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The Five Characteristics of Strong Teams
By Timothy F Bednarz

A team is defined as a small number of individuals with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, approach and set of performance goals to which all are held mutually accountable. A more detailed examination of this definition will further elucidate strengths of the team approach.

The fact that individual member efforts and overall group performance are inextricably linked makes the team the most productive performance unit an organization has at its disposal. The team is collectively responsible for specific results and will achieve them provided the performance ethic of the company is strong enough.

Within teams, each specific member’s commitment to the common purpose in a set of related performance goals is of paramount importance. Each individual must believe the team’s overall objective has a direct bearing on the success of the company and must collectively keep each other honest in assessing the results relative to that purpose. There are a number of elements that give teams their internal strength.

These include:

  1. Size

    Research has shown that most teams range from 2 to 25 individuals; however, the average number is less than 10 members. Smaller teams tend to be more effective, as larger numbers of people have trouble interacting constructively as a group. Large teams are also less likely to reach timely agreements on the actionable steps required to move the team forward.

    Often large groups defined as teams tend to break themselves down into smaller sub-teams that are responsible for more secondary aspects of the project or problem.

  2. Complementary Skills

    In order to be effective, teams must be comprised of individuals who have the right mix of skills in three areas.

    • Technical or Functional Expertise – Team members should possess the appropriate technical or functional know-how required for the team to accomplish its goals or objectives. Specific expertise is defined by the breadth and scope of the problem and the capabilities required to resolve it.
    • Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills – Teams must be able to identify any problems and opportunities that arise. They must be able to evaluate available options and make necessary trade-offs and decisions before proceeding. Therefore, it is important for the majority of if not all team members to possess advanced problem solving and decision making skills that will allow them to effectively move the team forward.

    • Interpersonal Skills – Teams depend on effective communication and constructive conflict resolution. These abilities depend on the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence of individual members, including respect, active listening and empathy as well as the ability to handle criticism, remain objective, take risks and build trust. As leaders appoint members to their team, common sense should guide them in selecting individuals with the necessary complement of skills to achieve the team’s purpose. While many teams are assembled based on more subjective personal criteria or according to a formal position description, these interpersonal areas should be considered first and foremost when selecting team members.

  3. Common Purpose

    Teams develop direction, momentum and commitment by working to shape a meaningful purpose. Effective teams invest extensive time and effort in exploring, defining and agreeing to a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually. Once achieved, this gives teams an identity that reaches beyond the sum total of the individuals involved. This identity keeps conflict-something both necessary and threatening to teams-constructive by providing a meaningful standard against which to resolve clashes between individual and team interests.

  4. Common Approach

    As teams require a common approach, or how they will work together to accomplish their purpose, individual members must agree on who will do specific jobs, how schedules will be set and adhered to, what skills need developing, how continuing membership is to be earned and how the group will make and modify decisions, including when and how to change it’s approach to getting the job done. The agreement on operational specifics and how they integrate individual skills and advance the team’s performance lies at the heart of shaping a common team approach.

  5. Mutual Accountability

    A team is not viable until it can hold itself accountable. Teams enjoying a common purpose and approach inevitably hold themselves individually and collectively more responsible for the team’s performance. Teams further develop specific performance goals to provide clear yardsticks for accountability.

    Accountability provides a measure of the team’s quality of purpose and approach. Groups lacking mutual accountability for performance have not shaped a common purpose and approach that can sustain them as a team.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. is the author of the 125 books included in Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series. He has also authored “Great! What Makes Leaders Great,” which was selected by “Foreword Review Magazine” as one of the top ten career books published in 2011, as well as a finalist in the “2011 Foreword Review Book of the Year Awards.”

Excerpt: Leadership Styles: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2012)

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