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Team Building: Characteristics of a Good Team

Team building, team coaching, teamwork, no matter what you call it, you need to know that there are four characteristics of a good team. First, know that we use the term team loosely.  You often hear a leader call the folks in their organization their team.  As we discuss the characteristics of a good team, you will find that this is a misnomer.  The characteristics of a good team are a commitment to a common purpose, performance goals, complementary skills, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

A manager/leader with good leadership skills will help define the common purpose for a team.  The purpose may well be set by the nature of the work being completed or the leader may set a higher level goal or purpose such as zero defects on work completed and rolled out or number one in customer service or top sales team.  No matter which direction you take, the team must have a common purpose or direction so they know how they individually fit onto the whole. Note that defining and communicating a purpose is the first attribute of the characteristics of a good team.  I would argue that without the purpose, direction, or a plan, all team building activities will be for naught.  Give considerable thought to the purpose, clearly articulate it and communicate it to your team.  Your team building will get a solid start with a solid purpose.

The second attribute of the characteristics of a good team is setting performance goals.  The performance goals should support and align with the purpose or plan you have created and communicated to your team.  Establishing the goals are important because this gives direction to the team.  More often than not, the goals of the team are not the same as the overall goals of the organization.  Organization objectives are high level and your team goal maybe first to market, zero defect, units produced, sales goals, etc.  This becomes more obvious from a manager perspective as you are performance coaching.  During team building activities or performance coaching conversations it becomes obvious that there is a need to align performance goals with the team purpose so the employees have some control over meeting the goals.  Employees never feel they directly control the organization level goals, because they do not, so it is your job to give your employees a target they control and that they feel ownership in hitting.  This target should also be one that aligns with the organization level goals, but should be a piece of the puzzle rather than the full picture so the target does not feel so daunting.

The third attribute of the characteristics of a good team is complementary skills.  When you think about the characteristics of a good team it only makes sense that team members would have similar skill sets.  These skills fall into three functional buckets:  technical or functional expertise, problem solving or decision-making skills, and interpersonal skills.  The effective manager will work to develop these skills in themselves and, while team building, will enhance these skills in their team members.  There are many ways to increase these skills in employees, some are through performance coaching conversations, another way is to create a team values statement, and yet another would be to fashion a team building exercise around the problem you are trying to solve.  

The final attribute of the characteristics of a good team is mutual accountability.  Successful implementation of the first three characteristics of a good team, creating a purpose, setting performance goals, and aligning skills, when successfully implemented will weave mutual accountability into the culture of the team.  In addition, through team building activities and performance coaching, the manager can enhance accountability at the individual and team level.  This will come by setting expectations, giving responsibility, and providing feedback.  Think about how you do this at a team and individual level and with what frequency you continue to cover the team values and how often you talk to performance expectations and accountability.  Refer to the article What is a Coach for insights on the role the manager/leader plays in this.

Overall, if you can focus your coaching efforts on your team around a common purpose, building complementary skills, and a mutual accountability to deliver performance results, as a manager you can define success. In addition, establishing this team dynamic will reap great rewards, not only in performance, but you will visibly see a difference in the morale of your team. Let's face it, we're all happier at work when we feel a sense of ownership and are motivated and engaged to reach a goal.

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