Teaming up for success

By Teri Saylor

Good teamwork is developed over time through training and practice. These tips can help managers build an effective team culture and develop exercises to keep it running smoothly.

Practice regular communication. Every team needs to keep up with regular communication, whether it is a sit-down meeting or a quick huddle. "Building a team is not a 'one-and-done' event. It's ongoing and part of a team's communication language," said Elizabeth Cipolla, founder of The Change Agent-SEE Leadership Company and an adjunct professor at Jamestown Community College in New York. "Regrouping doesn't have to be a big meeting or drawn-out episode. It can be a commitment of just a few minutes at a time."

Develop trust. To develop trust, professional leadership coach Michael O'Brien of New Jersey-based Peloton Coaching and Consulting likes to use an exercise called "But/And." "We do a lot of 'but-ing' when we provide feedback to employees. This exercise is very simple. Just replace 'but' with 'and,'" he said, and gave an example: "Hey, you're doing great, and I know you can be even greater."

Build a strong foundation. Cipolla recommended an exercise that asks team members to name one or two effective leaders in their lives or careers. "Even on a large team, most people can't name more than one or two," she said. "That's because most leaders don't build their teams effectively. The magic is not to wait until you see signs of problems to start team building. As a matter of course, you practice this every day."

Empower your team. "Provide a checklist of discussion items or tasks to do and allow teammates to work through it themselves," Cipolla said. Creating a team charter is also a step toward empowerment. While it is important for the department head or CEO to provide clear direction so employees will know why the team was built and why they are on it, "creating a mission, vision, goals, and objectives gives the team a sense of purpose. They own their charter, and ownership is essential to accomplishing goals," Cipolla said.

Embrace difficult conversations. Provide leadership through clear communication and consistent messages, even when having difficult conversations. O'Brien recommended trying to create agility with conversation by asking curious, open-ended questions. "If you need to have a difficult conversation, develop empathy and try to understand how the other person might feel when the conversation is over," he said.

Reach past resistance. Generally, when employees show up for a team-building exercise, some of them will be eager while others will be resistant to change, according to O'Brien. Dealing with skeptics is a natural part of team building, he said. "At the core, most people are eager to improve the workplace and create a better culture. With a focus on trust building and active listening, the doubters will begin to feel comfortable gravitating to the positive side," he said.

Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared as "6 Tips for Creating an Effective Team Culture," CPA Insider, Nov. 5, 2018.

— By Teri Saylor, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, the JofA's associate director, at

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