Building A Sustainable Team Starts With These 3 Foundations

team building

Creating just the right team can be difficult. And once you create one, get all the nuances just right – it’s near impossible to sustain. Yet sustaining teams is a foundational element to any successful effort, program, organization and company. Small businesses. Large businesses. All industries, around the globe.

What makes sustaining an effective team so difficult? In my experience, there are three challenges a team must be able to overcome in order to be effective. Trust is absolutely a factor. Ensuring everyone is pointed towards – and bought into(!) – a common purpose. And, staying steadfast in the face of constant change.


Trust is a topic upon which much is written. My colleague, Chris Cancialosi just wrote about building leadership based on trust. My colleague, Andrea Howe, co-authored the Fieldbook on the topic. Those are great resources, and while I wouldn’t be able to improve upon their words, the importance of trust cannot be overstated.

I’ve seen first hand that the most effective teams are those where trust is established quickly. This allows people to get past concerns related to feeling awkward or self-conscious, and get to the work. How do leaders achieve that?

  • Creating a work environment that is authentic and safe
  • Encouraging people to bring an open mind, getting past their traditional practices and biases
  • Providing people the opportunity to “get real” and enjoy each other as…people!

A Common Purpose

Aligning your team in the pursuit of a common purpose/goal/objective is a second factor. In the absence of that unified approach, the team could (most likely will) flail with no clear sense of direction, process or results. Alignment leads to effectiveness when:

  • Team members are given an opportunity to contribute to determination of the objectives and process
  • Individuals are values for their creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration is encouraged and nurtured

Adapting to Change

Every team will face change. Just as individuals do, teams struggle with handling it effectively. Those teams (and by extension the leaders and individuals within) that are resilient as they meet those changes will be best equipped to handle them. The most resilient teams (and therefore the most sustainable ones):

  • Recognize behavioral patterns and work to disrupt them
  • Tap into the viral nature of ideas and emotions in the workplace
  • Ensure individuals and teams are innovative in thinking and flexible in action

And one of the tools we bring to leaders to help create sustainable teams: improvisational comedy. Not watching it, but rather bringing teams through a series of exercises that generate trust, encourage collaboration and alignment, and develop resilience.

The best practices of improv comedy can be applied to day-to-day business situations.  Team members arm themselves with a style of thinking, listening, communicating, and collaborating that is authentic, inclusive, adaptive, and sustainable.

Cary (@thecarypaul) is a Senior Associate at gothamCulture, and the Chief Improv Officer at The Get Real Project.  Sustaining Teams is a passion of Cary’s, and he’ll be using improv comedy to support those efforts at CBODN, April 24 and 25.