Teams are everywhere.  How do you distinguish a properly functioning team from one that is lacking?  What characteristics define effective teamwork?  Here is an alphabetical list of teamwork skills that can challenge and help set the standard for your team.

Great teams take risks. They live and lead by adventure. They squash the status quo and do not settle for less than their best.  They are not afraid to step out and take a chance and are not afraid to fail.


Healthy teams create a sense of belonging.  They don’t just build a team but also build a community where everyone feels a part and knows their place and function.  This characteristic takes time and much effort to build.  It doesn’t happen over night – it happens over time.


Another quality of successful teams is that they are great at communication. They over-communicate, cross-communicate, and are just good communicators.  Communication breakdowns are rare, and when they do happen, they are fixed quickly and efficiently.  They are not perfect in this or any area, but always seek to be better.

These teams are driven to succeed. They are results-oriented, but never forget about the people who do the work. They strive for improvement and seek to better themselves as people and as a cohesive unit.


Great leaders empower other leaders.  Great leaders also empower the team to be greater than the sum of its parts.  How is this accomplished?  Through developing high-level trust with team leaders and developing an atmosphere of trust within the team(s). When this model and direction is set, it gives freedom for the leaders within the team to empower other leaders as well. It becomes part of the DNA of the team.

Fired up

High-functioning teams are fun, and therefore are fired up.  If you’ve been part of a team like this, you know it’s true.  There is an electricity to the atmosphere around a team like this.  It’s not that there are no problems, but those are dealt with in a healthy manner, so that the team can perform at its best.  There are no problems, only challenges that need solutions.

The characteristic of giving is one you do not see often in teams. Much of the time team members take more than they give and only seek after their own interests. Great team members give and take. They serve each other without keeping score and are glad to do so.


This characteristic goes hand in hand with giving. Team members that help each other out are stronger and better for it. How much respect do you have for the team members you’ve worked with who would bend over backwards to help you out?

Teams that are dependent on a leader will crumble when that leader leaves. Independent teams can run amuck. In a healthy team, there is an interdependence between individuals, teams, and the leader. They work together well and they also take initiative when needed.  (For a more in-depth study of interdependent leadership, click here.)


Most well-running teams realize that the process is important and that success is as much about the journey as it is about the end result.  Small victories are celebrated and the momentum is maintained through the process even as obstacles are encountered.


High-functioning teams are knowledgeable.  They know their craft, and they know it well. This encourages and challenges others to do the same.  Again, this comes from the top down, but as it happens becomes part of the team culture.

Just as healthy leaders are lifetime learners, healthy teams also need to be learners. This goes above and beyond job and duty knowledge. This is a level of competence that leaders dream about having in a team. It takes initiative to find something out if you don’t know the answer. Healthy team members take learning on their own seriously.

(Notice I did not say money-driven.) This takes a unique perspective and investment in the company on the part of each person on the team. A team that is money-conscious cares about the financial resources of the company. There is an ownership about this characteristic that can only be driven by a leader that empowers his team members and with team members that are vested in the success of the organization.


The team that can stay non-toxic will do well and excel where other teams will fail.  There is much that can derail teamwork in the midst of a project, team building activity, or just in the day-to-day workings of the group.  Being aware of and dealing with toxic tendencies in team mates will propel a team forward and keep the mojo going!


When it comes to customer service, one of the best companies I ever worked for was Eastern Mountain Sports


Teams that function properly realize that everything about the team is adjustable.  Positions, leadership, goals, success are all apt to change and adjust as the team evaluates its goals, victories, stumbles, and adjusts to maneuver through barriers that present themselves along the way.


For a team that functions properly, quality seems to be almost a by-product of everything else.  The environment is such that standards are held high, and rightly so; however, there is a driven-ness coming from individuals when they are trusted, communicated with, and have been part of the goal-setting and vision-casting process.


When you have a well-tuned team, there is a greater propensity for them to take risks.  Again, this should be modeled by the leadership, but in a team like this, the group members are more likely to follow suit because they know there is an atmosphere that encourages taking risks and that mistakes do not equate with failure, only an opportunity to learn.

Sense of humor

Great teams don’t take themselves too seriously.  They have fun and have a good sense of humor.  They work hard together, laugh hard together, and play hard together.  Team leaders understand the healthy balance between tasks and people.  The best teams take time out to unwind and blow off steam.


One of the most important foundational qualities of a team is trust.  Without trust, teams do not excel and often fall apart at the seams at the first sign of any kind of obstacle or challenge.


Teams that possess many of these qualities don’t have to have the most talented, most creative, most successful team members in order for the team to excel and be unbeatable.  Teammates understand that it’s a group effort.  My strengths cover your weaknesses and vice versa. “We’re in this together” is the attitude of everyone, and that makes a group like this next to unstoppable.


“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.”  This is an ancient statement with present-day implications.  A clear and compelling vision is the heartbeat of great teamwork. Clear roles help as well.  According to Larson and LeFasto in their book, Teamwork,

High performance teams have both a clear understanding of the goal to be achieved and a belief that the goal embodies a worthwhile or important result.



It’s amazing how many people are never really trained to do their job.  Left to some kind of learning-by-osmosis mentality, these people are left to figure out how to do every aspect of their job.  Recently on an episode of Undercover Boss, one of the managers of a massage clinic expressed frustration because she had never been trained to manage a facility with numerous employees!

Training is key when you want a team to function like a well-oiled machine.  Employee training includes more than just job function but also includes expectations, challenges, and can also promote that sense of belonging mentioned earlier.

The definition of xenomorphic is “having a form not its own.”  (And, yes, I had to look through a list of words on to find a suitable word that began with “x”.)  When a team comes together, it must shed the wants and vision of individuals for the greater impact of what the team will produce as a cohesive unit.  Personal agendas and unrealistic expectations must be set aside for the good of the team.  A team that is xenomorphic learns to expect and embrace change as it comes and adapts accordingly.


I realize this may be on odd word to describe a team; however, a team that has a lot of the qualities I’ve mentioned here is one that is hungry.  They yearn for more

More training.  More challenge.  More goals.  More success stories.  And the list goes on.

If you’ve ever been part of such a team, it’s a fun and exciting place to be.  But, woe to the one who wants to maintain the status quo in such a team.


It would be incredible to have a team full of passionate and eager people, wouldn’t it?  How does a team arrive at this place?  The vision is set, the people are in their correct roles, and all is well, right?  It would be nice if it worked that way. Continue to cast the vision, celebrate small victories and big wins alike, make adjustments as needed, encourage your team, and keep that zeal alive!

Although long, this list certainly is not exhaustive.  What other characteristics qualify effective teamwork?  Leave your comments below!