5 steps to building a winning team

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In my last article I described five different team types including the Winning Team. The Winning Team is the one that gets exceptional results. Results which benefit the organisation(s) and clients they serve.

(And they get results without exhausting themselves. That’s an important distinction as many teams get great results but at significant personal cost). 

These teams pay equal attention to their tasks and their people. They know when they need to blaze a trail and when they need to take the foot off the brake.

These teams have brave and honest conversations about the things that matter. They celebrate success. They focus on ‘how’ they are working together as well as what they are doing.

And it goes without saying that everyone in a winning team believes in what the organisation stands for. And that’s just for starters!

So how do we build a winning team?

Well it really depends on your starting point!  But whether you’re a newly formed team or a team that is more ‘mature’ – there are five things that you MUST do.

  1. Decide where you are now and where you want to be. Not winning at all?  Close to winning?
  2. Clarify your common purpose – and focus on it every day;
  3. Be sure you have the right people in the team;
  4. Agree behavioural norms for your team;
  5. Focus on building and growing trust (this is not a ‘one off’).

But first things first….

I must stress that becoming a winning team generally takes persistence, time and determination.

It’s not a quick fix which is why so many ‘team building days’ don’t deliver any significant and sustainable results.

So this work is a marathon rather than a sprint and you need to dedicate time to it – monthly, quarterly, yearly. It will pay dividends in the long run.

If you ‘don’t have time’ for this you’ll never become a winning team.

The role of the leader in creating a winning team

The first task is to look at where you are now and where you want to be - and define the word ‘Winning’ for your team.

Or – on a scale of 1-10 how close are you to being a Winning Team?

Yes, it’s a ‘down and dirty’ exercise but it focuses minds on where there might be gaps.

There may be a huge amount of things that need to change for you to become ‘Winning’ or there may be very few. Don’t try and change everything all at once. It’s better to take one step at a time. 

So if you’re a ‘4’, what would need to happen for you to get to ‘5’?

The key here is to focus on the things that you CAN influence and change – you may need support, guidance or advice to change them but nonetheless you are in the driving seat.

If something is completely outside your control or sphere of influence – shut up and move on!

What is your Common Purpose?

It’s easy to ‘assume’ that your common purpose is clear.  But purpose is often forgotten in all the organisational ‘noise.’

Here are three questions we give teams to help them get clarity on this.

1. What is this team (WE) here to collectively achieve – and WHY do we exist? (This is your common purpose.  Can you articulate this in a sentence or two?  The WHAT and the WHY are both important).  You need to be able to answer this question before moving on to the other two.

2. Does this common purpose translate into clear, complementary performance goals for everyone in the team – which they find motivating, stretching and purposeful? 

3. Is your common purpose in evidence in everything you do (every conversation, every interaction, every decision, every task)?  If the answer is no; two options.  Review your common purpose or stop doing the things that take you away from it.

When common purpose gets lost, conflict can emerge. This was very evident in a team we worked with recently. The team had become split into two silos for all sorts of historical and structural reasons (with the CEO being a rather bemused ‘piggy in the middle’).  Each silo was involved in points scoring, empire building and finger pointing. Ouch. 

Our role as team coaches was to help them work through some of the historical ‘baggage’, draw a line under it and help them re-focus on their purpose.

Was this easy? No. Did it take time? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The beautiful thing is, everyone in this team is absolutely passionate about the very important work they do – they’d just lost sight of it. 

We suggested they have a team norm (see below) around ‘common purpose.’

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear  

If you haven’t got people with the right level of competence, the right attitude and the right skills – and willingness to grow, develop and stretch themselves – then you might want to think about radical surgery.

Similarly if they are not bought in to your common purpose – why are they there? It’s not a nice message I know. 

There are too many teams where people have to ‘work round’ incompetent or difficult individuals rather than taking the bull by the horns.

If they can’t or won’t be trained, developed, coached or supported to improve – they have no place in your winning team.   As a leader it’s your responsibility to take the necessary action.

Team Norms

Team norms are a set of guidelines – decided by the team – outlining how they will work together.

The important thing here is that these are DECIDED BY THE TEAM. 

However there are two things that I think are of supreme importance.

Firstly the norms should create a level of psychological safety in the team (if people are fearful or guarded they won’t be operating at their best; they will withhold information and spend huge amounts of time simply protecting themselves and trying to survive.  Which won’t help you to be a Winning Team. )

Secondly, everyone in the team should have an equal opportunity to contribute (and therefore be heard) and to listen.

Examples of Team Norms

The team I mentioned above established a norm around common purpose.  They have an agenda item at the beginning and end of each team meeting (and each 1-1) which asks each of them to articulate how they will focus on ‘achieving our common purpose’ and review how they did at the end of the discussion.

Another team we work with created a norm around appreciation of each other’s contribution. Another, a ten minute ‘whinge session’ at the beginning of each meeting to ‘get stuff off our chest’ and then move on.

So you see there is no ‘laundry list’ here.  You have to decide for yourself what works for you and your team. 

We recommend establishing some team norms and then reviewing them after three months – what’s working and what isn’t – and shifting gear accordingly. 

Building Trust

When teams can have honest conversations without repercussions, they start to build or grow their trust in each other. 

And yet the fundamental topic of Team Trust is often a difficult one – if not an impossible one – for teams to get ‘on the table’.  It can feel intangible, ‘exposing’, too risky or too personal.

If you have serious, longstanding issues with trust in your team – issues that seriously impact on the team’s individual and collective wellbeing - I recommend you get some expert support.  This is costing you dearly in so many ways.

But for those of you who want to start a dialogue around trust, I recommend this simple and yet powerful exercise to start you off. (And by the way, the first place to start building more trust in the team is to show more trust in them).

Here’s the exercise:

Your team works in pairs with these three questions: (15 minutes each way.  The listener simply asks the questions, listens to the answers and thanks his or her partner. Then the roles are reversed).

  • What do you most enjoy about working with me?
  • If you could give me one piece of advice about how to be even more effective in this team, what would it be?
  • What can we do together to help this team be even more successful?

‘But the word ‘trust’ isn’t even in there’, I hear you say!

It doesn’t need to be.

If you think ‘we couldn’t do that in my team; nobody would tell the truth’….you have trust issues.

And the very fact that you are taking time to talk about this honestly and openly will build and grow your team’s trust.   

If this sounds overly-simplistic then remember this.  Everything changes when you take the first step.

Are you ready to take your first steps towards creating your Winning Team?

Lynn Scott is the author of The Effortless Leader Revolution: The Four Pillars of Effortless Leadership, available for download free today.

About Lynn Scott MCC

Lynn Scott

ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC), Team Coach and Founder of the Effortless Leader Revolution

I cut my leadership 'teeth' in junior and senior operational leadership roles across different contenents in the travel industry and led multi-cultural, and sometimes virtual,  teams in Europe, America and North Africa.  This gave me first-hand experience of a multitude of business and leadership challenges.  This was taken to a new level when I 'stepped up' and became the first head of operations for one of the largest travel companies in the European and North American markets.

I had a lot of successess but a lot of struggles too - I struggled with overwhelm, with my leadership confidence and I struggled to influence some of my 'alpha' colleagues.  That's why I'm on such a mission today to make leadership easier and more enjoyable for everyone.  I do that through my executive and team coaching work and with my Effortless Leader Revolution and my regular blog articles with practical tips on all things leadership! 


Levels of Experience
CEO, Managing Director, Senior Manager, Director, high potential leaders of the future.
Sector Experience
Retail, FMCG, Financial Services, Risk Management, Media, Marketing and Branding, The Arts and Creative Industries, The Police, Housing, NHS, local government, Legal Services, Nuclear industry, Academia, Publishing, Not for Profit.

Qualifications and Accreditation
    Master Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF).
    Certificate in the Supervision of Coaches, Mentors and Consultants, Bath Consultancy Group.
    Postgraduate Diploma in Coaching Psychology, Leeds Metropolitan University.
    Accreditation in the ECI and ESCI (360 feedback tools on Emotional Intelligence administered by The Hay Group).
    Advanced Professional Diploma in Executive Coaching, Leeds Metropolitan University. 
    CIPD Certificate in Training Practice, Salford University. 
    Team Emotional Intelligence Survey Accreditation
    Hogan Assessment Certification



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