In 1996, 51% of US employees were reported to be members of team. By 2006, it had increased to 84%. As our world becomes more complex, the need for teams will continue to grow. Understanding the characteristics of effective teams gives you a target to shoot for and better prepares you to support your team’s development.
Our research* revealed six Benchmarks of Team Excellence:
1) Alignment: Alignment around a shared vision.
All team members are moving in the same direction toward a shared vision. Individual and team goals are related to the purpose of the team. Team members clearly understand their goals and job responsibilities. There is a strong and clear connection between all activities and the purpose of the team.
2) Team Effectiveness: Effective team processes.
Coordinated efforts are supported by effective group dynamics and strong team processes for open communication, sharing information, flexibility, problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting, accountability, and recognition.
3) Empowerment: Power to do what is necessary.
Teams members experience a sense of individual and collective power to do what is necessary. They are free to make decisions within the boundary of their assignment and have access to the resources they need. Practical risk-taking is encouraged and mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of the creative process.
4) Passion: Energy, enthusiasm, and confidence.
There is a high and sustained level of energy, enthusiasm and confidence about their work and the way team members work together. Team members feel inspired and able to perform at levels never before imagined and in their ability to overcome obstacles. There is an aura of excitement and focus that sustains growth of new capabilities and openness to change.
5) Commitment: Deep commitment to the team and to each other.
Team members are deeply committed to the purpose of the team, to the goals, to each other, and to accomplishing the work that needs to be done, regardless of the effort required. They know what needs to be done and they will find a way to do it.
6) Results: Sustained outstanding results.
High performance teams sustain results over time. They set high standards for performance that are clearly defined, measurable, and are consistently met by individual team members and the team. They “go for the gold” and are energized by the opportunity to provide top-quality services or products.
How Is Your Team Doing?
Here are some typical patterns and some tips on how to improve them:
High Results and Low Empowerment
Team with this pattern have difficulty sustaining their results over time because productivity and morale are interdependent. Often this pattern is due to one individual’s herculean efforts or due to an over-reliance on the team leader rather than through a cohesive team effort. Sharing decision-making and responsibility for results can help empower and unify the team.
Low Results and High Passion
This pattern is often found on teams that have functioned well in the past but now have a new, complicated assignment. To determine what to do, first see how strong they are in Alignment – Do team members understand what is expected of them as a team and how their individual roles will further the mission of the team? Next, look at their Team Effectiveness – Do they have the necessary team processes in place that will enable them to work in a coordinated effort? If both of these Benchmarks are high, the team can concentrate on improving Results. Otherwise, they need to answer the questions, “What do we want to accomplish?” “Why do we exist?” and “How do we want to work together?”
Higher Commitment than any other Benchmark
Often teams will be higher on Commitment than any of the other Benchmarks. This Benchmark is about the commitment of the individual team members and is often the last Benchmark to drop. Even if all of the other Benchmarks are low, there is hope for improvement here. Teams can capitalize on this aspect of human nature by revisiting their vision and by identifying the strategies and resources needed to move forward. If things do not improve, eventually, commitment will drop.
* About the Research: The Benchmarks of Team Excellence were identified as part of a research project conducted by Jesse Stoner that investigated the relationship between visionary leadership behaviors and good management practices and the performance of their team. An in depth analysis of the literature had revealed six characteristics of excellent teams. Although we could find assessments that measured some of the characteristics, we were surprised to find that a statistically-sound team assessment that measured all six did not exist. Therefore, it was necessary to develop a new assessment in order to conduct the research. Over 500 employees participated in the development of this assessment. It demonstrated strong validity and reliability, and a factor analysis confirmed the six benchmarks.
For more information, see Benchmarks of Team Excellence Facilitator Guide (published by HRDQ).