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Leaders Determine the Characteristics of Effective Teams

High performing teams have a magical quality. The extraordinary "Dream Team" represents the characteristics of effective teams we'd all like to play for, work with and support.

From the sidelines, cheering these teams to victory, we may not realize how much planning and effort goes into building these highly effective teams. Perhaps that's why we struggle when it's time to build our own dream teams.

It isn't luck or fate that brings a team together and makes it effective. Leaders take action to build these teams and recruit team members who will contribute in their own individual ways. Leaders look for ways to stretch players and coach them to fill in team gaps. To build a winning team, deliberate effort is made on identifying and building the critical characteristics of effective teams.

It's like making a house your home. You can build it from the ground up and get exactly what you want even though doing so will be expensive and you may be limited by environmental conditions. Or you can remodel an existing structure to modernize it and bring all the elements together, blending the old and new. Or you can choose to make do with what you've got so long as the basic function of each room is serving you well enough to get by.

Your dream home is like the dream team. Getting what you want starts with knowing what you want and taking action to build from there.

Sure, there are starter lists you can refer to. Even this blog will roll out 26 qualities that contribute to team effectiveness as we progress through the year. But here's a word of caution. Before you adopt someone else's characteristics of effective teams, make sure their list precisely fits your situation.

The characteristics that worked for the 2016 World Champion Cubs, for example, won't be a copy/paste list for the 2017 championship team. New opponents, new expectations and new responses to the 2016 methods will change the game for every team. An action-oriented leader who anticipates these change will build a team that is ready for here-and-now, not for last season.

The Characteristics of Effective Teams Seldom Emerge Automatically

It may look as if the top performing teams are imbued with a super-human ability to operate in one accord. They are so fluid and connected, that we marvel at their plays.

The players themselves attribute these abilities to hours and hours of practice with each other. They are committed, focused and driven. They are able to subjugate individual ego to team results. They respect each others' talents, understand each others' strengths and weaknesses, and hold each other accountable.

Nothing is happening automatically. These teams don't simply "click" into place, and their plays don't materialize out of thin air.

Someone Has to Nurture and Build the Characteristics of Effective Teams

Left to their own devices, most teams would never achieve greatness. A group of the most talented individuals isn't a team. Without guidance, that's a surefire recipe for internal competition that diminishes the effectiveness of every individual.

An action-oriented team leader is needed. That can be a formal role or an informal one, depending on the type of team. It can be a rotating role, shared between team members. Who it is matters less than what this role will do.

Someone (could it be you?) will need to take deliberate action to turn a group of talented individuals into a team. Getting your ideal composition of the characteristics of effective teams starts with selecting and drafting talented individuals, but it's building the team characteristics that really counts.

The Characteristics of Effective Teams Are Greater than the Sum Total of Individual Characteristics

For a good starter list of 21 key characteristics of individual team members, check out The Hard Hat by Jon Gordon. It tells a true story that illustrates ways you can personally contribute to a team.

But for an action-oriented leader that wants to develop the entire team, think bigger than individual level. The team itself has a collective character. Back to our house analogy -- the individual rooms must work together to create a home.

Team characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  • Shared values that are demonstrated in how team members interact with each other.
  • Agreed-upon levels of autonomy vs. shared decision-making and execution.
  • Mutually beneficial goals for the team and the individuals who are on the team.
  • Norms for getting input from all team members and drawing out full participation.
  • Connections founded in trust and respect.
  • Understanding each other and what drives each individual.
  • Commitment to shared success.

The team's leader (or collective leadership) must determine which characteristics fit for the team. Taking action to make conscious decisions like this bring a team together and provides clarity for team decisions and priorities. Without a deliberate naming and claiming of team characteristics, your team will struggle needlessly against itself and fail to achieve its full potential.

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The CONNECT2Win Blog has been discontinued. The CONNECT2Lead Blog continues, and you'll find free and affordable resources for team on People First Leadership Academy