What makes a good team

What makes a good team great? Get five critical characteristics of a successful team and seven tips on building a strong team.

Successful businesses understand the value of building an effective team. But the contributing factors to what makes a good team are often hard to define, and strategies for building a good team can be even harder to grasp. In this piece, we will discuss:

What does a good team mean for a company?

Having a good team of employees affects every aspect of a company. You can hire candidates with the necessary skillset and knowledge for a role, but even the most intelligent individuals become poor employees when they remain an individual and do not buy into the team as a whole.

A good team brings individuals together to work towards the organization’s collective goals productively and efficiently. Working in a group, sharing knowledge and ideas, and understanding how different employees perform (strengths, weaknesses, etc.) leads to innovation, greater efficiency, and more profit.

Building a good team requires team players. Therefore, employees who naturally work well and collaborate with others are highly sought after in the job market. Analysis from LinkedIn found teamwork is the third most in-demand soft skill for employers.

The image shows the Top 10 most in-demand soft skills: Communication, Organization, Teamwork, Always Punctual, Critical Thinking, Social skills, Creativity, Interpersonal Communication, Adaptability and Friendly Personality

Source: LinkedIn

Building a good team will look different for every company and depend on many factors, including culture, industry, size, structure, goals, and more.

While designing a good team and encouraging effective collaboration can take significant effort, the outcomes are worth it. Some of the benefits of a good team include:

  • Creativity and generating new ideas
  • Improved productivity
  • More motivation and better employee morale
  • Reduced stress and in-built support systems
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Better flexibility
  • Conflict resolution
  • Trust and respect amongst team members

What makes a successful and effective team?

While every team is different, there are common traits regularly found among successful ones. Below is a list of characteristics effective teams focus on.

1. Communication

Perhaps the most crucial characteristic of a good team is communication. This can come in multiple forms:

  • Organizational – Teams need to be able to communicate in order to organize their activities. This could be ensuring the right resources or equipment is available, preceding or connected work is completed, and staff can perform quality work on time.
  • Sharing Knowledge – Organizations develop valuable institutional knowledge related to their operations. To complete processes efficiently, experienced staff must communicate this knowledge to the relevant parties.
  • Brainstorming – While institutional knowledge shows how the organization previously performed tasks, it is critical businesses remain open to new approaches. Effective communication allows employees to brainstorm new ideas and strategies, potentially improving operations.
  • Feedback – Another vital type of communication is constructive feedback or criticism. Whether it is teaching new employees, maintaining quality outputs, adapting to new processes, or removing inefficiencies, open and honest feedback helps make employees better at their job. The goal should always be to improve the team as a whole and critique actions, not individuals.

It is important to remember that communication is a two-way process. It is as much about listening as it is talking. Therefore, organizations looking to improve their communication skills should develop their listening capability and become more aware of their employees’ needs and concerns.

Research shows:

  • The majority (86%) of workplace failures are caused by a lack of effective collaboration and communication.
  • Well-connected teams who communicate successfully can increase productivity by up to 25%.
  • Strong communication helps employee retention, with turnover 4.5x higher in businesses that lack effective workplace communication.

Surveys of large companies (100,000 employees or more) have shown an average loss of $62.4 million per year due to inadequate team communication.

2. Respect

For staff to work well together, they have to respect and trust each other. Even strong communication channels fail when employees don’t respect the source of information. Healthy respect between employees leads to:

  • Valuing each other’s opinions
  • Greater collaboration
  • Reduced stress
  • Fewer workplace conflicts
  • Job satisfaction

Whether it is someone’s past accomplishments or proving their abilities through working together, respect grows with time.

Leadership can generate a respectful work culture and define how they expect employees to treat people, sometimes referred to as “owed respect.” But to build a truly successful team, employees also have to develop respect for one another through experience, known as “earned respect.”

Research shows striking the right balance between these two types of respect is key to healthy team dynamics. For example, workplaces with high owed respect and little earned respect reduce individual achievements and treat everyone equally regardless of job performance.

In contrast, workplaces that emphasize earned respect improve motivation but risk producing toxic competitiveness.

In general, the importance of respect in the workplace cannot be understated. For example, a survey of 20,000 employees worldwide performed by Georgetown University found respect to be the most valued leadership behavior.

3. Diversity

Diversity in the workplace, particularly in leadership, is an essential step toward a fairer society. In addition, it also makes business sense.

Good teams are composed of a wide range of perspectives and varying skill sets. This is helped by considering diversity and building a team of people from various cultures, age groups, backgrounds, and beliefs.

Diversity and appropriate team composition increase creativity and problem-solving to create the best team possible, generate the most value from a product, and create an inclusive, welcoming work environment.

Building a team with a lack of diversity leads to a closed-minded approach to business. When all team members have similar lived experiences, they can struggle to understand the whole picture when it comes to a product or a particular way of working.

A report from McKinsey, analyzing more than 1,000 large companies from 15 countries over five years, shows a strong business case for both gender diversity and ethnic/cultural diversity in corporate leadership. They found that companies in the top quartile for gender and ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams outperformed those in the bottom quartile.

The figure of McKinsey’s 2019 analysis on diversity found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21 pecent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014

Source: McKinsey

4. Commitment

A team committed to their work and motivated to perform well offers a range of benefits to an organization, including increased job performance and productivity and decreased employee turnover and absenteeism.

Generating commitment requires shared goals that genuinely matter to employees. This could be because they value the outcome, have a shared vision with leadership, or are incentivized (financial reward/bonus, career progression, etc.).

Employee commitment is closely related to motivation, enthusiasm, and engagement. Committed employees are highly motivated, enthusiastic, and actively engaged with their work.

While good teams strive for commitment, it is vital to consider the underlying reasons behind an employee’s mindset. Not all commitment is equal when it comes to team performance. To better characterize organizational commitment, Allen & Meyer developed a three-component model:

  • Affective Commitment – how much an employee wants to remain at an organization.

Affective commitment means the employee wants to stay at an organization. They are satisfied with their role, feel valued, and share the organization’s goals. Generally speaking, employees that are affectively committed are significant assets when building a good team.

  • Normative Commitment – how much an employee feels they should stay at an organization.

Normative commitment means employees remain at an organization, fearing the consequences or guilt of leaving. This could be due to its effect on their co-workers (i.e., creating a knowledge gap and increasing pressure on others). Normative commitment produces emotions that can negatively influence job performance and can become detrimental to organizations looking to build a successful team.

  • Continuance Commitment – how much an employee feels the need to stay at their organization.

Continuance commitment refers to employees that remain at an organization because they have to. This could be due to financial reasons or a lack of alternative opportunities. Continuance commitment can lead to dissatisfied employees remaining at an organization as they cannot find better remuneration elsewhere. In addition, this form of commitment can hinder team building, with employees feeling forced to remain at an organization often getting in the way of potentially affectively committed replacements.

5. Leadership

A group of talented individuals struggles to form an effective team without strong leadership. Someone has to be in charge in order to define team goals, communicate strategy, provide motivation, organize everyone, and find ways to get the most out of each employee.

The image of Valamis CEO Jussi Hurskainen

Our much loved leader, Valamis CEO Jussi Hurskainen, takes to the stage to deliver his speech to all global employees at one of the company’s annual DevDays

Leadership sets the tone for how staff communicates with one another, how they operate and meet deadlines and the overall dynamics between team members. Influential leaders are respected, trusted, and confident in their abilities while also being good listeners who can continuously give and receive constructive feedback. They can evaluate and develop talent and understand what employees are capable of, often when they don’t know themselves.

There are many different management and leadership styles that foster collaboration and produce successful teams.

How to build a good team

Below is a list of steps that can help build a good team. These steps are not a one-size-fits-all approach to team building. Think of them instead as a general introduction with tips for getting started.

1. Provide psychological safety

Psychological safety is a critical factor related to how an individual perceives the wider team and their place within it. It refers to employees feeling secure in their role such that they are confident in offering new ideas, raising concerns, making mistakes, and speaking candidly without negative consequences (punishment, humiliation, etc.).

When employees feel safe, they are free to maximize their potential, take smart risks, and express their opinions without fear of judgment or embarrassment. Psychological safety means employees can be their authentic selves. They feel valued and respected enough to always be honest, safe in the knowledge their insights are welcome.

Organizations can help create psychological safety in multiple ways:

  • Creating an open work environment
  • Recognizing good work and valuing new innovative approaches
  • Not punishing staff for exhibiting positive characteristics even if the outcomes fall short
  • Treating team members as people and being genuinely concerned about their wellbeing
  • Offering multiple communication channels for employees to share ideas
  • Owning up to mistakes and demonstrating the desired mindset

2. Provide a sense of trust between team members

Employees that are part of good teams depend on each other. They trust their teammates will always try their best in a given situation and look to help each other out, relieving stress when schedules become hectic.

When staff trusts each other, they no longer have to check each other’s work. Instead, they assume team members will respond correctly depending on the circumstances presented to them and produce high-quality work on time.

While respect can be generated between strangers due to past accomplishments or personal testimony, trust is generally earned through experience. It takes time to build up, with team members getting to know each other, working together, and sharing successes. Trust is also an essential component of creating psychological safety within a team.

Tips for building trust between team members include:

  • Holding employees accountable for their work
  • Honoring commitments
  • Being transparent and honest
  • Admitting when mistakes occur
  • Effective communication
  • Team-bonding exercises
  • Valuing trusted long-term workplace relationships

3. Utilize diversity and appropriate team composition

A team of diverse individuals that can execute a range of jobs, collaborate effectively, and maximize collective performance goes a long way to ensuring success. This means gathering people from different backgrounds with differing experiences, skillsets, and knowledge to provide fresh perspectives on the team’s work and how best to perform it.

For example, you shouldn’t have a team composed of only middle-aged white males who see the product from a similar point of view and fail to grasp how other people may interact with it.

Research has shown diverse teams are more likely to remain objective, focusing on facts and making fewer factual errors. Breaking up homogenous groups in the workplace can also make employees more aware of their own internal biases.

To ensure diversity and appropriate team composition, organizations should:

  • Assess existing teams and identify weaknesses or knowledge gaps
  • Organize diversity and inclusion training and define clear guidelines
  • Hire based on merit and who offers the most value to the team
  • Use business goals to guide team composition

4. Create goals and objectives with structure and clarity

Good teams require realistic goals defining expected outputs. The team also needs an accompanying strategy and a clear organizational structure to achieve these goals and show the chain of command and communication channels.

When employees know the team’s vision, they can develop ideas to best perform their part of the broader mission. Often the employees closest to the work know the optimal approach to reach the desired outcomes. Empowering employees to innovate the path to a defined goal can become a great motivation tool.

An organization can help build a successful team with clear goals by:

  • Creating a comprehensive business plan that is easily accessible to all staff
  • Getting to know employees and tailoring individual objectives based on their skillsets
  • Align team and personal goals with the wider business mission
  • Reframe objectives to make them more meaningful to different team members
  • Listen to employee feedback and work to generate staff buy-in

5. Create a sense of purpose and meaning

Good teams need leaders who can create meaning in work even when it is not immediately apparent to employees. A sense of purpose and meaning generates team engagement improving work ethic and performance.

Leadership can help employees find a sense of purpose through:

  • Understanding individual motivations and designing work packages to match
  • Tying work and specific outcomes to rewards (employee development, financial, etc.)
  • Using the organization as a force for good (charity partners, environmental drives, etc.)

6. Encourage employee development

Employee development is vital for effective teams. Even highly motivated employees can stagnate after repeating the same work again and again. They can begin to feel stuck in their career progression.

Developing employees add new skills to the team, helping improve performance, generating motivation, and showing employees a future career path.

While a good team is a great starting point, you can always build on success. Employee development can take the team further by learning valuable skills that open new growth opportunities or increase productivity.

Tips for encouraging employee development include:

  • Creating a culture of continual learning
  • Facilitating collaborative learning and knowledge transfer between team members
  • Rotating roles within the team to acquire new skills
  • Mentorship and coaching programs
  • Simulating and role-playing different scenarios
  • Conferences and helping employees learn and bring external knowledge to the team

If you want to discover how our company encourage employees to learn, you might find interesting How Valamis Supports and Encourages Employees to Learn

7. Manage and monitor performance

To build a successful team, you have to understand each team member and how they behave, interact, and perform their roles. By managing and monitoring performance, leadership can identify issues early, spot talented employees capable of more, find operational improvements, and more.

Employee monitoring has come a long way, with a range of approaches for management to consider:

  • Technology integrations that accurately track information
  • Continual employee feedback and surveys to review collaborations, equipment, processes, or entire projects
  • Tailored KPIs unique to a company that best represents employee performance
  • Self-evaluation and comparison to understand personal biases
  • Relating performance to organizational goals and objectives