Posted: 20 Nov. 2020 10 min. read

4 Steps to Build an Effective Team

How to build an effective team through team purpose, outcomes, and design structures

The realization has started to set in: Teams can produce more value for organizations than can individuals. In fact, 53 percent of organizations report a significant improvement in performance when shifting to a team-centric operating model.1 While teamwork has been part of how goals are accomplished for most of human history, organizations may not have considered how to build teams more effectively. Our research indicates high-performing organizations consider three factors when creating effective teams: Purpose, outcomes, and decision structures.2

Our upcoming Challenge Series for Optimizing Teams will include multiple releases that explore how organizations can design and activate teams to maximize their potential.  As part of that effort, the following four steps demonstrate how to incorporate purpose, outcomes, and decision structures into team design decisions to help deliver better results.

1. Establish the team’s purpose and outcomes.

It’s not always clear why a team is being formed. The leader suggesting the creation of the team and guiding the team’s design (which in some cases could be a project sponsor) should align other leaders on why the team is needed and what’s expected of it. That information should then be provided to the team and its leaders, which allows them to determine how to achieve the team’s purpose.

This stage is not about articulating expected performance metrics—it’s about communicating the why behind the what. Importantly, while explaining the need for forming the team can be helpful, the attention should be focused on why the team needs to do the work.

2. Determine the time frame the team needs to do its work.

While most methodologies for performing work begin with analyses and planning, the team’s sponsor should define guardrails for how quickly the team needs to achieve its objectives. In some cases, regulatory deadlines, legislation, or other organizational needs play a heavy hand in determining the (likely) time frame. In others, the time frame could exist on a continuum that depends on factors such as available budget, resources, or other organizational priorities.

Other considerations include assessing whether the team’s work creates a need for ongoing support, administration, or services—and whether these efforts will be performed by the same or a different team. The answer to these questions could determine whether the team becomes a permanent fixture.

3. Define the decision-making and accountability necessary to help the team achieve its purpose.

Once the team has a purpose and time frame, organizations should consider both when determining how the team should function. There’s usually a healthy tension between collaboration and speed in all projects. When organizations operate in less hierarchical, structured ways, overlapping responsibilities can muddle who can (and must) make decisions. Tools like a RACI chart3 articulate the who, what, and how of decision-making—and while RACI charts aren’t new, they’re used inconsistently or sometimes only with teams conducting change initiatives. RACI charts should be part of every team’s decision-making documentation and treated as living documents, updated as the context of the project evolves.

Sample RACI chart

Sharing the RACI chart with all team members makes task accountability and decision-making rights transparent. Defining how the outcomes of those decisions are evaluated creates a mechanism through which the project and broader team can learn from their work instead of assigning blame over who did what wrong.4  

4. Describe the conditions necessary for the team to achieve its purpose.

At this stage, the newly formed team knows why it exists, how long it has to achieve its goals, and what structures will help it do so. It must also understand how to evaluate its progress toward those goals. Effective teams consistently provide data to their members about their health, productivity, and engagement.5  

But effective teams aren’t solely goal-oriented—they also consider the people making the work happen. To be invested in their work, people need psychological safety; they need to feel a sense of trust, belonging, and connection.6  As their teams begin working together, leaders need to establish norms and rituals that foster such an environment.

For example, if a team would benefit from transparent communication, leaders should discuss whether the team should collaborate through shared documents and open chat instead of sending documents back and forth by email. If shared decision-making is needed, leaders should explore whether the “fist of five” voting approach7  used by agile teams could work for their team. Using kickoff meetings to establish certain norms and rituals—and have the team agree to adopt them—is another way to demonstrate shared accountability and a sense of belonging.

Part of considering the people who make the work happen is including diversity in your team composition. Our research already tells us those diverse organizations are not only often more innovative but also more likely to meet or exceed financial targets.8  It follows that diverse teams will bring broader ideas and new perspectives to the table.

We’ll continue to explore how organizations can create effective teams and operationalize teams as a unit of work to maximize their productivity, potential, and inclusivity. Research & Sensing members can access the primer and other assets in the Challenge Series for Optimizing Teams on our platform.


Julie Hiipakka, Vice President, Learning Research Leader

Charu Ratnu, Senior Research Analyst

Denise Moulton, Vice President, Talent Acquisition Research Leader


Designing for Teams to Empower an Adaptable Operating Model, Deloitte Consulting LLP / David Mallon and Timothy Davis, 2020.

Designing for Teams to Empower an Adaptable Operating Model, Deloitte Consulting LLP / David Mallon and Timothy Davis, 2020.

A RACI chart is a matrix structure used to assign responsibility for different project-related activities. It establishes who is responsible (carries out actions prescribed by a decision), who is accountable (makes decisions), who is consulted (provides input and perspective), and who is informed (needs to know about those decisions for their own work).

Getting Decisions Rights Right: How effective organizational decision-making can help boost performance, Deloitte Consulting LLP / David Mallon and Tiffany McDowell, 2020. 

Designing for Teams to Empower an Adaptable Operating Model, Deloitte Consulting LLP / David Mallon and Timothy Davis, 2020.

High-Impact Workforce Experience research, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019.

7   Fist of five (also called fist to five) is a technique used to poll team members and help achieve consensus. The technique involves the team facilitator stating an action the group might make and asking team members to show their level of support. Each team member responds by holding up a closed fist or the number of fingers that correspond to the level of support. Any team members that hold up fewer than three fingers are given the opportunity to state objections, to which the team may respond. The facilitator continues the process until the team achieves consensus (everyone holds up three or more fingers) or agrees to move on to the next issue. Source: “Fist to Five,” / Margaret Rouse, 2011,

High-Impact Workforce Experience research, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019.


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Julie Hiipakka

Julie Hiipakka

Vice President | Learning Research Leader

Julie Hiipakka is a leader in our workforce transformation offering focused on skills-based organizations and workforce development. Prior to her current focus on helping clients implement skills-based talent practices, she led the Learning & Leadership research practice for Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital Research and Sensing offering. She advises clients on learning, workforce architecture, enabling worker and leader performance in the flow of work. A change agent, thought leader and advocate for human-centered work, workforce and workplace practices, Hiipakka has 24 years of experience across learning and development, talent management, and professional services, including as a learning leader in a professional services firm.

Denise Moulton

Denise Moulton

VP │ Human Capital Insights Lead

Denise lives for the “a-ha!” moment. A hands-on leader who serves up insights that make sense in the flow of conversation, she works to help clients understand who workers are and what they can contribute. After all, what’s better than watching someone realize their full potential? Denise leverages her history as a practitioner in the talent space to get to the bottom of talent leaders’ problems, turn an empathetic ear to organizational challenges, and zero in on the outcomes that matter most in a dynamic world of work. At home, she is an all-in mom for her two kids and rescue pup. Denise holds a BA in English and has completed coursework towards a Master's in labor relations and human resources from the University of Rhode Island.