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The 6 characteristics of a highly effective team

Collaboration & Team Management Productivity

Great teams don’t just happen. Those teams that fit together like puzzle pieces are the result of hard work and thoughtful leadership.

But what exactly are the things you need to look for when putting together a highly effective team?

Of course, each member of the team needs to have a great set of skills individually, but they also need to prove they can work well within a team.

Yet this is not enough to have a highly effective team.

Members of a highly effective team should feed off each other’s abilities and be able to build a relationship from the ground up.

Here are some of the characteristics of a highly effective team, according to scientific research.

Emotional intelligence of each team member

Effective teams possess not only technical skills, but also emotional intelligence. In fact, studies have shown that emotional intelligence is more important than the IQ of each team member.

It turns out that if individuals are socially aware, the whole group puts in better quality work.

A study carried by Anita Woolley from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and her colleagues, measured group intelligence and how each individual influences it.

Woolley placed 699 people in teams of two to five and got them to carry out a series of tasks, such as solving puzzles, brainstorming, typing and negotiating.

The groups were then evaluated on their performance, and given a group intelligence score.

As it turns out, neither the intelligence of the smartest member, nor the average intelligence of the group, influenced the overall group intelligence. Instead, social sensitivity – the ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of others – was the most important factor that influenced the overall group intelligence.

Woolley measured social sensitivity by getting participants to identify the feelings of another person by looking at photographs of their eyes.

So social sensitivity trumps IQ. That means that for team members to work well together, you should look at how well-tuned is the emotional intelligence of each individual.

A good mix of introverts and extroverts

As a society, we think of extroverts as doers, go-getters, superior team-players. They are perceived as the more competent team members as they seem to get along with others more easily.

But as it turns out, studies have shown that extroverts usually do worse than they’re expected and so lose status as they disappoint others, while introverts gain status as they exceed expectations for their group participation.

Although personality type gives off certain perceptions of abilities as the groups form, the actual contributions that each member makes to the group redistributes the status of each member.

By mixing up introverts and extroverts, you are preventing setbacks caused by dips in your team’s morale as the contribution of each team member emerges.

They share the same stories

Your team members need to have common goals and shared ambitions in order to be as efficient as possible.

A series of studies on military tactical teams has shown that efficient group work depends on how team members apply a shared understanding of the task.

Scientists call this a shared mental model. This is what allows team members to anticipate what is needed to complete a task and what are the actions of other team members.

Imagine an emergency response team to get a better picture of this. Team members choose their actions without explicit demands made for coordination, because they are able to anticipate both what other team members are going to do, and what the task requires.

It’s like watching a great choreography, and it’s because team members have a shared understanding of what the outcome needs to be.

You can encourage a shared mental model within your team by setting out clear roles and expectations. This will help each team member understand how their part supports the bigger picture. It will also help each team member understand and respect the work of other team members.

They make time for humour 

Humour might not be such an obvious factor in the effectiveness of a team, but actually humour inspires trust and intimacy – which can lead to better team interactions.

Eric Romero from the Peru Catholic University and Anthony Pescosolido from the University of New Hampshire have found that humour can have a positive impact on several aspects of effective team interactions, including effective communication, development of group goals, group productivity and management of emotions.

So humour definitely affects group efficiency.

They communicate proactively 

Effective teams have proactive communication. Proactive communication can be materialized in four ways:

  • Team members provide information before being asked
  • They provide support and assistance before being asked
  • They take team initiative by providing guidance and making suggestions to other team members
  • They provide updates, creating situational awareness for other team members.

These are in fact strong indicators that a team shares the same mental model – but they are worthy of mentioning separately because of how important they are.

Great leadership

Even when all the team members fit in with the above, teams still need great leadership. The role of the leader isn’t only to set an example and to motivate team members, but also to provide effective feedback and to nurture the soft skills mentioned above.

The role of the team leader becomes even more important as she is the one responsible for hiring the right people, encouraging communication and ensuring team members share the same story.

Finally, a highly effective team will stand the test of time. They will stick together through thick and thin. They will know how to celebrate achievements and how to readjust their efforts after defeats.

But all of this starts with this handful of characteristics of a highly effective team.

Are there any other traits that you would add to this list? Which ones? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

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