Seven Traits of Effective Teams

Effective teams can contribute greatly to the success of an organization. The ability to build high-performing teams can be especially vital in small-to-midsize businesses where people must work effectively and efficiently to get tasks accomplished quickly enough for the company to remain competitive. If team members don’t work well together, problems such as poor organization, missed deadlines, and conflict can arise.

However, the workings of a highly effective team are not always obvious or intuitive. So what can organizations do to make certain that their teams are collectively productive? Here are a few qualities that successful teams possess.

Clear direction: Without a clear sense of what the team needs to accomplish, it’s impossible to assemble the right group of people to get there. Before an organization puts together a team, it’s imperative for them to decide on goals and desired outcomes. To do otherwise is putting the cart before the proverbial horse. Let the outcome you want provide clear direction for the team you select. First ask, “What is the outcome I want and why?” Then ask, “Who can get me there?”

Open and Honest Communication:

Effective teams communicate openly with each other. They share their opinions and ideas with other members and take into account the ideas and feedback of other team members. Communication isn’t just about talking. One of the most important aspects of team communication is listening. Listening is more than just finding things out—it’s a sign of respect. So it’s important for team members to listen like they mean it!

Open, honest communication builds a sense of camaraderie between team members. The tone and frequency of communication can determine the effectiveness of the team as a whole. The more freely team members communicate, the more comfortable they will be with sharing insights and ideas. Why do you think modern businesses emphasize communication and collaboration tools? According to Holly Chessman, Client Strategy Supervisor at Time + Space, “Collaboration tools are incredibly helpful – project management programs and messaging systems can make team communication easier. However, they aren’t always fitting. Some conversations are still best held face-to-face (or at the very least in a phone call), whether with clients or co-workers. We’ve all heard stories of information that was misconstrued when sent via online correspondence. Besides eliminating the likelihood of misinterpretation, a conversation is typically faster than a lot of back and forth. Of course, a follow-up message can always be sent to confirm what was discussed.” Communication is essential for keeping track of progress and working together efficiently on tasks. Poor communication can lead to crossed wires and that can mean work is left incomplete/incorrect or conflicts can arise.

Trust: Trust is the confidence among team members that their colleagues’ intentions are good and that they can be open and vulnerable within the group. Teams who possess a high degree of trust have members who feel psychologically safe. Trust is an extension of open, honest communication; there can be trust between team members only if they are allowed to share their ideas freely. Psychologically safe teams are more adaptable, and they can also impact the bottom line. Research by the Google Digital Academy revealed that sales teams with high ratings for psychological safety actually brought in more revenue, exceeding their sales targets by 17%. Teams with low psychological safety fell short by up to 19%.

Constructive conflict: There is such a thing as positive confrontation. Whereas destructive conflict hurts the team, constructive conflict drives it forward. Constructive conflict provides a platform for teams to criticize weaknesses in processes and designs without attacking individuals. Team members have the same goal; they just sometimes disagree on the best way to get there. If kept under control, this can be very synergistic. When team members challenge each other to find new and better ways of doing things, it helps feed the creativity of the team. Constructive conflict allows teams to transform a good idea into a great idea.

During times of constructive conflict, team leaders may need to referee to make sure confrontation stays productive. Sometimes it means staying out of the way and letting arguments run their course. Other times it means wading in and restoring focus to the discussion. This type of leadership encourages teams to talk and to share ideas freely, but also allows them to feel safe doing so because they know things won’t get out of hand.

Which is an excellent segue to…

Strong leadership: A strong team needs a leader they’ll trust and respect. The team leader is the glue that holds the team together and they are responsible for setting the pace, offering encouragement and motivation, and keeping all members of the team updated. Strong team leaders not only set an example and motivate team members, they also provide effective constructive feedback.

Shared goals and results: Successful teams place the common goal before the interests of individual team members. They agree upon and set goals based on desired outcomes and results. They have a clear plan formulated to achieve these objectives, both as a group and as individuals, which gives the team clear direction and a collective goal to aim for.

Accountability: Effective teams accept responsibility both as individuals and as a team. Accountability means that individuals understand their role within the team and must answer to the rest of the group when their performance or behavior is detrimental to the team. Rather than playing the blame game, they identify potential problems and address them quickly and directly. Accountability establishes respect among team members because they are all held to the same standards, ensuring that everyone contributes to the team.

How does your team measure up? If few of these characteristics describe your team, it’s time to take action. With the right attitude and the willingness to make a change, your team can do amazing things.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” —Helen Keller