5 Characteristics of Strong Teams


Effective teamwork in the office doesn’t happen by chance.

The fate of an organisation can rise and fall based on the ability of its people to work together. Even with a team of individual superstars, there’s no guarantee they will function as a cohesive unit.

Business researchers have spent years trying to decipher the magic formula for building high-performing teams. They’ve found that the talents of individuals matter, as do their personalities and interpersonal skills.

But, according to recent research, it’s also critical to consider team culture. Tech giant Google spent seven years researching 180 teams across its 72,000 full-time employees and and recently announced that the most effective teams, or “enhanced” teams, had five key characteristics in common:

Psychological safety. Team members feel safe taking risks, knowing that they won’t be embarrassed or punished for doing so.

Dependability. Everyone completes their work on time and at the quality expected.

Structure and clarity. Each individual knows what is expected of them. Expectations are realistic but also stretching.

Meaning. Team members find purpose in their work, which drives them to do well.

Impact. Everyone can see how their work contributes to greater achievements for the organisation.

Fortunately, these are all characteristics that can be encouraged, developed, and, if need be, evaluated. Whether a group of employees works well together does not have to be left to chance; managers and even team members can be empowered to support the development of enhanced teams.

Here’s how you can promote the key characteristics of strong workplace teams:

Psychological safety. Team leaders can effectively model this by taking risks themselves and affirming the risks of others. Explicitly encourage creativity and innovative thinking. This doesn’t always have to involve large-scale risks; even creating a safe space for asking questions or brainstorming can build a strong sense of safety for your team.

Dependability. For team members to be dependable, they must understand their responsibilities, know their deadlines, and grasp expectations for quality. Once these are established and clearly communicated, it’s fairly easy to see who on the team is reliable and who isn’t. As you are able to, replace unreliable team members with those who can complete quality work on time.

Structure and clarity. Not only do individual team members need to know their responsibilities, they should have some understanding of what their colleagues are working on. Managers can play a key role in ensuring good communication and minimal overlap between each employee’s area of responsibility. You can also set stretch goals as a team that push everyone to perform.

Meaning. In the workplace, meaning and motivation are closely connected. If team members are performing well, they probably already find meaning in their work. Managers can enhance this by casting vision for the team’s functions. Why do their projects matter, for the organisation or broader society? What will change or be impacted as a result of their efforts?

Impact. It’s one thing to cast a vision for change; it’s another to actually follow through. Organisational leaders need to put into place mechanisms for tracking impact on an on-going basis, whether financial, social, or environmental, and then communicate that impact back to their teams. Don’t forget to recognize the contributions of individuals and groups as much as possible.

As a New York Times article describing the Google study put it, “no one wants to put on a ‘work face’ when they get to the office…. We want to know that work is more than labour.” We believe the key to creating that kind of workplace is strong working relationships that lead to meaningful achievements. Prioritising the above characteristics within your teams can move your overall organisation toward greater health and productivity.