Characteristics of successful teams

Regardless of whether we’re talking about the Indianapolis Colts or the editorial department of the Indianapolis Star, there are a number of characteristics common to successful teams:

  • Clear goals
  • Clear roles
  • Clear communication
  • Beneficial team behaviors
  • Well-defined decision procedures
  • A plan for improvement
  • Balanced participation
  • Established norms and ground rules
  • Awareness of the team process
  • Scientific approaches

There are a number of types of teams, and they are generally distinguished by three key points: their purpose; their duration (permanent or ad hoc); and their membership (functional or cross-functional). Five types of teams generally seen in the business sector are:

  1. Natural work groups: groups composed of people who work together every day
  2. Business teams: groups of people who come together for a specific task.
  3. Management teams: groups of people, usually peer managers, who come together to coordinate actions of the entire organization.
  4. Problem-solving teams: groups of people who come together for a specific period to analyze a situation and suggest working alternatives.
  5. New product/service teams: groups of people who come together to design or redesign a product or service.

To be effective, teams have a number of needs that must be met, including:

  • Clearly defined purposes and goals that serve the organization
  • Clearly defined parameters
  • Ability to communicate within the organization
  • People with the necessary knowledge and skills to accomplish their tasks.
  • Knowledge of how they are going to accomplish their tasks.

How teams operate

To accomplish their purpose and mission, teams must collaborate effectively. Teams that follow a proven process often achieve their goals. An effective process includes:

  • Identify the clear purpose, problem, or issue the team will address
  • Determine a problem-solving process
  • Hold effective meetings (e.g. agendas, ground rules, and established roles)
  • Conclude collaborations (e.g. summarize decisions, review action items, and evaluate meetings)
  • Follow up (e.g. distribute notes and complete assignments)

In summary, businesses often say they have “great teamwork” but the proof is in the process and the results.

Note: We have adapted portions of this post from P. Scholtes, B. Joiner, and B. Streibel, 2003, The Team Handbook, Oriel, Madison, WI.