The 5 Most Important Characteristics of Great Teams

Building a team that exceeds expectations every time is easy when you follow this formula. Don’t leave your team results to chance!

CREDIT: Getty Images

CREDIT: Getty Images

“Talent wins games but teamwork wins championships.” ~Michael Jordan.

In all aspects of our life, teamwork plays a vital role. Whether we’re on a field or in the boardroom, we engage with and depend on others to accomplish virtually every task.

Because we depend so heavily on teams, we don’t want to leave it to chance to construct and manage them.

Fortunately for us, researchers and entrepreneurs Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone distill the process of creating the highest performing teams in their best-selling book, Team Genius: The New Science of High Performing Teams.

Here are five of the most important factors for high-performing teams, along with some unusual findings that may contradict your previous assumptions about successful-team building.

1. Self-awareness at the team level.
While teams consist of individuals, a cohesive team is in fact a stand-alone, unified structure. The book presents a list of 20 questions that a leader should answer when assembling a team. Huffington Post writer Vanessa Van Edwards boils down the 20 questions to five “power questions:”

Are you in the right team in the right moment?

Can your team stay ahead of the changes in your industry?

Are your teams the right size for the job?

Do you have the right people in the right positions on your team?

Is your team prepared for a crisis, disruption, or change in leadership?

2. The right number.
The ideal number of team members is two.

“Pairs are the simplest and most stable bond in chemistry and in life. Humans form pairs in love and marriage and as friends. Adding a third person to a pair often complicates matters, and some trios can be explosive,” says Karlgaard. There are four main categories of team pairings:

Occasion pairs come together for a specific project. They band and disband quickly. They don’t always like each other but they need each other.
Similarity pairs are often ideally paired and work together in complete harmony. They can become too interdependent on each other.
Difference pairs consist of partners that compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They are opposites attracting.
Inequality pairs include leader/follower or mentor/protege pairings. There is always an imbalance among the partners.
For medium-sized teams, five-nine members is the optimal number for building closeness. For larger groups, 11-18 team members is the maximum number of people someone can trust.

For much larger teams, 150 and 1,500 are magic numbers.

3. Strong communication.

Alex Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab, found in his research that there are three aspects of communication that affect team performance:

Energy: the number and the nature of exchanges among team members. Pentland’s research concluded that 35 percent of the variation in a team’s performance can be accounted for simply by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members.
Engagement: the distribution of energy among team members. The more evenly-distributed the engagement among team members, the stronger the team.
Exploration: communication that members engage in outside their team. Higher-performing teams seek more outside engagement.

4. Team chemistry.
Chemistry is indisputable. It can never be forced or fabricated. If it’s there, we can’t deny it. If it’s not there, we can’t make it manifest. This applies to our personal relationships as well as team dynamics.

When team members have good chemistry, their brains produce more Oxytocin, which is the hormone that helps us feel more connected to other people. Greater levels of Oxytocin produce more pleasure, deeper trust, and stronger intimacy. Team members that have strong chemistry are deeply unified in their common purpose.

5. Cognitive diversity.
The highest-performing teams consist of people who think differently, who approach problems from different perspectives, and who have varying levels of risk tolerance.

Left-brain thinkers are logical and analytical; right-brain thinkers are creative and intuitive. When you’re building a team, choose “a whole-brain team” with an equal distribution of left-brain and right-brain thinkers.

These five factors are proven to yield powerful teams that can be 40 percent more likely to create a successful breakthrough.

Best of luck in assembling or reconfiguring your next teams.

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