21 Feb What are the Characteristics of an Effective Team?
Teams are made up individuals with different qualities, talents and perspectives. Each brings unique strengths and capabilities to the table to achieve a common goal. Understanding what makes a group of individuals work together as an effective team, and having insight into the way different types of players behave, is important for anyone who is responsible for managing teams.
In her article ‘Characteristics of an Effective Team’ Brenda Aron draws on Glenn Parker’s book ‘Team Players and Teamwork: The New Competitive Business Strategy’. Aron sets out the 12 characteristics that Parker identifies:
- Clear Purpose
The vision, mission, goal or task of the team is defined and accepted by everyone on the team. The team have an action plan.
The atmosphere is informal, comfortable and relaxed. There are no obvious tensions or signs of boredom.
There is much discussion and everyone is encouraged to participate.
The members use effective listening techniques such as questioning, paraphrasing and summarising to generate ideas.
- Civilised Disagreement
When there is disagreement, the team is comfortable with it and shows no signs of avoiding, smoothing over or suppressing conflict.
- Consensus Decisions
For important decisions the intention is to achieve substantial, but not necessarily unanimous, agreement through open discussion of everyone’s ideas and avoidance of formal voting or easy compromises.
- Open Communication
Team members feel free to express their feelings on the tasks as well as on the group’s operation. There are few hidden agendas. Communication also takes place outside of meetings.
- Clear Roles and Work Assignments
There are clear expectations about the roles played by each team member. When action is taken, clear assignments are made, accepted and carried out. Work is fairly distributed among team members.
- Shared Leadership
While the team has a formal leader, leadership functions shift from time to time depending on the circumstances, the needs of the group and the skills of the members. The formal leader models the appropriate behaviour and helps establish positive norms.
- External Relations
The team spends time developing key outside relationships, mobilising resources and building credibility with important players in other parts of the organisation.
- Style Diversity
The team has a broad spectrum of team player types including members who emphasise attention on the task, goal setting, focus on process and question how the team is functioning.
Periodically the team stops to examine how well it is functioning and what may be interfering with its effectiveness.
Aron sets out the four types of team player that Parker identified – what they are particularly focussed on and a checklist of behaviours associated with each.
Collaborator – Focussed on the GOAL
- Helps the team establish long-term goals and clarify its current objective.
- Helps the team see how its work fits into the total organisation.
- Regularly reminds the team of the need to revisit their goals and action plans.
- Encourages the team to establish plans with milestones and assignments.
- Pitches in to help out other team members who need assistance.
- Works hard to achieve team goals and to complete the tasks even if they don’t agree.
- Does not gossip about other team members.
- Often works outside their defined role to help the team achieve its goals.
- Is flexible and open to new ideas or data that may alter team goals.
- Is willing to share the limelight with other team members.
Contributor – Focussed on the TASK
- Freely shares all relevant information and opinions with other team members
- Helps the team use its time and resources
- Pushes the team to set high standards and to achieve top level results.
- Completes all team assignments necessary for completion of team tasks.
- Accepts responsibility for all actions as a team member.
- Completes all work in their job and all other tasks not related to the team.
- Provides the team with clear and useful presentations at team meetings.
- Provides training for other team members and serves as mentor for new members.
- Has a clear set of priorities.
Communicator – Focussed on the PROCESS
- Steps in to resolve process problems such as conflict or lack of involvement.
- Listens attentively, while withholding judgement, to all viewpoints.
- Helps the team relax and have fun by joking, laughing an discussing personal interests.
- Recognises and praises other team members for their efforts.
- Communicates enthusiasm and sense of urgency about the team’s work.
- Periodically summarises the status of a discussion or proposes a possible consensus.
- Encourages other team members to participate in the discussions and decisions.
- Helps the people on the team to get to know each other and to know what they can do.
- Gives feedback to other team members that is descriptive, specific and helpful.
- Receives feedback from other team members without becoming defensive.
Challenger – Focussed on the QUESTION
- Candidly shares views about the work of the team.
- Is willing to disagree openly with the leadership of the team.
- Often raises questions about the team’s goals.
- Pushes the team to set high ethical standards for work.
- Speaks out even when their views are contrary to the majority.
- Asks why? and how? and other relevant questions at team meetings.
- Sometimes is accused of not being a team player because they have a different opinion.
- Challenges the team to take well-conceived risks.
- Is honest in reporting team progress and stating problems facing the team.
- Will back off when views are not accepted and will support a legitimate team consensus.
Parker’s work is a very useful framework you can draw on when you have responsibility for a team. You can use the player types, and the attributes Parker relates to effectiveness, to understand your own team dynamics and what drives individual behaviours within the group. The insight it gives you allows you to consider what you can do to have a positive impact on the team’s functioning and performance.
- Brenda, Aron. Characteristics of an Effective Team, Seattle Central College, 2016.
- Parker, Glenn. Team Players and Teamwork: The New Competitive Business Strategy; San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1990, pp.33 61-87.