6 Principles For Building A Killer Team

Define your goals, identify the necessary skills, and then follow these four guidelines for putting together your best squad.

6 Principles For Building A Killer Team


Being able to build a team from the ground up is a gift. The clean canvas of building a brand-new team is the opportunity to do things the correct way, the way we want them done.

How do we plan for our new team? Here are some critical steps you can take each time you begin:

1. Define your goals:

You’ve heard this before, and you’ll keep hearing it. This must be your first step every single time. Decide where you are going. Decide the problem you are trying to solve or the opportunity you are trying to leverage. Decide what the purpose or mission is. This is required and critical, because only when you clearly know what goals you are trying to achieve do you have a reasonable chance of reaching them.

2. Identify the necessary skills before you start choosing names:

Once you know where you want the team to go, you need to profile the skill sets that individual members need to possess to achieve the goals. Will your success be determined by your ability to manage cost, hit timelines, expand creativity, or something else entirely? What skills will you need to achieve your goals? What technical expertise will you need? Will you need someone with certain relationships, judgment, or experience?


Rather than immediately examining names, consistent and successful team assembly should include a strong element of skill-based analysis first. Later in the process, we can examine if the personalities will mesh. But successful teams start with the necessary skills and abilities. Later on, we can nurture a collaborative environment where people will get along. On the other hand, we cannot later on create technical expertise or magically conjure someone with the necessary relationships. Great team building starts with having the appropriate skills and talents.

3. Identify the necessary behavior:

Now you know where you are going and the skills you will need to get there, but we’re still not ready to discuss names.

When building a new team from scratch, you also need to profile the correct behaviors. By that I mean that you should make a conscious choice about the ways you want the people on your team to behave. Is your team cross-functional and does it include people from lots of different parts of a large organization? If so, you probably want people who communicate well and are willing to reach outside of their silo. Is your team global, with lots of different cultures and native languages present? If so, you probably want people who have a global mindset and innately understand that not everyone acts, speaks, and thinks exactly like they do.

That “perfect” candidate with the right skills that we described in the preceding paragraph might also be difficult to work with, or a terrible communicator, or slow on meeting deadlines. Once you decide those behaviors are important to your success, then that perfect candidate with the correct skills may turn out to be not so perfect after all. So, in addition to profiling the skills you’ll need, you should also profile the behaviors that will be conducive to a positive team dynamic.

4. Identify the rules and expectations:


Now that you know where you want to go and what skills and behaviors you want potential team members to possess, it’s time to start setting some ground rules for your team. A framework of team norms will foster agreement on how you will treat each other, work together, communicate, plan, meet, and so forth. How do you expect people to behave? What do you expect them to always do? What do you expect them to never do?

This step has two major benefits. First, such a framework can be used to screen potential team members. You can present these rules and expectations and ask them, “Are you willing to be a part of this?” And second, once your team is formed and is moving forward, you can return to these pre-established rules and expectations to resolve any issues or disagreements that arise. Instead of relying on the typical emotional responses when people disagree, you can calmly go back to the rules and expectations you set out at the beginning and use those to resolve the dispute. You might even go so far as to “game out” certain potential disagreements in advance and anticipate how you would deal with them as a team. Later, if such a disagreement actually happens, you have the benefit of having already discussed, as a team, the manner in which it will be handled. Such a strategy allows you to be an objective, unemotional leader.

5. Start naming names:

Finally, we get to the names. Now, with goals, skills, behaviors, rules, and expectations defined, it’s time to name the people who will fit with your team. Following steps one through four should allow your search to be logical and focused, since you will know what you’re looking for. As I wrote earlier, I’m always intrigued by how often that “perfect” candidate everyone wanted to talk about at the beginning turns out to be not so perfect at this stage in the game–and how often the team ends up considering someone it never would have considered before.

Once the emotion has been removed and replaced with logic, the team is much more likely to end up with candidates that fit the need, not just candidates that everyone likes. Great teams are not constructed of people who are great friends. Great teams are made up of people who complement each other in many ways and who can respectfully work together to achieve the goals. If the members of the team go their separate ways at the end of the day, that’s OK. Some would even say it’s a sign of a good team.

6. Create agreement on the team plan:


Once you have named your team, the last step is to bring everyone together and communicate the steps you took to build the team and why. We believe it is important for people on the team to understand the goals, skills, and behaviors that were profiled ahead of time and what the team rules and expectations are. In other words, you want people to understand why they are there and why you thought they would perform well in this particular team setting. You want people to understand how you expect them to behave individually and as a group.

Aim to follow a process that is logical and methodical, with decisions about team members based on what the team needs to succeed rather than whether you enjoy working with a particular person. Using these six steps can help you assemble a good, functional team in a logical way.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher AG Books from Sharing The Sandbox by Dean Brenner. Copyright © 2012 by Dean Brenner. Follow Dean @TheLatimerGroup.

[Image: Flickr user John Cooper]

About the author

Dean M. Brenner is the President of The Latimer Group