individual, team, team identity, team purpose

5 Ways to Transform a Group of Individuals into a Team

In the U.S., most people are taught from an early age to be individually competent and independent. It’s no wonder that most of your employees have some difficulty in knowing how to work effectively within a team. Here are five things you can do to forge a collective sense of “team”:

1. Create Routines That Signal Start of Team Space

Being part of a team is like being a partner in a marriage — both require individuals to give up some of their individual desires and aspirations in service to the group. (Read a previous post I wrote about the ego “sacrifice” required here.) As a team leader, you can reinforce this notion with routines that are designed to signal that the group is entering “team” mode and to put their individual goals to the side.

Examples of these routines are:

  • At the beginning of team meetings, consider starting with a few seconds of silence to allow everyone to bring their focus into the meeting.
  • Use a team “check-in” to allow each individual to engage with the rest of the team from the start.
  • During an initial team or project launch, ask each individual to share what baggage they intend to leave behind (past quarrels or resentments, habits, tendencies, etc.) that won’t serve the team purpose and stakeholders.

In short, you can build small habits into team processes to reinforce the notion that everyone is moving into team mode where the team and its work is the focus instead of furthering individual agendas.

2. Frequently Revisit Team Purpose

To maintain the focus on the collective team endeavor, always remind your team of its purpose. Reminding the team why your team exists is a fundamental way to establish and re-establish team focus. Everything team members do — from the behaviors needed to achieve team success, to the goals and objectives they strive to achieve, to the processes they create for high quality output, should all come from to the team’s purpose. This is also true for each decision made and the roles and responsibilities assigned. In short, team purpose informs everything your team does. Team purpose reminds your team that their collective endeavor is not about them as individuals as much as it is about the team as a whole and the benefit it provides to others.

3. Keep Stakeholders at the Center of the Team’s Work

It’s easy for team members to get overly focused on their individual agendas and responsibilities. Yet, your team’s success is ultimately measured by how well its collective work provides beneficial value for stakeholders. In fact, stakeholders and their needs are the reason for your team’s purpose, which in turn drives your team’s work. (Read a previous article on how to take yourself out of the center.)

To keep your team’s focus on stakeholders, connect with them from time to time. Staying in touch allows your team to discover how well your team is providing valuable benefit to them and whether the relationship is good. When your team sees its stakeholders as central to team operations, you prioritize the collective team endeavor of serving stakeholders over individual team member interests.

4. Make Vulnerability and Fallibility Okay

One of the big reasons individual team members can be overly focused on themselves is that they want to appear capable. Yet, each human on your team has flaws. To mask those flaws, individuals often balk at admitting they sometimes lack skills or that they make mistakes. That’s why it’s important that you as team leader show that it’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing, may lack some ability, and will own up to mistakes in the spirit of learning. Additionally, your team might consider creating norms around these concepts.

Acknowledging human frailties permits team members to accept each other as individuals. It also can focus them on learning together as a team rather than protecting their individual egos.

5. Create Team Accountability for Individual Team Member Development

As suggested by Keith Ferrazzi, you can forge a deeper focus on the team by creating a Team Relationship Action Plan. The key to such a plan is to ensure each individual team member identifies their own areas for growth. Then, they ask for what they need from other team members to make gains in those areas. This creates mutual accountability between each individual and whole team for individual development that furthers the team purpose and goals.

To conclude, individual talent and creativity are necessary contributions to team success. However, successful teams are able to create a singular team focus to serve their stakeholders. Don’t rely on this happening naturally; consider trying some of these ideas to routinely reinforce what it means to be a team.


WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at

How to Scale Your Own Leadership “Dawn Walls”

I don’t know if it’s possible; I’m just going to keep working on it. — Tommy Caldwell,  El Capitan Dawn Wall Climber

In recent weeks, I marveled at the tenacity and audacity of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they free-climbed the Dawn Wall of El Capitan, following their 3-week, 3000-foot climb up the mountain’s sheer granite face.  What we didn’t see was the behind the scenes hard work that made the end result possible: the 7 years of planning, the obstacles identified and analyzed, the attempts to climb daunting patches of the wall over and over again. Imagine the focus and attention Caldwell and Jorgeson had to use each second of the climb!

To me, this Dawn Wall climb serves as a larger than life reminder of the approach to take when confronting personal and professional challenges – small and large.

Most of us go to work each day, subconsciously replicating the same experiences for ourselves and our employees without really being present and using the conscious attention and focus that could take things to another level.  The Caldwell/Jorgeson climb serves as a reminder of the conscious reflection, planning and attention required to become great at anything, including leadership.

Here’s how we can scale the Dawn Wall of our own leadership, using experiences to evolve ourselves with each challenge that presents itself to us:

  • Reflect on where you’ve been and how far you’ve come along as a leader.  No matter where you are as a leader, if you look back on your development, are you making progress toward a better version of your leader-self? As with Caldwell and Jorgeson, how well have you planned and executed your development? What obstacles, challenges, and setbacks have you run into? What did you do to overcome or adjust in response? Did you have to back-track and find a new way to get where you are now? In what ways have you become clearer about your leadership style and capacities? How has your perspective changed regarding what leadership is for you?
  • Identify your next challenge (aka “Dawn Wall”).  There is always a challenge to overcome, whether it’s a new market to explore, a new alliance to form, a new way of interfacing with direct reports, or a new definition of your work as you enter a different phase of your career or life.  These challenges provide the impetus for making changes in the way you lead and relate to others. What’s the challenge in front of you now that you will commit to take on?
  • Identify new capacities you need to be able to scale this newest challenge. Often, we are more concerned with the new capacities employees need for business endeavors to be successful, and we forget that each new challenge will require us as leaders to raise our competencies as well. Failing to grow along with a challenge is usually an invitation to be passed up and passed over as change occurs around us.  Constantly evolving into a better and better version of you not only keeps you relevant and competitive, but it makes you personally more adaptable and capable and more valuable because of that.  Think of the challenges that come your way as tailor-made growth opportunities. 

These growth opportunities may come in the form of eliminating behaviors and/or beliefs that are no longer serving you, capitalizing on an existing strength and taking it to a new level, or developing a new skill, like the ability influence others who don’t report to you. Whatever your current challenge is asking of you, whatever your potential areas for growth are, be open to them. You’ll evolve while serving as a role model for the importance of on-going personal and professional growth.

  • Create your professional development plan. Yes, you need a professional development plan, too. And as with other employees, it’s really effective if it’s strategically tied in some way to your organization’s strategic goals and those current challenges.  What new experiences do you need to grow? What existing strengths can you build on? What knowledge and skills do you need to gain? What attitudes do you need to change or let go of?  And what’s the action plan to accomplish the areas for growth you’ve identified?

Whichever challenge comes your way, working on it can pay off big for your business and evolve your leadership capacity.  You’ll be better than you were before and ready for the next challenge.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who seek to evolve their leadership capacity by solving current business challenges for better productivity and profitability. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: