4 Essential Characteristics of a Successful Team

RL08-31-2015At one time or another in your professional career, you’ve likely been reminded that teamwork makes the dream work or that there’s no “I” in team. Or maybe you’ve been encouraged to be a team player and take one for the team. And in some instances, you may have even found yourself going to bat for the other team.

There are very few professions where we aren’t expected to work in— or at least be part of—a team. In the workplace, teamwork can mean the difference between success and failure. Organizations that place an emphasis on team building and ensure they hire employees who fit their collaborative culture create an environment where everyone’s contributions are recognized and valued, which in turn drives productivity and success.

So, what are a few of the key characteristics of a great team?

Strong Leadership
In our August 2015 Refresh Leadership poll, we asked readers what they believe to be the number one reason teamwork fails—and not surprising, one of the top responses was “poor leadership.” Great leadership is a powerful skill and a vital part of building a successful team. From clarifying goals to staying on task to resolving conflict, a team leader carries the heavy responsibility of ensuring everyone works well together, contributes to overall goals, and stays on task.

Leadership expert John Maxwell said it best, “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” To be a great team leader, you must have confidence, consistency, and commitment, and you also have to help instill those values in your team.

Common Goals
Legendary football coach Bud Wilkinson said, “If a team is to reach its potential, each player must be willing to subordinate his personal goals to the good of the team.” Without an agreement on purpose, a team cannot work in unison. Ambiguous goals could lead individuals to interpret the team’s objectives and strategies for themselves, and ultimately could cause friction and confusion as team members start working against each other.

Effective goals should be S.M.A.R.T.—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting provides a template for success and helps ensure a team stays on task and focused.

Although rallying around a common goal is imperative to teamwork success, diversity in points of view on how to achieve it can be just as important. And not just demographic diversity, but also diversity in other areas, such as specific work expertise, personality traits, and personal interests. Multiple points of view of the same problem can help shed light on potential paths to success that may not emerge from a team made up of members who are too similar.

Constructive conflict can be a very positive driver of success. Building a diverse team will almost inherently create a working environment where members challenge each other’s ideas and strategies, which can ultimately lead to the most efficient and creative solutions to the biggest problems.

Trust is an essential component of great working relationships, and can be an especially important part of building a successful team. From trusting the team leader’s ability to lead to trusting other members of the group to listen to and consider each other’s contributions, great teamwork hinges on mutual respect. Leaders and team members alike must show each other they are trustworthy by being consistent in their actions, persistent in their resolve, and honest about their skills and expertise.

By no means a definitive list, these four characteristics are just a starting point of considerations to keep in mind when building a strong, productive team. What do you believe are some other important characteristics of successful teams? In your experience, how have the characteristics above helped—or hindered—teamwork in your company? Let us know in the comments section below!


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