The ABCs of Teams

by Randi S. Brenowitz, MBA & Marilyn Manning, PhD

This article appeared in on December 2, 2002


In order to speak any new language, you must first learn how that language is constructed. That's why most of us learned the "ABC song" in kindergarten. In Junior High when we started to learn a "foreign" language, we again started with the basics of the alphabet and simple vocabulary words.

For many of us the vocabulary of teams is akin to a foreign language. In order to become fluent in this new language, we must learn its fundamental elements. We present the ABCs of Teams as a way for you to start speaking the language of today's business world.

A is for Agreements

Notice that A is not for "Assuming." Without explicit agreements, individual team members may behave in very different ways while each assumes that he or she is being a good "team player" and working effectively towards the team's goals. Every team needs a clear set of agreements about how each member will behave and how the team will work together.

Team agreements generally include items like:

  • Where, when and how often the team will meet
  • What behavior is expected from each team member
  • How they will make decisions and who will be involved in decision-making
  • What communication forums will be used
  • How and when they will ask for help
  • What information will be shared with each other
  • What information will be shared with the outside world
  • What information will be kept confidential
  • What decisions have to be made by the entire group rather than delegated to one individual

Also, the team may want to have an agreement regarding what specific tools and venues will be used (electronic bulletin boards, email, face-to-face, voice mail, etc.). While everybody has preferences, a clear agreement must be made about which of these will work best for the team as a whole.

Agreements should be as specific as possible. For example, agreeing that email will be responded to in a "timely fashion" may create a problem. Some team members may define "timely fashion" as several days, while others may think it means before the end of the business day, two hours after the meeting ends, or even next month.

The actual creation of agreements can serve as a team building process itself, as the team will experience working together, communicating, and making decisions. This experience can serve as a model for how the team can work together in the future.

B is for Balanced Goals

To best position a team's products or services, they need goals that are balanced with their vision. They should consider their strategic focus, unique contributions, competencies, and core values. An in-depth visioning process can serve as the foundation for setting balanced goals. Once they have a clear vision, the team can identify what needs to be done to actualize that vision.

First, conduct an internal and external environmental scan. Ask:

  • Who are the team's stakeholders?
  • What does each stakeholder need and expect from the team?
  • What does the team need and expect from the stakeholders?
  • Are the stakeholders currently satisfied or dissatisfied with team?
  • How should the team communicate with the stakeholders?
  • What are the team's core competencies?
  • What skill areas does the team need to develop?
  • How can the team improve their efficiency, productivity, and cohesiveness?

Gathering the above data, will allow the team to create a robust vision statement that will reflect both the current charter and future needs.

Now the team will be ready to set balanced priorities and goals that include timelines and quality criteria. Teams can then create their own means of accountability and internal reporting to reinforce these balanced goals. By monitoring their progress regularly and making appropriate modifications, they can maintain their flexibility while still considering the desired future vision.

C is for Consensus

Consensus is a mutual agreement among group members where all legitimate concerns of individuals have been addressed. It is not a unanimous vote, but rather an agreement to move forward with a decision all members of the group can support even if they think it might not be the best possible decision. Consensus building can foster creativity and innovation, cooperative attitudes, improved interpersonal communications, and increased accountability.

In order to ensure true consensus, it is essential that all the right people be involved in the process. To asses who must participate in the decision-making process, ask the following questions:

  • Who are the key stakeholders in this decision?
  • Who has the most knowledge about the topic being decided upon?
  • Who is impacted by this decision?
  • Who must implement this decision?
  • Who can sabotage the decision once it is made?

Consensus requires a commitment to the process, active participation of the team leader and all team members, creative thinking, and open-mindedness. It takes time; therefore, consensus is not the best way to make insignificant decisions. Rather, it can be highly effective for those decisions with significant impact on the work of the team where buy-in and whole-hearted implementation is essential.


So now you know your ABC's. As with any language, it will take time and study for you to become fluent and to understand all of the subtleties of the vernacular. These ABC's are a start, however, and should allow you to begin working with the teams in your organization. These fundamentals will give you a good foundation upon which you can build many new words and concepts.

For more information on this topic,
contact Randi Brenowitz at
650-843-1611 or


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