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What Are the Characteristics of an Effective and Successful Team?

Updated: Jun 24

Very rarely do employees work on their own, in isolation. Instead, they work as part of an overall team. In a small business, that team might be the entire roster of employees, and for a larger company, the team may be their department or even a specific group within that department.

Regardless of the size or scale of the team, for the team to be effective, as a whole, it needs to have specific characteristics. These are the characteristics you need to look for when hiring to round out an existing team or build a new one.

There’s just one question: what are they?

The Team Has Clear, Defined, SMART Goals

For a team to be productive, it has to have goals. Those goals may begin with something nebulous like “grow the business” but must eventually be pared down into SMART goals.

A SMART goal is:

  1. S – Specific – The goal needs to be a narrow, tangible, definable thing. “Grow the business” is not a specific goal. “Increase revenue by 10%” is.

  2. M – Measurable – The goal needs to be measured and monitored. Without measurement, your team can’t know how much progress they’ve made or if they’re spinning their wheels. Metrics also fuel data that can be used to make adjustments.

  3. A – Achievable – The goals need to be realistic. Most companies, for example, cannot set “double our customer base” as an achievable goal.

  4. R – Relevant – A goal needs to be meaningful to the company. Increasing revenue is relevant, decreasing ad spend is relevant. Increasing the number of customers might not be appropriate if the business is already struggling to fulfill existing orders.

  5. T – Timely – Goals should have times and deadlines attached. “Grow revenue by 10%” isn’t timely; “Grow revenue by 10% by the end of the year” is.

Taken together as a framework, this allows the team to codify goals and attach metrics to them to be measured and tracked. Otherwise, the team cannot know how far they have progressed; or how close they are to their goal. Open-ended goals reduce motivation and morale since the feeling of accomplishment disappears.

Goals can come from above or within. A team with guidance from above may be directed to solve specific problems or achieve specific goals, as defined by C-levels or other executives.

Often, a high-performing team may be assigned a particular task to complete as an agile and effective problem-solving group. Other times, teams are given broad, overarching motivation and asked to develop specific goals to attain that motivation.

The Team Can Build a Plan to Achieve Those Goals

Goals are just the first step in any process. Once a team has a goal, the next thing they need to do is plan out tangible steps, in a process, to achieve those goals.

That means that the team needs to have robust planning abilities. Some team members may think through the overarching problem and come up with key milestones to reach to achieve it. Others may approach it from the ground level to discuss the specific steps they will need to take to reach those milestones. Still, others may dedicate their time to identifying potential problems in the process and helping to navigate those problems.

While problem-solving is a core capability for most employees, it needs to be heavily employed within high-performance teams and groups within a company. It’s not a luxury; these employees must be capable of planning the solution to a problem with minimum friction. Plans themselves must be just as tangible and SMART as the goals.

The Team Has Strong, Clear Leadership

Leadership is critical for a team. There are, however, two kinds of leadership that matter: internal and external.

Internal leadership is the leadership of the team itself. How does the team organize, delegate, assign work, solve problems, or report data? Teams can have a single leader, or they can operate by committee or consensus. Both options have pros and cons, and neither is objectively “correct”; it generally depends on the team’s personalities and preferences.

External leadership is leadership from outside of the team, typically above it in the company hierarchy. For example, a customer service team might answer to a general CS lead, or a development team might have an executive development strategist above them.

External leadership typically assigns broad goals and asks for reports but does not participate in the team itself. Proper leadership is a critical part of maintaining an effective business. The external leader must be able to assign a goal and trust the team to see it through or to report to them if there are significant roadblocks that prevent achieving that goal. The team must trust their leadership not to assign unrealistic goals.

The Team Maintains Open and Clear Communication

Communication is essential for any team, whether for three people or thirty, entry-level or executive, or anywhere in between. Communication allows for problem-solving, data sharing, collaboration, and more. Without effective communication, you don’t have a team; you have individuals working on the same tasks.

Communication is about more than just opening channels; it’s about active listening, response, and discussion. If a team member speaks up with an idea, and is shot down without nuance or consideration, that’s not communication.

“In a successful team, members feel that their ideas and input matter, so they are not afraid to express their own thoughts and opinions, even if these conflict with what has been presented. In fact, diverse opinions are welcomed and seen as opportunities to stir creativity and generate fresh ideas. At the same time, members listen to what others have to say because they believe in the ability, character, and integrity of their teammates. This culture of trust allows members to share their knowledge, build on each other’s ideas, collaborate, and experiment.” – Athens Micro.

Communication is how teams function. Establishing lines of communication – whether it’s a discussion board, a Slack channel, in-person meetings, e-mail, or some combination of the above – is part of building a team. Ensure that everyone in the team equally uses the venues chosen for communication.

The Team Resolves Conflicts Quickly

Conflict is inevitable in any good team; because a good team includes a diversity of thoughts, views, opinions, and ideas. More on that momentarily.

Conflict can arise for any number of reasons. Team members may feel like they are not being listened to, or their contributions are minimized or misattributed. A team member may struggle with their workload or think they’ve been assigned more than the rest of the team. Many issues are an issue of perception, but some may be due to inequitable divisions of labor or attention.

An effective team works to resolve issues through a calm and practical discussion. Each team member must converse with respect and a calm attitude. They must listen and not interrupt, particularly if interruptions are part of the core complaint. They must focus on facts rather than opinions or perceptions. Mutual respect is critical.

Remember, disagreement is ok and fosters more ideas. Conflict is destructive and suppresses potential ideas.

The Team Has a Diverse Background and Composition

Diversity is critical for a high-performance team. An effective team should consist of people from different backgrounds, demographics, skill sets, and knowledge bases. Drawing from a diverse teams’ thoughts, experiences, and histories leads to more varied discussion, more diversity of ideas, and better end results.

That isn’t theory, either; diversity benefitting teams is a proven fact.

“A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.” – HBR.

This is where good conflict resolution comes into play. Diversity makes teams less comfortable, which fosters creativity but can make some members feel out of place. A good, inclusive team helps resolve these problems to the benefit of the whole team.

That said, sometimes a conflict is unresolvable. A diverse team cannot function with active bigotry in its makeup, for example. In these cases, a restructuring of the team may be necessary.

The Team Avoids Blame and Emphasizes Solutions

Every team will eventually encounter a roadblock, problem, or failure. How the team reacts to this failure is a critical sign of whether or not the team is functioning as one.

Poor teams blame one another, try to find a scapegoat, and believe their process was perfect while their implementation was flawed. While this can make most of the team feel better about themselves, it does nothing to resolve the problem, hurts the team’s morale, and costs the team a valuable asset.

Good teams take responsibility, whether as individuals or as a team, as a whole, and move on to solutions. The fact that they failed, is not important; how they mean to adjust and fix it is critical.

“Teams accept responsibility as individuals and as a team. They don’t blame one another for team mistakes and failures. No one should spend any time, useless time, in personal justifications. They should celebrate their successes together and recognize special performances and contributions that each team member makes to the total work of the team.” – Mike Schoultz.

It can be difficult for many people to learn to accept responsibility without blame. Finding candidates who can do so is a crucial aspect of building a team.

Each Team Member Has a Defined Role

When a team is being built, it must be built around the assignment of roles and the cohesiveness of skill sets. Overlapping skills can leave one team member feeling like they have nothing to do, particularly if there’s not enough work to justify two members doing it.

Skill gaps, conversely, can leave a team struggling to achieve its goals.

For example, a team dedicated to paid marketing might have one member who handles overall strategy, one who reads and analyzes metrics, one who is an expert in audience targeting, and one who creates ad copy and imagery. Together, they cover all of the bases and can implement a plan to achieve specific goals. If the team lacks someone who reads metrics and has two people who create copy, they become inefficient.

Over the course of operation, the team may find that the skills they initially joined to contribute are not where their true skills lie, and their role may shift. That is fine, so long as the team can adjust to cover the bases appropriately.

Each Team Member Contributes Their Share

Everyone in a high-performing team pulls their weight because everyone is fulfilling a distinct role.

“Each member of the team contributes their fair share of the workload and fully understands what their responsibilities are and where they fit in with the running of the business. They feel a sense of belonging to the team, are committed to their work, and really care about the success of the company.” – Undercover Recruiter.

Putting together a team that covers all bases while avoiding undue overlap or detrimental conflicts can be difficult. Often, teams need to go through several iterations before settling on an effective group, both in team size and skill sets. Additionally, when built by those in authority above the team, they might not see all of the conflicts or overlaps that occur. It’s up to the team leadership to approach external leadership about adjustments as necessary.

Teams are the building blocks of effective companies, and as a whole, the company itself is a team of teams. Building and refining that team is crucial to business success.

After reading today’s post, if you have any comments, questions, or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment down below or reach out and contact us! We would be more than happy to get a conversation started and assist with whatever team-building or recruiting needs you or your business may need. We’re standing by and ready to help at a moment’s notice. All it will take is a single message, so please reach out at any time.

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