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Teamwork - Eight Characteristics to Describe a Great Team

Back in March this year I wrote a post about Teams where I suggested that the managerial obsession with team building is sometimes not only inappropriate but actually has a negative effect on the individuals being shoe-horned into an artifical construct.


I’ve continued thinking about teams and teamwork and recently started reading "Teamwork Is an Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility” by Christopher M. Avery. I’m not very far through the book but I’m already beginning to agree with what I’ve read so far. Whilst reading on the train back from London last night a thought struck me about what a team means to me.

  • Trust
  • Empathy
  • Acknowledgement
  • Motivation

What struck me as I wrote this down was that it applied to both a team in the ’traditional' sense of the word - namely a group of individuals collaborating closely to achieve a shared end result - as well as a bunch of people pigeon-holed together for organisational convenience.

I don’t believe there’s any need to look at the words individually. They are common enough and dictionary definitions should suffice. But when you take the words collectively it doesn’t take long to notice that they are the words we implicity think about when we think of friendship and social interaction. In other words, the people we like to choose to hang out with in a non-work environment are the people:
  • who we trust and who trust us
  • who we have some empathy with and who can empathise with us
  • who acknowledge us for who we are 
  • and who motivate us in our daily lives - who support us when we’re down and urge us on to bigger things
I recently spent some time working in Prague with a group of project quality managers from various parts of the world. None of us were acquainted before we started working and each of us was assigned a set of projects to support. We primarily worked as individuals but were classed as a team from an organisational perspective. We started as strangers and when I left at the end of my contract we had become good friends. We had also become a ‘team' because each us were exhibiting those characteristics in my list. I don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that some of the best sporting teams and business teams are largley made up of people who have close social ties.

No matter how much I would like it, the characteristics of a successful social circle are not enough to build a successful operational unit. There are some other characteristics required, the characteristics that determine how successful teams achieve their goals. The whole concept is commonly called teamwork and there are four important characteristics that help teams do great work.

  • Win-Win
  • Opportunity
  • Results
  • Knowledge
Successful teams look for Win-Win situations. Compromise on anything less is deemed a failure, so great teams are exceptional optimists who find ways of working where everyone gets something and no-one comes out a loser. Crucially, win-win situations are achieved by honest means, there's no bluffing, everything is open and transparent.

Good teams look for opportunities - how can we do this better? What else do we need to help exceed our customer's expectations?

Great teams are results oriented. They understand implicitly what is required and they use measurement carefully and wisely to ensure that what they deliver is what is wanted and to the expected standards. They don't do stuff that doesn't add value to the end result - sometimes even going below the corporate governance radar to achieve the desired results (without breaking the law!).

Continuous learning is an essential characteristic of any individual who wishes to succeed. In a team or collaborative environment it's all about how the individuals share that knowledge and how they urge each other to look further than their existing boundaries and concepts.

I still believe that much of the material written about high performing teams is garbage, written by people who have never experienced how a high performing team actually operates. I'm lucky enough to have that experience. I'm sure there's much more to be said on the subject, but for now I'm comfortable with my eight characteristics that help describe TEAMWORK.






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