August 14, 2022

Strategic Team Building

Who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know is on third.” - Abbott and Costello

To avoid confusion similar to that in Abbott and Costello’s classic comedy act from the 50's on organizing a baseball team, as a manager it is important to consider team building, structure and planning strategically.

When you find yourself in conversations around roles and responsibilities with your team members or manager (or yourself) where you notice you don't really know what's going on at your bases, it’s time to think about your team building more strategically.

Strategic team planning starts with considering your team’s purpose and goals, then considering the team structure, which will impact the team's ability to achieve your team objectives and goals. For example, you will want to consider your team's resources, roles, bandwidth, individual strengths, competencies, and blind spots.

Once you know your team’s objectives, it's important to find clarity around roles and responsibilities, expectations and goals.

Research suggests that self-directed teams that make strategic decisions (both autonomously and collectively) around role definitions, resourcing, and hiring often have higher job satisfaction and showcase higher levels of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). This, in turn, contributes positively to employee engagement.

Hiring top talent is not a commodity. There is a war for talent, especially in certain industries such as tech.

Attracting talent, retaining talent, and prioritizing succession planning, are key elements to creating continuity of the team and creating great team culture.

Continue reading to learn how strategic team building can increase clarity and efficiency and can help with engagement, retention, and ability to recruit and retain high potential talent.

Defining your Team Purpose and Goals

When it comes to thinking strategically about the structure fo your team, we recommend starting with purpose and goals. This forces you to define what you want to accomplish and why.

Consider these questions:

  • What role does my team serve within the organization?
  • How do we add value and to whom do we add value? Who does our work serve and how does it serve them?
  • What would it look like to do our work really well and be highly impactful?
  • What are our current goals, metrics, KPIs or OKRs? Why do they matter?
  • What is our purpose?

When defining your purpose and goals, there are a few more things to consider.

For example, are you about to build a new team or do you already have team members?

If you already have a team, your team should be brought in on the discussion of team purpose and goals.

Not only does this help make sure all team members feel involved, it also ensures that everyone is on the same page and has the same understanding of what that purpose and goals are.

To bring your team in on this discussion you can h
old a brainstorm session discussing these topics.

In this case,
no prep work is required and there are no wrong answers. It's just about exploring options. Here's how to prep: 

  • Send the questions ahead of time for everyone to consider their current assumptions and then look for commonalities amongst the group
  • Present your assumptions on the questions for discussion or adjustment

To determine how you want to discuss team goals, consider your team culture. How to do you generally communicate? In what kind of settings do your team members generally do their best work?

After you have determined the purpose and goals, it is your job as the manager to ensure these goals are ingrained in everything you do. For example, consider how the impact how your team works with other stakeholders in your organization, how they interact with customers, and much more.

When you lead strategically, rooted in purpose and with clear goals, you are leading to inspire, motivate and engage.

Clarifying Current Roles

Once you have the purpose and goals of your team before diving into promotions or hiring, go back to our original question: who’s on first? Clarifying roles of your team members can help to gain a strategic understanding around:  
  • Ownership and decision making
  • Current capacity and bandwidth
  • Opportunities for better alignment and efficiencies
  • Opportunities for individual growth and development
  • Future staffing and resourcing needs.

A holistic overview of the job descriptions on your team will help you identify where the possible gaps in the team's collective skills, strengths and competencies may exist and think about how to bridge those gaps.

Take a moment to consider the individual roles and what ownership means on your team. Take into account all of the work, responsibilities, and projects your team has. Do you know who owns what? Who makes decisions? Do you know how your team spends their time? What are their responsibilities? What are their priorities?

An easy way to start answering these questions is to pull the original job descriptions from when you hired everyone or to pull out their latest performance review.

You should pick the output that makes the most sense for your team culture, but we recommend going old school here and creating actual job descriptions. Consider having a brief description of each of your team members responsibilities, areas of ownership and metrics for success written down and maybe
shared with everyone on the team.

This is also an opportunity for you to clarify your own role; it can help to share your responsibilities when you are asking your team to discuss theirs.

Career Mapping and Job Crafting

Your team members are your foremost resource. While clarifying current roles, it is important to consider each team member's strengths, skills, and opportunities for growth.

  • Are their talents and potential being fully utilized?
  • Do they have a clear vision of their growth opportunities within your team?
  • Are there competency gaps on your team that could be filled by one of your current team members?

Strategic team building means thinking about how to use the resources you have to their maximum potential and reflecting on how your team can get the most benefit out of a specific team member's skills and strengths.

To kick-off 
career-mapping, start with your purpose and current roles. What are the needs of your team and how will those needs expand and grow? How will you need your current team roles to grow? Where do team members have opportunities to grow throughout your team?

The short version of this could be that you anticipate your team will need to expand as your customer base grows.

Accordingly, you will need more individual contributors, managers, 
and leaders and want to begin identifying the competencies and responsibilities required for those roles.

The long version could be a well mapped out compensation and promotion structure for each role tied to responsibilities and competencies and your great company career maps. What do you really need for your team to be more strategic on your team growth? Work with your HR team or coach to answer this question.

You should also consider how to include your team members in this conversation. Where possible it can be beneficial to involve employees in a discussion of career mapping within the team and company and even to invite a discussion of job crafting.

In her 
study, Wrzesniewski discusses job crafting and suggests that employees who are invited to contribute and edit their job description into something they want to do and find meaningful work are happier and more satisfied in their jobs.

Job crafting essentially means allowing team members to rethink and edit their responsibilities to allow for small changes to their task to allow their skills and interests to be more actively utilized in their jobs.

Connecting Objectives with Team and Company Goals


Aligning employees with the organization’s strategic goals has become increasingly important as organizations struggle to promote retention, ensure consistency and speed of execution, and gain or sustain a competitive advantage.Boswell, W.R.,  Boudreau, J.W

Employees who understand the company and team’s strategic objectives -- and how their individual actions contribute to those objectives -- are more likely to feel engaged, involved and able to make faster, more strategic decisions that contribute positively to team and company objectives.

Yet, a large number of employees don’t fully understand their company's business goals and strategies. They also don't understand what's expected of them in order to help achieve company business goals.

Aligning on the goals - and the actions required to reach those goals - is key. To help you ensure that the right actions are being taken, map out what specific actions an employees role entails, will

Connect the individual team member's role and responsibilities to the team's goals, the company goals, mission, and vision to help each team member see and understand the purpose and impact of their role and their work. This also provides a layer of accountability.

Talent Management, Hiring and Succession Planning


"There is no single or universal contemporary definition of “talent” in any one language; there are different organizational perspectives of talent." Carole Tansley

Talent management involves thinking strategically about how to maintain, cultivate, and retain talent.

Understanding your team member's skills, strengths and opportunities will help you assess how you can best manage your talent. Talent management also means thinking about how you can acquire the best talent to round out your team.

Hiring takes time...a lot of time! Before hiring more people, reflect on the output of your current team. If your team is too busy, oversubscribed, or not as efficient as you need them to be, consider why this is the case. 

How would a new team member or new role serve your team’s purpose or goals? Why does this larger or different team structure matter for your overall team success?  

Once you understand the necessity of a role, consider

  • What are the responsibilities of this new role?
  • Do you have job description already?
  • Does the job description need to be edited?
  • What are the actions and behaviors required of the role that needs to be filled?
  • What are the values you look for that align with the company and team values?
  • How does this role fit into your current team structure?
  • What are growth opportunities for the role? How does it fit into any career mapping you have done?

With the highly competitive market for talent, its more important than ever to be strategic about how you are keeping your team members engaged, motivated, and connecting with the purpose of work.

Yep - It's a super long email. Save it in a good spot to read when you need guidance on how to manage your team of individuals.
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The Job Description (Marlow)
Description: Your job description is your written agreement between you and your manager

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