How to Create an Awesome Team From Average Workers

stunt jets flying in formation

This post is shared from Institute for Transformational Leadership faculty member Kristi Hedges’s blog at See the full version of the post here!

Some leaders are able to assemble teams with the absolute best talent in the market. They have large budgets, innovative brands, and the latitude to recruit whomever they wish for their organizations. They’re also rare. The vast majority of leaders are forced to make do with some combination of the talent they can attract and the talent they’ve inherited.

Either group has the same objective: to get the best results. And while it may seem to be a major advantage to cherry pick your team members, there’s a lot more to team effectiveness than individual contributions.

No matter where they start, leaders can create teams that are far more than the sum of their parts. If you’ve ever been on a high-performing team, you understand. With the right leadership, even average workers can rise to the occasion and accomplish great things—even more than they may have thought possible.

The following are four considerations to build an A+ team, even if you have B (or even a few C) players:

  1. Communicate your expectations from the start.

    In an article in Harvard Business Review, corporate leadership expert Anne Grady posits that if you feel that your employees aren’t measuring up, you need to start by looking at your own role as the leader. She writes, “Many leaders believe that holding people accountable is the key to getting the results they want. There’s one problem with this, though: Sometimes we get frustrated with people for not meeting our expectations when we have never communicated what they were in the first place.”

    Team culture is determined quickly and, once ingrained, is very hard to change. Spend the time up front to paint a picture of what success looks like for the team. Have a vision that’s clearly communicated.

    Never assume everyone is on the same page. Be clear with your expectations and have non-negotiables spelled out. Team members determine the culture based on both what’s emphasized and what’s ignored.

  2. Foster a team-first environment.

    If you are working with a motley crew of talent, to create a successful team, you must envision—and make your employees feel—that they are each an essential part of a larger machine. Every person should be able to clearly state their contribution to the bigger group and know how the team is jeopardized if they don’t perform.

    As a leader, you can promote group cohesion by treating the team as a unit. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a professor of Business Psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University, says, “Leaders own the job of creating engagement. Although individual engagement is critical, team morale is the key. You might have a team of B players, but when they share common values, drivers, and motives, and care about each other much like friends, they will raise their performance for each other.”

    Create a culture that thrives off of cooperation and mutual engagement. Encourage employees to brainstorm together, and celebrate team accomplishments openly. Focusing on the functions—and successes—of the group is key to creating a unified team of diverse players.

  3. Establish 3-5 jointly agreed upon operating principles.

    In an earlier post, I discussed my approach to assembling a high-performing team in just 30 minutes. At the heart of this strategy is the creation of 3-5 operating principles that the members of the team develop and agree to. They are behavioral, tactical, and provide specific direction for action, e.g., “Take risks.”

    Once your team establishes their top principles of behavior, create an agreed upon system of accountability such as a monthly audit or discussion in one-on-ones.

    Keep the principles visible. Tack them to a board in the conference room. Include them on the agenda. Have the team be responsible for upholding the principles and they will be more likely to stick.

  4. Don’t expect that you need all A’s.

    Not everyone is driven the same way that you might be as the leader. Some people are ambitious, hardworking, and aimed for the top. Others may be more focused on preserving a work-life balance or doing work they find rewarding—reserving some of their time and energies for their family, friends, or passions.

    While many leaders can empathize with the talent and drive of their A players, they have a tendency to neglect their B players, the team members who stay with a company for a longer period of time and do a solid job. And, as psychological studies confirm, we can even be harder on our B players because they are unlike us.

    When it comes to mentoring and showing appreciation, don’t neglect the unique talents of your B players. After all, they provide “the ballast in bad economic times,” according to Harvard Business School Professor Thomas J. DeLong and Innosight Institute fellow Vineeta Vijayaraghavan. “When the boss says that things are going to be different around here on Monday morning, B performers are not only able to adapt, but they often also have the credibility with the rest of the organization to share important information and convey a sense of confidence. Even more important, B players have the inner resources to mentor less experienced people through the transition, stress, and even panic of change—a grossly underestimated talent.”

    Your team is comprised of individuals with widely different strengths. By appreciating how employees can complement one another, rather than lamenting your lack of an all-star roster, you are on your way to assembling the type of extraordinary team that wins in the end.