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How To Build A Better Team



In today’s workplace, teams of coworkers often collaborate on projects, presentations, and other professional responsibilities. Managers tend to assemble these teams according to each member’s job role, experience, and skill set, but the internal relationships and communication within a team may be even more important determinants of successful group performance.

Luci Leykum and Holly Lanham, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, study the relationships at play within teams of physicians at hospitals. In a recent study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they explored how different styles of communication within a team relate to the quality of treatment the group provides to patients. Their findings may be relevant not only to health care teams but may also give clues about effective teams in other industries.

Leykum and Lanham observed 11 teams made up of attending physicians, residents, interns, and house staff over the course of 28 days as they interacted before, during, and after their daily rounds. They evaluated each team’s habits based on attributes including trust, diversity, respect, heedfulness (awareness of how each person’s role impacts the rest of the team), mindfulness, social/task relatedness, and rich/lean communication.

It turns out that trust among team members and mindfulness of alternative points of view are critical elements of a functional team. Patients who were overseen by teams that did not exhibit those characteristics spent more time in the hospital than patients treated by teams that did demonstrate those qualities — as many as three to seven extra days.

Groups that demonstrated trust and mindfulness (which Lanham describes as “openness to new ideas, seeking novelty even in routine situations, and having a rich, discriminating awareness of details”) communicated more directly and effectively, allowing them to do more effective triage and catch problems they might have otherwise missed. These behaviors may also reduce the likelihood of complications that would lengthen the hospital stay.

As a result, Lanham and Leykum, who presented their research at the recent Health Care Symposium at the McCombs School of Business, recommend loosening up the hierarchy or narrowly defined job roles within teams. Instead, they argue, teams should embrace shared responsibility, reflective conversations, and interpersonal relationships.

Toward a More Flexible Hierarchy

Organizations often embrace internal hierarchies because they establish a clearly defined chain of command. But Lanham says there are several negative aspects to hierarchies that often go overlooked.

“Hierarchies … can be a barrier to organizational behaviors such as problem solving, learning, and innovating or discovering new and better ways to meet performance goals, satisfy customers, raise profit margins, etc.,” Lanham says.

Lower-level employees are often hesitant to speak up when they need further instruction or have ideas to contribute for fear of rocking the boat. But in that type of environment, Lanham says, all members of the team miss out on potential learning opportunities.

“If you want the people who work for you to learn how to do their jobs better, they will at times need to be able to say, ‘I don’t know,’” she says. “One way to get employees to say this is to model it for them. This is important in hospital teams because patients’ lives depend on it. It’s also important, however, in business — particularly in thinking about ethical considerations that businesses face, such as protecting consumers from harm, providing employees with a safe work environment, increasing shareholder wealth, etc.”

Rethinking Job Roles

Like hierarchies, narrowly defined job roles can constrain a team’s ability to express new ideas and share information openly.

Leykum and Lanham’s findings suggest that when each team member only takes on responsibilities within his or her own prescribed skill set, the team does not operate as effectively as a unit. It is preferable for individuals to be able to adjust as the situation may require.

On one team Leykum observed, the attending physician occasionally took the lead on tasks that normally would be done by people lower in the hierarchy — perhaps the issue was particularly complex, it was a busy day, or a team member was out. Leykum says this was a powerful and effective use of role-modeling because it demonstrated to the team that everyone should do what is needed to help each other and take care of people in a timely fashion.

“How we move from saying, ‘This is what I do, this is what you do,’ to ‘This is what we do,’ is very important,” Leykum says.

Job roles should be somewhat malleable, but they should not relax the group’s structure to the point that a manager’s authority or oversight begins to erode, she says. The key is to be able to adapt.

“One of the things I observed in some teams was an ability to improvise, or use what they know or do as the basis for trying something new,” Leykum says. “That way, it is building on a platform of knowledge, not just trying something completely different.”

Recommendations for Managers

Managers of employee teams can take away several lessons from Leykum and Lanham’s research when assembling teams or planning group projects. One of the most important ingredients is mutual trust.

“Building trust as the basis for positive relationships is critical,” Leykum says. “Just by being deliberate in asking for different peoples’ viewpoints, thinking about how one person’s actions may influence another, and admitting that they don’t know something are powerful actions in creating trust.”

Making time for conversation and reflection is also key. “This allows people to think and make sense of things together, in a way that has a positive influence on the relationships,” Leykum says.

Willingness to consider alternative viewpoints from other team members is another factor that could affect a company’s performance as a whole, Lanham adds. “If people are operating on autopilot, they are less likely to seize an opportunity that presents itself, such as noticing a more efficient way to perform repetitive tasks, or notice when a machine isn’t working quite right, which could result in harm for employees or inferior products for consumers,” she says.


About the Author

This article was written by Rob Heidrick of Texas Enterprise. Texas Enterprise shares the business and public policy knowledge created at The University of Texas at Austin with Texas and with the world. Texas Enterprise stories by drawing on research from all over the university. see more.

Callum Connects

Trung Nguyen, Founder & Managing Director of Advertising Vietnam



Having initial success with his first start up in the ad industry, Trung Nguyen went on to start other ventures in the ad world in Vietnam. He now has the largest agency community in Vietnam.

What’s your story?
Three years ago I got my first job in the advertising industry. I worked for a local agency in town, and I fell in love with the creative industry. In June 2015, I founded Agency Life Community in Vietnam. It quickly became the most engaging community in the ad industry. The main content focuses on entertainment. After six months we had over 30,000 organic followers, now we have 120,000 followers.

Because the industry had been good to me, I decided I had to something for the industry to help the industry be better. So, I opened – a creative industry ad site which keeps advertising informative, creative and inspiring.

After more than a year in the ads industry in Vietnam, I figured the industry needed a better solution for the recruitment of good staff. Given I own the largest advertising community platform, why don’t I utilise Agency Life to help connect talent with ad agencies. So, I founded job site, AdJob.Asia in January 2017.

What excites you most about your industry?
The ad industry is a creative one with very passionate people who are always challenging themselves. The exciting part for creatives, in the morning they might be working on a baby brand and in the afternoon they are answering a beer brief. There is so much diversity. Every day is the new journey.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am Vietnamese.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Thailand. The Thais are the kings of the creative industry in SEA. Thai ads are very smart and creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love.

Who inspires you?
My friend, mentor and partner Mr Nghi Nguyen, founder of We started our businesses at a similar time. He doesn’t see us as a competitor but rather, he believes that we share the same passion and we are working to provide better knowledge for the ad community.
Mr Nghi also guided me a lot when I first opened the business. I am inspired by his vision to make our marketing industry better.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Our business is a startup company and as a founder I do everything from operations, business development, planning and strategy. However, this is not the good way grow our business. You have to share the workload – find a co-founder or hire a great employee to help share the workload. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Quit my full time job sooner.
During the first year of running my business, I was still working as an ad manager for an agency. However I lacked focus at work due to the overload of work and it affected the company I used to work for. I strongly recommend people who have an idea to start their own business, quit their job early on and focus 100% on it from the get go!

How do you unwind?
Play with my cat.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to travel throughout all of Asia. I enjoy new places and meeting new people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Carpenter: A story about the greatest success strategies of all.

Shameless plug for your business: is a site where you can quickly update yourself on the advertising news in Vietnam. We have 15,000 unique monthly readers who are professional people in the advertising and communications industries.

The Agency Life, is largest agency community in Vietnam. This is the right place for ad agencies to share their creative work.

AdJob.Asia now has more than 160 agencies in Vietnam who use our services. We are a leading recruitment service for the advertising industry in Vietnam.

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me:
Email: [email protected]

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Women on Top in Tech – Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Minette Navarrete, Co-Founder, Vice-Chairman, and President of Kickstart Ventures. Kickstart is an investment firm that funds early-stage digital startups, providing capital, incubation and mentoring, and market access.  Minette has held CEO/COO positions in various industries, ranging from Philippine startups to iconic multinationals.

What makes you do what you do?
I’m keenly interested in innovation and ecosystem development, and committed to contributing to nation-building. I love that my job combines all of that, and allows me to leverage all my past experiences into a new role that creates value for founders and fund-providers alike.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Counter-intuitively! I don’t have a background in tech; nor do I have a long history of venture investing. My skill sets are in strategy, general management, and marketing; and my experience has largely been in innovation and business turnaround. But I have a broad range of work experience (FMCG, apparel, property, and online game publishing in a startup), and that has helped inform my views. More than anything, though, Kickstart has made this progress because of the trust of our principals, and the initiative of a wonderful team. Truly, people make the difference.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
All throughout my career, I’ve only taken on difficult roles. There’s little growth in a role that is easy; and the challenges are what makes a role worth doing.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I’ve had the benefit of a number of good mentors through my career.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
First off: I have had both male and female mentors. Generally, I’ve met mentors in work situations: i.e. they started out being an immediate superior, or being on my Board of Directors. The close work association evolved as both sides found the experience productive, intellectually satisfying, and fun.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Mostly through the same process: nothing compares to actually working together. That said, with more and more experience, I think people develop a sharper instinct about talent, and the potential for development. It’s also important to build the relationship over time, and to invest in actively supporting talent by both seeing things through their eyes as well as helping them find other lenses with which to view the situation they find themselves in.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Yes, we care about diversity, although the primary filter for Kickstart is always ability and performance. Many studies have shown that diverse teams are closely correlated to better results; and given the kind of work we do, it’s important that we all sharpen our ability to deal with varied types of people and situations.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
It’s important to be trustworthy, especially given that venture investing deals with the highest-risk asset class. Trust is earned through competence, diligence, honesty, clarity, and courage.

Advice for others?
I say this a lot: Build strong foundations. Be clear about your values, principles, and priorities. Volunteer for the toughest jobs. Do the unsexy stuff. And work with conviction, commitment, courage, and honour. None of this is particularly glamorous, and they don’t deliver instantaneous results, but the value-creation is real, authentic, and sustainable over a longer period.

If you’d like to get in touch with Minette Navarrete, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about Kickstart Ventures , please click here.

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