We’ve all heard the saying that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. There is some truth to that statement – and some misdirection too (for more on that, read this piece from CultureAmp – https://blog.cultureamp.com/blog/the-biggest-lie-in-hr-people-quit-managers). In my 29 years, I have interviewed thousands of people about why they stay in a role or why they leave. One important factor that is not often talked about in the public domain – and that should not be underestimated – is the importance of team dynamics and team members when it comes to job satisfaction and performance.

Those we work with I refer to as our ‘commercial family’, because many of the same dynamics are at play in our work relationships as they are at home. When you consider that we often spend more time with colleagues than family and friends, these dynamics become all the more critical – not just to high performance but to high alignment, empowerment and retention…in other words, to high culture fit.

Here are some of the key characteristics that have kept surfacing through my years of interviewing as being central to team health.


  • Respect – you don’t have to ‘like’ every member of your team and you definitely don’t need to ‘make friends’ with team members just because they are in your team. What you do need is an environment where people respect what their team members bring to the table – both their capabilities and their perspectives.
  • Understanding – it does pay to have a broader view of team members beyond day-to-day tactical delivery. This doesn’t mean nosing into their personal life, but it does mean recognising that people rarely neatly separate their personal and professional lives. Understanding where someone is coming from, or even giving them the opportunity to share information or discuss situations outside of work, can contribute to a healthier, more cohesive and more supportive team environment.
  • Recognition – we all want to be recognised for what we contribute and the part we play in reaching our team’s goals. This links to the highest points of Maslow’s hierarchy for a reason – and when it’s done well, those teams become all the more effective. While organisations need to step up in this area, recognition from within teams can also be powerful.

One recent situation I came across was where a particular team member had a drastic change in their behaviour that caused fractions within the team. Their team members had no awareness they were facing challenging personal circumstances, and frustrations grew. While you don’t need to know the detail of each person’s life, the reality is that changes out of the office can impact behaviour in the office – and in turn a team’s dynamics. Before this team member took time off to deal with the situation, they gave their team a wise level of insight into some of the difficulties they had been facing. Acknowledging the importance of interpersonal health created a sense of compassion and perspective that eased the frustration and helped to reset the team.


  • Task clarity – in a team, people need to know what they are to do and what others are doing, so you can all contribute to achieving the team’s objectives. This seems straightforward but is often compromised in the daily rush. I regularly talk about the importance of role definition. Well, task definition is the next level – and is something that needs to be maintained, reviewed and refreshed regularly.
  • Rules – yes we do need rules. Whether they revolve around how to solve an impasse or remove an obstacle or manage boundaries (even positives, like accepting Christmas season gifts), rules give clarity and permission about what behaviour is considered acceptable and not – unique to that organisation’s culture.
  • Leadership – and, yes, leadership remains important. A team’s leader, whether official or unofficial, sets the direction and provides a reference point to guide the who, where, what, why and how of a team. Effective leadership is critical to healthy teams.

In one client’s business, they were hiring a couple of people when other team members were away on a major, long-term project. While team growth was successfully achieved, having absent team members meant the whole team struggled to integrate. It temporarily caused the division to have virtually two teams, and that started to impact productivity. When the long-term project finished, in addition to rebuilding interpersonal ties, the whole team had to intentionally focus on how they worked together – their tasks, boundaries and direction – to function successfully as one team.

These are simple ideas that are easily compromised as we get busy – including busy wrapping up another year! I encourage you to take a step back from your team to see if these qualities are alive and well or if they need some realignment. As 2018 comes to a close, it’s timely to consider the health of your teams and whether they are driving value and empowering your organisation’s success.

Happy recruiting!

Ian Hamilton

Photo by Kouadio Kévin Yoboua on Unsplash