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The Four “E’s” of Building a Great Team

Lay the stepping stones that help your employees evolve and flourish.

The process of building a great employee team is one of the most important responsibilities that management has. The process of team development is neither an easy undertaking nor a short one. Rather, it is a task that requires an understanding of the critical stepping stones that need to be laid in order to build a strong team foundation and provide the basic roots that are needed for a continual evolution and empowerment of the team. The four “E’s” is a relatively easy-to-remember tool that outlines the four key steps in the team-building process. In order to be better prepared to build a great team, it is essential for club managers to be aware of and sensitive to the key factors attendant to the four “E’s”: expectations, equipping, encouragement and evaluation.

Expectations—Setting the Course for the Team

The first step in building a team of employees is to establish clear expectations for both individual and team performance. Without clear expectations, individuals and teams will not have the direction that they need to be successful. Among the components that are essential for creating clear expectations in that regard are the following:

Provide Each Team Member With an Introduction to the Club’s Core Values and Philosophies. These values and philosophies serve as the core foundation of the decision-making process. Families, relationships, cultures and businesses should have a set of common values that each member respects and lives by. If the club wants its team to be strong, it must ensure that the team is values-oriented.

Provide Each Team Member With a Job Model, a Copy of the Club’s Organizational Chart, and a Listing of His or Her Personal Annual Performance Goals. The job model should detail the specific accountabilities of the employee’s position, as well as the manner in which that position interacts with the other members of the team. In addition, all employees should be given a copy of their personal performance goals, updated on at least a 6-month cycle. Collectively, these documents should help eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings concerning each person’s accountabilities as either an individual or a team member. The organization chart should help clarify each team player’s role and how the team members should interact with each other and work as a single, functioning unit.

Have a Clear Set of Employee Policies and Rules. While policies and rules can be relatively brief in scope, they play an essential role as a means of helping communicate the expectations of the business concerning employee and team behavior. Together with the club’s core values, they set the framework for the behavior of the team.

Provide Each Employee With a Personal Development Plan. The personal development plan is a relatively simple tool that helps an employee establish a path for professional development. By helping each employee set a course for such growth, the club is facilitating the team’s overall development and, at the same time, creating a succession plan that will have team members ready to take on new roles when and if needed.

Have Regular Team Meetings. Team meetings are critical to setting and supporting the facility’s expectations. These meetings should be viewed as an opportunity to reinforce expectations, share achievements and create new directions. They are also a time to build team trust.

Develop New Tools to Share the Club’s Expectations With the Team. Newsletters, videos, weekly line-ups and Web pages for employees are all methods that can be employed to share the expectations and the performance achievements of a team with its members.

Equipping—Strengthening the Team Through
Education and Growth

The second step in building a great team is to provide an environment that equips the members of the team to successfully undertake and fulfill the club’s expectations. Too many businesses mistakenly assume that once their expectations have been defined, their employees will proceed to successfully achieve them. In reality, the process is not automatic. Rather, club owners and operators should provide the members of their teams with the resources they need to meet both their and the team’s expectations. This process is commonly referred to as “equipping the team” and includes the following:

Institute an Internal Formal-Education System for All Employees. In this instance, a formal educational program refers to a standardized program that educates all of a club’s employees on its values, philosophies, policies, traditions and basic operating systems. Every new employee and even the tenured employees should go through a formal education system that constantly updates the employee’s knowledge of the club’s business and expectations.

Establish an External Continuing-Education Program for the Enhancement of Each Team Member’s Technical, Sales and People Skills. Beyond its own education system, the facility should develop and implement a system that affords its employees the opportunity to pursue continuing education that can help them advance their technical skills, sales skills and people skills. For fitness employees, this process could involve several measures, such as bringing in outside speakers to discuss technical topics, offering scholarships or shared funds that would enable the fitness professional to attend industry-sponsored workshops, etc. For employees in other areas of interest, this undertaking could involve such steps as bringing in sales trainers or individuals to speak on customer service. The key point to note in this regard is that educational efforts such as these can play an important role in developing a strong team.

Provide the Tools Employees Need to Do Their Jobs. One of the biggest mistakes club operators can make is to set expectations for their team and then not provide the tools their employees need to get the job done. In this instance, tools refer to the assets/resources that are essential to completing a particular task. For example, if a piece of equipment is needed to do a job, that resource is provided. By the same token, if a job requires access to certain information, then that information is made available. All factors considered, the most powerful and valuable tool a team can have is information. Accordingly, the club should ensure that its employees are able to access the information they need to do their jobs.

Open the Communication Lines. Club management should ensure that the club has an open communication process that allows its employees to ask questions and share comments with management. The process should also make it relatively easy for management to share ideas, results and feedback with its employees. As a rule, the greater the degree to which these lines of communication are opened, the better the flow of information and resources will be between the team and management.

Walk the Talk. The axiom that leaders should act in a manner that is consistent with what they espouse has been around for a long time. Many club employees feel that one of the most important tools that the club has to equip them to perform their duties is to know that management is willing to perform those same responsibilities.

The Fuel of Champions

The next step in building a great team is to create an environment that encourages employees to take ownership in their own and their team’s performance. Such an environment should also reward the facility’s employees when certain process and outcome goals are achieved. Encouragement is normally a blend of strategies:

Have a Formal Employee Recognition Program. Formal recognition programs are an effective method for fostering an environment of reward and encouragement. The focus of a formal employee-recognition program should be to reward employees for performing in a manner that is consistent with the club’s core values and delivering upon the team’s expectations.

Key elements of an employee-recognition program include the following:

  • Objective Measures: The program should focus on objective measures so that it is consistent from one employee to the other.
  • Deliverables: The program should be designed to encourage employees to deliver on the values and standards of the business.
  • Ownership: The program should have employee ownership, such as an employee committee that oversees its conduct.
  • Relevant Rewards: The rewards provided by the program should be relevant to the employees, not merely what management feels the employees would value.
  • Consistency: The delivery of the program should be consistent.

Leaders Must Be Cheerleaders. According to Ken Blanchard, in his best-selling book The One-Minute Manager, management should catch employees doing things right. As a rule, the best encouragement that employees can receive is the personal recognition that comes from a leader recognizing their efforts and providing them with a thank-you and a “job well done.” When employees talk about encouraging environments, they often speak about the personal recognition that they receive from their managers/leaders. Accordingly, leaders should make it a habit to walk the club, looking for employees who are doing great things and then letting those employees know how much their efforts are appreciated. Another key factor is to make sure that other employees see the encouragement provided by management.

Hold Recognition Meetings. Another valuable tool managers can utilize to provide encouragement is to hold open meetings with employees, during which the results of the club’s performance are shared and discussed. Sharing the results in an open setting and letting the employees know how much the club values their efforts creates an open and honest team environment, which is a critical factor in encouraging employees to do their best.

Avoid Fingerpointing. One of the easiest approaches to creating an environment of encouragement is to foster a workplace that does not condone fingerpointing and blaming. Instead, it fosters a workplace focused on solutions. In that regard, leadership should cultivate an environment where employees are not afraid to make mistakes. Rather, employees should be willing to take risks and should have a sense of ownership toward addressing key issues, because they realize that no blame will be placed as long as they act in a professional manner.

Measuring the Expected

The final step in the four “E’s” is evaluation. If the club wants its employees to succeed both individually and collectively, it needs to establish an evaluation system that measures what is expected of its employees and provides constructive feedback for their continuous growth. Among the key evaluation tools managers should consider are the following:

Create Objective Performance Evaluations for Each Employee. Each employee should have a performance evaluation tailored to the specific performance goals set forth in his or her job model. The evaluation tool should be specific to each employee and include the measurement of both the personal goals and team goals in which the individual employee has a role.

Evaluate at Least Twice a Year. Performance evaluations are most effective if they are done at least twice annually. The longer the club waits between performance evaluations, the less likely it will be able to create a link in the employee’s mind between what the club expects and what feedback is being provided to each employee.

Make It a Habit to Evaluate Daily. Leaders need to actively engage in the evaluation process by walking around the club. If they observe behavior that warrants their feedback, the best time
to provide comments of any kind is immediately.

Create a Business Scorecard. To help facilitate the team’s performance, leaders should develop a facility business scorecard that every employee can understand. This scorecard should help assess team performance, as well as communicate recognition and education. The scorecard can be incorporated as part of every meeting to either recognize the team or educate it. The scorecard should be more than a financial tool. Rather, it should help evaluate the performance of the club’s employees against the core values and standards of operation of the business.

Never Let Performance Go Without Recognition, Education and Follow-Up. If the club’s managerial staff sees good performance, they should make sure that the individual or team is recognized and rewarded. By the same token, if they see performance that falls below their expectations, they should acknowledge it, educate the employee involved about how to improve it, and then follow up to make sure that the individual’s performance has changed appropriately.

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This article is excerpted from Chapter 16, “Building and Leading a Successful Health/Fitness Club Team,” in the book Fitness Management by Stephen J. Tharrett, MA, and James A. Peterson, PhD, FACSM (Healthy Learning 2006). We are grateful to the authors and publisher for giving permission to publish this information.


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