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CEO Shares 5 Tips for Building Effective Teams

Whether you’re a C-level executive or a project team lead, building effective teams is essential to your success. You can have top-of-the-line technology, an eager market for your products or services, and the respect of industry leaders, but if you don’t have the right teams in place, innovation can falter and your chances of success can diminish. Teams make the difference.

But what does it take to build effective teams that will propel your company, your department or your project forward? In working with dozens of teams over the years for companies of a multitude of sizes, I’ve seen several elements consistently lead to success.


Here are my top five tips for building effective teams:

1.  Choose the Right People

To build effective teams, you need a common driver – more on that later – but you don’t need to strive for compatibility.

Healthy tension sparks ideas, innovation and growth. Teams in particular and business in general need that healthy tension that comes from people with different ideas and diversity of experience. On successful teams, people challenge each other. Healthy debate is essential to a good outcome.

Effective teams also possess people with different but complementary knowledge sets. Every member brings an area of specialty or expertise that contributes to the success of the company or project.

A critical ingredient is the balance in team members’ aptitude and attitude. Knowledge, intellect and ability to learn are important attributes. However, a poor attitude not only cancels the value of strong aptitude but also can bring down the entire team. Choose wisely, or if after the fact, identify and remediate the problem.

As I’ve built teams in the past, I keep in mind that there are three categories of people: those who make things happen, those who let things happen and those who stop things from happening. It seems always the case that the first type always has both aptitude and the right attitude.

2.  Listen to Your Team Members

It’s a running joke in the office that my trips to get coffee are epic adventures. That’s because it’s not about getting the coffee – though, I appreciate a well-made cup – it’s about connecting with people and listening to them.

Those coffee trips usually go like this. I leave my office and stop to chat with someone whose desk I pass. I catch up with a team member in the Chill Out Room by the coffee machine. I stop by the office of one of my executives on the way back and spend a few minutes strategizing.

Mutual respect is hugely important to achieve objectives. Don’t spend all your time in your office and if you lead teams in multiple locations, don’t spend all your time in just one office. Be a resource to all the teams with which you interact.

Choosing an effective team and then not listening to them is unmotivational and wastes valuable resources. Ask them questions and listen – really listen – to what they have to say. You’ll gain valuable insight into what it’ll take to make your project or company a success and they’ll feel appreciated, which will make them work that much harder as part of your team.

3.  Make Sure the Trust is There

While I don’t believe effective teams should be made up of people who always agree with one another, they should trust each other. One of my favorite books about building effective teams is “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni. The book describes the pitfalls that teams face as they learn to work together.

One of the dysfunctions referenced in the book’s title is an absence of trust. If two team members can’t trust each other, communication between them often shuts down, which severely impacts the necessary interaction between their two departments.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion but if there’s no resolution of differences, progress slows or stops, ultimately the worst fate in any enterprise.

Sometimes, objective third parties can be tremendously beneficial in helping team members reestablish trust. Consider bringing in an objective third party or consultant in situations where trust is strained between team members. The results can be remarkable, with communication resuming and progress on meeting team objectives back on track.

4.  Motivate Your Team with a Shared Objective

While an effective team’s skill set is broad, the team’s objective shouldn’t be. A shared and clear objective is essential to the team’s ultimate success.

Preferably, involve your team in the creation of that objective or objectives. It starts with them fully understanding the problem to be solved or the strategic objective to accomplish. Team members who help determine the mission and objectives have emotional buy-in to the project and will feel real gratification when the team succeeds. And that feeling has long-term, sustainable benefits that accrue to company morale, attitude and achievement.

One example of a Nintex project with a shared objective is Nintex Workflow Cloud®, which I announced in the InspireX keynote. We didn’t start building out that project until about a year after I started.

During that year, the team dug into our opportunity, strategy and market need. Everyone on the team had ideas and great opinions but we were not fully aligned on specific objectives. Once we defined and agreed on the mission – workflow for any content, any platform – the team enthusiastically and collaboratively built the executable plan as well as the internal communication plan to share the vision.

With everyone working together toward that shared objective, we’re very close to launching our new cloud platform. But it wouldn’t have happened without all team members knowing the purpose and mission behind their efforts.

Read more about strategies that lead to innovation in “Why – and How – to Embrace Business Innovation.”

5.  Reward people in the way that feels most rewarding to them

The best way to recognize people may vary. At Nintex, we recognize employees with the quarterly CEO CARE (Customer Awareness and Recognition Excellence) Award. The winner is a Ninster who’s gone above and beyond to help customers.

I find it incredibly gratifying to award the CEO CARE Award. However, I realized about a year ago that what feels like an exciting reward to one person can feel like an uncomfortable spotlight to someone else. In our Melbourne, Australia office, the CEO CARE Award was not as warmly received and there were fewer nominations. Why? Because Australians in general prefer team recognition to individual recognition.

We’ve since modified the criteria. Eliminating individual recognition entirely was not the correct solution because it’s a powerful motivator in the U.S. The right answer was expanding the program to offer people the opportunity to nominate individuals or teams. That enables everyone the chance to be recognized in the way that makes the most sense for where they are. Everyone needs and appreciates positive recognition. And we’re careful to recognize that different people and roles respond to different forms of recognition, whether it’s modest, highly public, very frequent, team centric and many other characteristics.


I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of highly successful teams over my career, including my current executive team. Recognizing what works to create effective teams has definitely contributed to that success, and can be the difference between innovating and treading water in your industry.


Learn about career opportunities at Nintex here


John Burton

CEO John Burton joined Nintex after working with the company during its expansion planning and significant financing event with TA Associates and Updata Partners in 2013. In his three-decade technology career, John has founded and built high-growth private and public software companies, co-founded a highly successful growth equity fund and a leading M&A advisory firm, and served on several boards of directors. Follow John on Twitter - @NintexJB

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