And what is teamwork quality if not team effectiveness?

So now let’s talk about ways to improve it.

7 ways to improve team effectiveness

Now that you know why team effectiveness is important, discover how you can improve it within your own organization.

1. Encourage your team to take ownership of their work

If you want to encourage your team to take ownership of their work, you need to get your employees involved in all aspects of it. Here are some tips for encouraging employees to take work ownership:

  • Share your vision: Help your employees feel part of something larger than themselves.
  • Involve teammates in the goal-setting process: Seek out team members’ ideas and let them help in the decision-making process.
  • Explain the reasoning: Tell your employees why and not just what they need to do.
  • Be open to different work methods: If it’s possible, allow your team members to decide how they want to accomplish business goals.
  • Give them some power: Bring team members into leadership positions when you can, even if it’s just in meetings.

When people have a direct connection with the process, they’re much more likely to participate and take pride in the outcome.

2. Choose tools that promote transparency and collaboration

An infographic on EduBirdie shows that almost 75% of employers think collaboration and teamwork is “very important.” And the only way that teams can work together effectively is by using tools that facilitate collaboration.

Communication tools like Slack and visual work platforms like Mural help to keep team members connected and on the same page, even if they’re not physically together in the same space. 

Other collaborative tools that can increase transparency include:

  • Project documentation strategies
  • Shared calendars
  • Work and project management management platforms (Airtable, Asana, ClickUp, Trello, etc.)

More transparent communication leads to better teamwork, which leads to more effectiveness.

3. Set clear team goals and expectations

As we mentioned in the first point, it’s good to get your team members involved in the goal-setting process. Allowing teammates to participate in the process connects them to business goals on a personal level. And when people are personally invested, they’re more likely to stay committed to team success and the success of the task.

If you want to set clear goals for your team, they need to be SMART. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

SMART goals not only help you define your objectives and expectations but also identify any potential strengths and weaknesses.

4. Share wins, losses, and learning opportunities

Creating and fostering team effectiveness requires you to first define what's considered “effective” and celebrate it when your team hits the mark.

Once you determine what's “effective,” make sure you’re providing your team with timely and specific feedback that highlights their contributions, strengths, and achievements. Sharing wins, losses, and learning opportunities — even if they’re your own — helps boost employees’ confidence or redirect them when necessary. Transparent feedback also helps to reinforce a positive company culture.

5. Build processes that facilitate collaboration

We already touched on tools that you can use to promote collaboration and transparency, but team processes are a different beast. If you really want to promote free-flowing ideas and open communication within your team’s interpersonal relationships, try the following:

  • Develop a mentorship program: Let your teammates learn from the best so they can give you their best.
  • Build your teams strategically: Make sure you have the right players in the right places.
  • Get team members involved in hiring and onboarding: Give them a say in who they’re going to work with to make sure it’s a good fit.
  • Offer training: Ongoing educational efforts can keep your employees' problem-solving skills sharp.

When you build processes that facilitate collaboration into your workflows and goals, you’re setting your team and your company up for success from the start.

6. Keep teammates’ psychological safety in mind

As we mentioned in the beginning, psychological safety is one of the factors of team effectiveness. Teammates need to feel comfortable taking risks and feel they’re safe enough to work through tough situations or problems without being “punished.” If your team members have a fear of conflict at work, it may be a sign their psychological safety is threatened.

When employees feel safe, they’ll be more likely to take risks — these risks could lead to greater innovation for your company. Team members who feel empowered within their positions have greater enthusiasm for their work, which leads to greater team effectiveness.

Psychological safety also includes team members having a sense of belonging within the company. According to a BetterUp study, when workers feel like they belong, it leads to a 56% increase in performance, a 50% reduction in risk of turnover, and a 75% decrease in team member sick days.

7. Lead by example

Be consistent with what you’re saying and doing because your employees are paying attention. Inconsistency can lead to an absence of trust, and team effectiveness is largely based on trust.

Your team is looking to you as an example of success within the company. So, if you can model the right behavior, your team will likely follow. Here are a few tips on how to lead by example:

  • Create an inclusive environment.
  • Demonstrate accountability for your actions.
  • Offer a variety of team-building and personal growth activities.
  • Put your people first.
  • Avoid micromanagement.
  • Remain flexible.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Value authenticity.
  • Step in and cover for team members if needed.
  • Show employees that you love what you do.

Avoidance of accountability, especially from leadership, can be detrimental to your performance results. Don’t lead from an ivory tower — lead from the front lines. If you show your team you’re in it with them rather than above them, you’ll build trust naturally.

Give your team effectiveness a boost with Mural

Team effectiveness and team development are based on a variety of factors that you, as an organizational leader, are responsible for. Whether it’s for brainstorming, gathering feedback, or planning projects, your team needs the right tools in order to work at their highest level. 

Along with the other collaborative resources we mentioned (and some we didn’t mention), you can empower yourself and your team to succeed with Mural. Because, after all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.