What makes a team successful?
Working in a great team is not only fun but also a source of success. After all, a team that works together effectively can achieve far more than its members could ever accomplish individually. But what are the prerequisites for a team to function well and deliver a top performance? A common goal and clear rules are a must for optimal cooperation. In addition, a culture of innovation and collaboration must be established.
As Aristotle once said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, one plus one equals more than two. This saying is also true of life in the business world. If the commitment, personalities, experience and skills of all the members of a team are combined effectively and cooperation is encouraged, all employees can really leverage their strengths and deliver top performance. However, shared success is not a matter of chance – it depends on a number of important factors.
Common goal and good communication culture
So what are the key ingredients to make a team successful? Here are the most important tips:
- Team members must, first and foremost, pursue a common goal and share the same vision. The goal and the defined task must be motivating for those involved. Team members have to see the purpose of their work so that they stay motivated over the long term. And everyone must recognize the contribution they can and should make to achieving that goal.
- Each team member must be prepared to put aside his or her own personal interests (e.g. career advancement) in order to achieve the team’s goals. There is no place for comments such as “that is not my job” (meaning: great, someone else can do it…). This does not mean that everyone should do everything but the willingness to help others must be there. My experience has shown that when people think as a team, this actually helps their careers rather than hindering them. Nobody wants to be surrounded by selfish colleagues who hamper the success of the team.
- The opposite of selfishness is a sense of togetherness based on common values and standards of quality. What is key in this context is mutual respect, e.g. with team members being punctual and responsible, meeting deadlines etc. In other words: they can count on each other.
- Spending time together away from the office, e.g. in team-building exercises or development events, is also helpful to promote a sense of togetherness. The design and purpose of such workshops depend on a team’s development phase – i.e. whether it is newly formed or long established and already functioning well. No matter which phase your team is in: Getting to know colleagues in a different context fosters mutual understanding and strengthens trust in one other.
- Ideally, all team members should be open and receptive to input – from colleagues, their manager, or external parties. In other words, they should not stubbornly pursue their own ideas but try to embrace new perspectives. Hence, differences of opinion do not have to be negative and can, instead, provide food for thought. This stimulates creativity and strengthens the team’s ability to solve problems.
- Successful teams have a very good communication culture. Their members can openly contribute their views and ideas across all hierarchical levels and give feedback without anyone reacting negatively to it. No questions are regarded as stupid questions.
- Successes are celebrated in good teams, but everyone also understands that mistakes and failures can happen. They should simply be regarded as an opportunity for the entire team to learn lessons and move on. If this is not the case, no team members would take risks, and that leads to less innovation and fewer advances. Individuals within the team should not be afraid to suggest new ideas or challenge existing processes.
Clear rules and good planning
- It would be an illusion to believe that peace and happiness always reign within a team. To defuse conflicts, it is vital to have a willingness to reach consensus and a clear set of rules, e.g. that team members actively listen to each other, do not interrupt, etc. Ideally, these rules should be formulated and documented jointly within the team.
- If conflicts nevertheless occur, they must be addressed constructively (e.g. with ”I” messages) and proactively, since disagreements that are allowed to fester are the worst. Misunderstandings must be addressed to prevent discord leading to a loss of efficiency and productivity wherever possible. This requires both sides to come together, with no assignment of blame or disparaging remarks about the other party.
- Inadequately prepared and poorly managed meetings severely impact on efficiency and are a source of frustration. When preparing for a meeting, it is important to consider whether the topics are relevant for (almost) all participants, what information colleagues need, etc. You can read more about “efficient meetings” (and efficiency gains in general) in the following blog post:
- Good planning and clarity about methods and responsibilities are also important. The clear delegation of tasks is essential: Who does what, by when and using which tools?
- In terms of the ideal team size, experience has shown that a group of three to seven employees works well together. If there are more than seven people, subgroups begin to form, which hampers cooperation.
As you can see: Successful teamwork is not down to magic: You simply have to consciously cooperate with your colleagues.
Many of these success factors for good teamwork are strongly influenced by the manager. In my next blog post, I will therefore explain what a boss can do to ensure that a team functions effectively and is successful.
© Claudia Kraaz