Most companies have accepted the idea that teams play a vital role in overall company success. Teams take advantage of synergy—the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts—to address and resolve complex issues that arise in the organization.
Yet, why is it that some teams achieve outstanding results, while others seem to drift along and ultimately accomplish very little? There are no guarantees that any team will be successful, but there do seem to be specific characteristics that are conducive to success. Let’s look at some of these characteristics.
1. The team has a clear purpose that everyone understands. Whether this purpose takes the form of a written set of objectives, deliverables or expected outcomes, successful teams know the reason they have been established and what they are supposed to achieve. The clear purpose allows the team to know what has to be done so it can set about developing a strategy for how to do it. As the team moves forward, the clear purpose provides a frame of reference for measuring progress and increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. Unfortunately, all too often, teams either never receive or misunderstand this clear purpose and waste a great deal of time trying to figure out just what they should do.
2. The team has a “win/win” mentality. Simply put, if a team believes it will be successful, then it stands a far greater chance of achieving that success. On the other hand, if a significant number of people on the team lack confidence in the team’s chances of success, failure is almost assured. On any team, the perceptions of the members will have a significant impact on the team’s performance. Of course, there needs to be a basis to support “win/win” thinking and reasonable expectations at the outset are critical to this. Expectations that are simply too high, while meant to motivate a team, may have the opposite effect. Management can help to sustain this “win/win” thinking by taking an interest in what the team is doing and periodically reinforcing the importance of the team’s task.
3. The team has a clear understanding of how to work together. Many of us are used to acting as individuals. To some, it may seem easier to act independently; and having to compromise with other members may seem almost unnatural. As a team member, our ideas may not always be accepted as the team strives to reach decisions by consensus. However, if we can accept the idea that the greater the input, the greater the result, our participation on any team will prove to be an essential component to a successful outcome. As part of a team, we may be one of many, but we will make the many more effective through our efforts.
4. The team has a belief that everyone is equally responsible for success. Successful teams have members who work well together and take pride in team accomplishments. Team members, even those who play a larger role, are willing to share credit for the team’s success. On the other hand, if the team’s results are not up to expectations, everyone accepts responsibility equally. There is no blaming of individuals on the team, but rather a belief that everyone did his or her best, but the team just fell short. Even team leaders do not receive undue criticism. All team members truly believe that if they accept credit in equal measure, they must be willing to share any blame in the same manner.
5. The team has a willingness to continuously review and improve its performance. Even the most successful teams recognize they can always do better. Whether it’s the process they use to achieve consensus, the way they distribute the workload, the way they run meetings, the time it takes to complete important tasks or some other process, there are always opportunities for improvement. Of course, finding these opportunities requires an objective self-assessment, which is not always easy to do and may cause tension between team members. However, effective teams have the confidence to handle such an assessment and accept the results as a means of improving team performance.
Do your teams exhibit these characteristics? If so, you are probably realizing the numerous benefits that teams can bring to an organization. If not, consider how you can instill some of these characteristics in teams you are planning to establish in the future.