The 7 Traits of Highly Effective Teams
Updated: May 22
As individuals, we can achieve many commendable accomplishments. However, significant, large achievements that have a major impact in a company, a community, or the entire world, can only be achieved with a team. This article explores the 7 traits of highly effective teams.
1. Strong Leadership
Every team has at least one leader. Leaders are fundamental to highly effective teams because they set the vision that brings the team together. The most effective leaders are the ones that are sought after by the team. They are in the leadership position not because of an imposed authority, but because the team recognizes that without their leadership, the team would not be the same, and might not even exist.
The way the leader deals with each individual team member is paramount to the effectiveness of the team. Recognition and praises are given publicly to each and every individual that is performing. Team members that are not performing are coached or reprimanded privately. Reprimanding usually only happens in the early stages of team formation. A team member that is constantly being reprimanded will likely not make the rigorous selection process that a strong leader puts in place when forming a highly effective team. Once a highly effective team is formed, each team member will know where he stands, and self-correction will usually happen without the need for much reprimanding. (For the sake of simplicity and easier writing, I will use the masculine form to refer to both genders as leaders and as team members.)
A strong leader is demanding, and yet personable. Controlling and yet flexible. A strong leader understands that his strength is in his team and not in his individual abilities. Therefore, a strong leader is never afraid of recruiting team members whose skills and abilities are stronger than his own.
A strong leader does not play favoritism and does not have a hidden agenda. Communication is open and direct. All team members know exactly what is expected of them. In a highly effective team, formal performance reviews are simply a formality. The team members know how well they are doing long before a performance review is conducted. There are no surprises.
Strong leaders protect their teams. They provide high level coverage when needed, and never allow anything under their control happen to the demise of a team member. Strong leaders reward their team members abundantly and allow them to grow as far as their abilities will take them, even if it means that eventually the team member will leave. In reality, the team member will always be part of the family, even after choosing to follow other paths that will allow him to grow. This is analogous to a child leaving the parent’s home. Parents may be sad to see their children leave, but they know they need to move on in order to grow.
The success of a team member is of utmost importance to the leader, even when attention is taken away from the leader. Jealousy and envy is never part of the equation. In a highly effective team, the leader is proud of each team member’s accomplishments, just like a parent would be.
Highly effective teams are built on trust. Trust exists among team members and with the leader. There should never be a reason to doubt the motives of a team member. Highly effective teams understand that at times some members of the team will be on the spotlight, but eventually everyone gets their chance to shine.
When a team operates at optimum effectiveness, there is little, or no politics involved. No one criticizes anyone behind their backs. Criticisms are good natured, constructive and open. Many times, they take the form of light, well intended remarks. Each team member understands their strengths and weaknesses and is not bothered by a good-natured comment from a colleague about a weak spot. Team members support each other and never let outside forces break the trust that exists within the team. Outsiders that try to break up the team get frustrated because they can’t get through the trust shield that isolates the team members from destructive forces.
In a highly effective team, team members respect each other and their leader. The respect is based on the team members’ character and ability to contribute. Each team member knows and values the others’ capabilities, and as long as they keep on contributing, the respect stays strong.
Respect comes naturally because each team member was carefully selected by the leader. Before joining the team, they had to prove to be at least on par with other team members. If you are not respected, you will not survive in a highly effective team. A natural selection process occurs here.
Highly effective teams are unbreakable. Companies come and go. Projects succeed and fail. Victories and defeats are shared. Through it all, the team stays together. In a highly effective team there is a sense of family, a sense of connectedness, a sense of belonging.
The team’s unity will be challenged. Outsiders will try to break it. Unexpected events will put it to the test. A few team members may leave. Some leave temporarily, but eventually come back. Others leave permanently due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But the greater team sticks together through the ups and downs of life.
One of the characteristics of highly effective teams is loyalty. Team members are loyal to themselves and to their leader. This loyalty transcends the boundaries of projects, companies or other organizational forms.
5. Complementary Skills
In a highly effective team, skills are complementary. Everyone brings something to the table that makes the whole bigger than the sum of the parts. Bursts of synergistic energy abound.
When you are in a meeting with a highly effective team, you can feel the energy. In a brainstorming session, a person’s comment sparks an idea, which feeds someone else’s thoughts, which turns into more comments and yet more ideas. It’s like a feeding frenzy of thoughts and creative outbursts. In a problem-solving session, a solution is suggested by one member, refined by another, challenged by a third, until the perfect solution is crafted in a challenging and yet respectful session of solution refinements.
Team members are not afraid of admitting what they don’t know. They don’t need to prove anything to anyone. They know exactly how they contribute, and they are respected for it. They are not afraid of making mistakes. No one is expected to be perfect. When one team member drops the ball, another member picks it up without a moment’s hesitation and the whole team performs in unison.
6. Open Communication
Highly effective teams communicate openly and often. Communication is direct. Words do not need to be carefully chosen, or politically correct. People are not afraid to speak their minds. There is no need to worry about someone being overly sensitive to how things are said and getting offended. Even when someone goes a bit over the top, they are forgiven, and the team just moves on. No one holds a grudge.
Everyone understands what everyone else’s roles and capabilities are. Mutual respect and trust allow the team to communicate openly and bring their best ideas forth. This does not mean that everyone is always in agreement. In fact, disagreement and respectful debates are a healthy part of a team’s communication. But these discussions tend not to be tense. They are good natured, relaxed, and with lots of laughs. If tension builds up inadvertently, someone intervenes and brings the discussion back to a healthy state.
In highly effective teams, some team members can communicate without saying a word. A look, a nod, or a smile, can say as much as a carefully crafted sentence. Sometimes team members can predict what the others are going to say, as if they could read each other’s minds. It is not uncommon to have one team member deliver a message that the other was just about to say.
7. Lack of Selfishness
Finally, in highly effective teams there is no selfishness. The cliché that there is no “i” in “team” is absolutely applicable to these teams. Team members are not out seeking credit. They know that credit will be given where credit is due.
Members of highly effective teams do not need to outdo each other in order to be noticed and praised by their leader. In fact, they will gladly step out of the spotlight and let others shine and take credit.
The leader plays a big role in this behavior. If the leader creates an unhealthy competitive environment, where he is always asking “what have you done for me lately?”, team members will always seek the spotlight. They will always want to get the credit. But if they know that even when they are not in the spotlight they are still highly regarded as a valuable member of the team, they will gladly step back when appropriate.
Highly effective teams are hard to find. If you have never been part of one, you may think that the concepts presented here are utopic, and that such teams simply do not exist. If you are one of the lucky few that have experienced being part of a highly effective team, this article may resonate with you.
If you are currently part of a highly effective team, cherish it. Highly effective teams are treasures that should be guarded for life. Once you become part of one, you will never want to let go of it.