9 characteristics effective teams have in common

Last updated:
December 15, 2020
December 20, 2021
min read
Bev Campling
Table of contents

If you’re looking for business success, you have to figure out how to build effective teams. What is a team in the workplace? It’s a group of people who work together towards a common goal. That sounds really straightforward, but the reality is that it’s not easy to put together a strong team.

Many companies are so busy chasing results that they overlook the fact that each team member is an individual. People come with personalities, quirks, talents, skills and experience. They aren’t machines that come with skills alone. Knowing how to build effective teams by understanding the individualities within a team is what makes a good leader.

Know the characteristics of a team

Successful teams work together as a single entity focused on a shared objective. To achieve that, management must do upfront planning to identify the characteristics they want onboard. Building effective teams requires as much analysis as developing new projects. A weak team on a brilliant project will result in poor results and even failure.

Team success isn’t a given, and you can’t just round up a bunch of employees who have the right experience and tell them to go for it; it’s unlikely that they’ll yield the desired results. Each team must be made up of strategic roles that have a specific purpose. These roles must be filled by employees who not only have the right experience but also have the right characteristics. If you’re in doubt a psychometric test will quickly help you make the right decision.

How to build a team

You have to know upfront what the ultimate team objective is. Once you understand that you can compile a list of the skills and experience required, as well as identify soft skills that will lead to success. For example, if a project has particularly tight deadlines you can’t have a perfectionist onboard, no matter how much experience they have. Their innate desire for accuracy will hold the team back, and that could lead to conflict within the group.

Adversely, if a project requires time and extreme precision, you can’t have a hunter personality onboard. Hunters are naturally assertive, impatient and independent. Excellent characteristics in business, but not when a slow pace and a high level of accuracy is required. Hunters will become disruptive.

Good teamwork is not about everyone having the same characteristics, but instead bringing together complementary personalities. A capable team must be diverse not only in skills and experience but culturally too. You want people who bring different views, perspectives and approaches to encourage innovation. That way someone’s strength fills a gap of another’s weakness and opens minds to alternative points of view.

Strong teams can argue solutions out, but all agree and commit to the final decision once it’s made to achieve collective success. Power teams don’t function on ego and control, but rather on trust and cooperation.

9 characteristics of an effective team

Irrespective of the project, industry, timeframe or ultimate goal, a successful team must have definite characteristics. If any of these are unmet, the team will lack cohesion and ultimately fail to achieve.

1. Clearly defined goals

A successful team fully understands and accepts both company and project goals. The team leader and management have to ensure that all goals and objectives are communicated openly and without ambiguity. Active employee engagement ensures that company goals are clear, but each project must be laid out clearly as well. If goals are unclear members could pull in opposite directions leading to confusion and conflict within the team. Also, goals and objectives must be revisited regularly to monitor progress and also to introduce changes that inevitably happen.

2. Clearly defined roles

Each team member must have a specific function and other members must understand and respect each other’s roles. Although team composition varies, there are three core roles within effective teams. There is a leader, strategists and workers. Members within a team may be able to cross-function to other roles, but each must respect their position within the team and not compete with others.

The team leader must manage the project with honesty and transparency and keep the team together. Strategists work on figuring ways to overcome challenges and plot the route forward. Workers keep their focus on individual tasks and move on to the next one at the right time.

3. Team rules

Effective teams play by the rules. Clearly defined rules must be set and implemented from the beginning. These rules must apply to everyone without exception, including the team leader. Rules must be established around communication, delivery, respect, meeting deadlines, etc. There must be no vagueness or ambiguity, and all team members must be allowed to contribute to the rules. Once decided, everyone on the team must agree to abide by the rules. Mutually defined and agreed rules encourages open communication and trust.

4. Open communication

It’s the role of the team leader to foster the safe environment of open communication. This is not only about communicating goals and progress. Members must be encouraged to share ideas, challenge ideas, discuss progress and highlight potential problems before they happen. It’s vital that people feel safe within the team and know that their input won’t be met with ridicule, negative consequences or reprimand.

Management and the team leader must lead by example. They need to listen carefully to team members, respect their input, discuss their ideas within the team and be willing to implement suggestions if they are viable. This encourages mutual trust and respect with the team.

5. Team trust

Open communication encourages trust, but so does loyalty within the team. Each member must know that whatever goes down in the team stays in the team. There’s little value in encouraging people to put forward differing opinions of how something could be done and then holding it against them afterwards. Robust discussion is healthy because it promotes innovation. If all discussions are project-related, they shouldn’t be taken personally by anyone.

An example of punishing a team member, later on, would be to exclude them from future projects because they’re considered disruptive. Other employees will quickly pick up on this kind of treatment and avoid contributing to team discussions for fear that they’ll suffer the fate. Ego and fear are poison to effective teams.

6. Shared accountability

Once you can build team trust, shared accountability will automatically fall into place. When people trust each other and know that they’re in an emotionally safe environment they’ll have each other’s back. The team will develop an awareness of their own role as well as that of others to achieve team success.

Shared accountability means that there is no blaming, but rather support if something goes wrong. Mutual efforts to resolve problems quickly and effectively becomes the norm rather than blame and finger-pointing that wastes time and creates instability.

7. Mutual decision making

Open communication, team trust and shared accountability lead to mutual decision making. Each team will have a built-in system to reach the best decisions and a hierarchy that ensures implementation. But when you have team cohesion decision making becomes more natural because once reached, the whole team buys in which leads to a seamless roll-out.

Mutual decision making doesn’t revolve around the leader making decisions and then telling the team what to do next. Joint decisions are made when the leader consults with the whole team, listens to their input and ideas, and then the group agrees together on the way forward. It’s about brainstorming together to find the best solution.

8. A bold leader

Without strong leadership teams will eventually collapse. A bold leader isn’t someone who directs the project with instructions supported by fear and control. Instead, it’s someone who can guide the team through the process with respect, open communication and transparency.

A good team leader is part of the team but acknowledged and accepted by them as their leader. That means that the team is willing to follow the guidance of the leader. No team can have an absent leader who pops in from time to time to check on things. The leader must always be available to hear members out, offer support and also pick up on red flags in team dynamics before they come to the fore.

9. Shared downtime

Effective teams are inclined to bond because they have a mutual purpose. This often leads to people going above and beyond to achieve goals. Many projects are intense and have tight deadlines which results in people giving their all.

As much as you want high performing teams who bring credit and success to your organization, prolonged dedication can lead to burnout and waning productivity. It’s important to recognize effective teams for their success by encouraging team fun. If you’re looking at team building activities, escape rooms could be great fun. But sometimes people just need to relax, so consider a company-sponsored night out or weekend away.


Team success doesn’t just happen. It takes analysis, planning and bold leadership to build an effective team. A strong team ethic flows from the top down. When people see that they are respected, heard, recognized and valued, they will reciprocate with dedication and loyalty to the task.

Progress evaluation must be ongoing, and the team leader must be adept at using talent analytics to and other data-driven options to monitor team performance. If you’re recruiting team members for specific projects an applicant tracking system is essential to ensure that you make the right hiring decisions.

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