Think about the goals you’ve set with your teams to achieve this year. Now fast forward 12 months. Really envision how it will feel to have achieved everything your team is aiming for? How did you actually get there?

A quick health check will determine if your team’s current performance aligns with the targets you’ve laid out. In defining the practical steps you’ll take to reach those goals, you might also need to change the ways you work together. It’s not just thinking about what you’ll need to do as a team, but thinking about the kind of team you need to be to make it all happen.

Building a great team is more than putting people together, setting goals, and hoping for the best. If you want to create something special, you’ll also need to design new ways of working. Start by encouraging everyone on your team to identify individual and collective strengths. Then address any gaps you have that might hinder your goals, and think creatively about how you’ll improve your chances of success.

Here are five tips to keep at top of your mind to ensure your team is performing at its best:

1. Design new ways of working around the individuals on your team

A sure fire way to get the most out of teammates is to enable them to work in the way that they work best. This means catering to everyone’s personality types, communication styles, and productivity rhythms to achieve a truly unique team dynamic.

Quartz at Work team members created teamwork user manuals. It helped them to better understand each other, be more empathetic towards their colleagues, and increase productivity. An engineering manager at Intercom decided to amplify the individual strengths of his team members to take a balanced approach to boost performance. The point is to be deliberate about supporting the ways that your team can work with, not around, the different styles of each teammate.

2. Be specific about actions and behaviours

Once you’ve decided what you want to change or improve, make sure everyone knows exactly what this looks like. For example, you might have decided as a team that you want to communicate more openly. Does that mean that people share everything they are working on all of the time? Or does it mean that you have more face-to-face conversations? Does it mean that you share drafts of your work earlier to gain input? Be very specific about what you’d like to see, otherwise, things are left open to interpretation.

Remote teams often have to be more specific about expectations because of their reliance on technology to communicate. Buffer, who regularly experiment with their ways of working, came up with agreements for using Slack. They were finding that the messaging tool, although necessary, was becoming distracting. It was time to lay out their best practice for how to use it.

3. Make tiny tweaks, not sweeping changes

We have a tendency to set big goals with an intention to overhaul everything we’re doing for the better, but in so doing, we set ourselves up for failure. Keeping new behaviours small is not only more achievable but makes it a lot more likely that they’ll become habits that stick.

Success comes from a series of small actions performed consistently over a period of time. That’s exactly what Dave Brailsford found with his ”marginal gains” technique when applied to the British cycling team. By making a 1% improvement in a range of performance-based aspects – his team went from never having won a Tour de France, to winning it multiple times.

4. Design how and when the action will take place

When you’re designing new ways of working, don’t rely on your team’s willpower and memory to change their behaviour. Forming new habits is hard, and we need reminders to do them. So be sure to lay out exactly how, where, and when the new behaviour will occur.

Consider putting everything into a shared diary and creating a trigger that reminds people. Studies show that people are more likely to achieve their goals when they set intentions and make plans to do so. The CEO at DIY decided to start a company tradition as a way of keeping his team connected. Every Friday morning (prompted by a Slack message the previous day) teams get together and specific teammates share their outside interests.

5. Have regular follow-ups and reviews

Building a high-performing team is something that needs constant attention. It’s not done once and then left to run on its own devices. It’s an ongoing process of design, experimentation, reflection, and iteration.

Like anyone who is striving to continuously improve, teams require deliberate design and refinement. Take any of the plays in Atlassian’s Team Health Monitor, and you’ll see a recommendation for follow-up. This sets a regular cadence and platform for discussing how your team is performing. Rhythms and rituals are a key aspect of healthy teamwork, as is taking time to reflect on how you’re working together.

We all have the skills we need to design great teamwork. It’s the skills we use every day when we’re creating work for our clients or customers. It’s simply turning them inwards and using them as a lens to see the way we work well, and not so well, in our teams.

Remember, setting ambitious goals is easy. Adopting the behaviour necessary to achieve them isn’t. We all want to do our best work and be a part of game-changing team efforts. And the way to do that is to see teamwork, team design and team habits as a discipline in itself.

First published for RED Academy. Join me on there 27th February, at 6.30pm in London for Team Design: How to Build High-Performing Teams

Thanks to Jonas Altman.

Image credit: Jopwell Collection.