What Strong Teams Have in Common

The five sure signs of an excellent team

Gallup has been studying leadership teams for nearly four decades, and has identified some telltale signs of strong, high-performing teams:

1. Conflict doesn't destroy strong teams because strong teams focus on results.

Contrary to popular belief, the most successful teams are not the ones in which team members always agree with one another. Instead, they are often characterized by healthy debate -- and at times, heated arguments. What distinguishes strong teams from dysfunctional ones is that debate doesn't cause them to fragment. Instead of becoming more isolated during tough times, these teams actually gain strength and develop cohesion.

One reason great teams are able to grow through conflict is because they have a laser-like focus on results. Top teams seek out evidence and data and try to remain as objective as possible. As a result, while people may have different views, they are united in seeking the truth. Team members can argue, but in the end, they are on the same side. In sharp contrast, failing teams tend to personalize disagreement, creating territorial divides that continue to grow.

2. Strong teams prioritize what's best for the organization, then move forward.

While competition for resources and divergent points of view exist, the best teams are able to keep the larger goal in view. Members of high-performing teams are consistently able to put what's best for the organization ahead of their own egos. And once a decision is made, these teams are remarkably quick to rally around it to help one another (and the organization) succeed.

3. Members of strong teams are as committed to their personal lives as they are to their work.

The best teams Gallup studied seemed to live a contradiction. Some of the most productive team members work extreme hours and endure amazing levels of responsibility. They sometimes work 60 hours a week and travel frequently. Yet they consider their lives to be in balance. They seem to have enough time to do the things they want to do with their families. As hard as they work for the company, they seem to bring the same level of energy and intensity to their family, social, and community life.

Evidence suggests that the most successful teams have members who are highly engaged in their work and highly satisfied with their personal lives. By setting this expectation, which so many others perceive as unattainable, they attract new members who want to do the same. This high level of engagement then sets a powerful example for the entire organization.

4. Strong teams embrace diversity.

Studies of leadership teams of some of the most innovative and successful companies in the world reveal a simple truth: teams need a diversity of strengths -- ideally, including individuals who demonstrate a balance of strengths in different leadership dimensions. But diversity goes well beyond team strengths.  The most engaged teams welcome diversity of age, gender, and race, while disengaged teams may do the opposite.  The most engaged teams look at individuals through the lens of their natural strengths, not at physical characteristics. This keeps the team focused on the potential within each person and minimizes the influence of superficial barriers.


5. Strong teams are magnets for talent.

Another way to spot a strong team is to look for the teams that everyone wants to be on, especially your potential stars.  They see top teams as the most stimulating place to be -- the place where they can demonstrate their leadership and have a real impact. Instead of being intimidated by the challenge and responsibility, they seek out these teams.

Building a strong team requires a substantial amount of time and effort. Getting the right strengths on the team is a good starting point, but it is not enough. For a team to create sustained growth, the leader must continue to invest in each person's strengths and in building better relationships among the group members. When leaders can do this, it allows the entire team to spend even more time thinking about the needs of the people they serve.

[Adapted from: Strengths Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie]