The Seven Traits of Effective Teams

Written by Aaron Stannard

How many teams have you worked with over the course of your life thus far? You've probably worked with dozens, beginning with the sports teams from your youth leading all the way up to your current occupation.

Out of all of those teams, which ones were the most effective? Which teams made the most productive use of their people?

No team is perfect but over the years I've worked with a handful of remarkable teams, including my current one here at SmartDraw. I've also had to work with some teams that were quite dreadful, to say the least. You've probably been in the same boat.

When I decided to write this article I thought back to all of the good and bad teams, and wrote down a list of the positive traits that separated the remarkable teams from the abysmal. Here they are:

  1. Great Communication – As we all know, communication is problematic for most teams. Truly great teams are robust communicators – they express their concerns aloud; they ask questions when others would make assumptions; they write things down; and they use schematics, diagrams, and charts to convey complex information to each other.
  2. Extensive Collaboration – Great teams aren't authoritarian; there's no top-down dictation of ideas from leader to follower. Instead great teams are collaborative, where every member is invited and expected to give regular feedback on new ideas and initiatives. People in these teams feel comfortable and free to express what they really think and feel, and they also feel like they own part of the idea.
  3. Full of Initiative – Nothing pleases a manager more than having co-workers who are willing and able to pick up the ball and run with it. Truly exceptional teams often have members who will come up with new ideas, find ways to improve existing ideas, and will perform analysis and research on their own. Having just a few pro-active people on a team makes a huge difference as it exponentially increases the creative energy of the team.
  4. Visionary – Visionary teams do two things really well. First – they can always see the forest from the trees; they understand how the daily details relate back to the big picture and the team's long-term objectives. Second – they anticipate problems in advance and mitigate them before they become full-blown crises.
  5. Able to Adapt – Poor teams resist change at all cost. They see change as a threat to their security and fight it until they inevitably fail. Great teams embrace change; they see change as a chance to improve and try new things that they were unable to do before.
  6. Constructive – In poor teams people all-too-often embed their own egos in their work, thus it is often difficult to correct errors and provide constructive criticism. When you criticize the work, you criticize the worker (in bad teams.) Team members in high-functioning teams are more interested in producing the best work possible and eliminating errors than they are in preserving fragile egos.
  7. Organized – Great teams are highly organized. They develop standard processes for their work, they balance responsibilities using established roles, they have systems for properly planning projects, and they have methods for measuring progress and ROI. Less effective teams don't take the time to organize; rather they rely on ad-hoc organization, which is chaotic to say the least.

Of all the traits on my original list I feel that these seven are the most pivotal traits of any high-functioning team. A team that is able to effectively communicate, adapt, collaborate, and innovate together is going to be ultimately more successful than reflexive, command-driven, authoritarian teams in most instances.

What would you add to this list?

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