Key principles

A good working definition of a team is: “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” (Katzenbach & Smith)

High performance teams add tremendous value to organisations.  Nurturing and developing them aids efficiency and maximises the effectiveness and flexibility of individuals and the organisation.

An effective team has the following characteristics:

  • A common sense of purpose
  • A clear understanding of the team’s objectives
  • Resources to achieve those objectives
  • Mutual respect among team members, both as individuals and for the contribution each makes to the team’s performance
  • Valuing members’ strengths and respecting their weaknesses
  • Mutual trust
  • Willingness to share knowledge and expertise
  • Willingness to speak openly
  • A range of skills among team members to deal effectively with all its tasks
  • A range of personal styles for the various roles needed to carry out the team’s tasks.
  • Individual and group accountability: each member of the team taking responsibility for both his or her work and the work of the team.
  • Members of the team saying what they’re going to do and then doing what they said!

A working group or a team? Types of Teams

Groups often display no obvious problems but have unsatisfactory performance levels.  They can be hard to differentiate from really effective teams.  Close observation usually illustrates the sometimes subtle but significant differences that affect performance.

  • Team workers really trust each other – they aren’t just working together
  • Team workers confidently express their feelings – working groups regard feelings at work as inappropriate.
  • Team workers resolve conflict – rather than accommodate it.
  • Team workers actively support one another and share all information – rather than consider how much to give and assess this on a do they need to know basis.

In terms of types of teams the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) identifies a number;

  • Production and service teams – examples are in production, construction, sales and health care. They have a relatively long life-span, providing an ongoing product or service to customers or users of the organisation.
  • Project and development teams – including research and product development teams. Dedicated to a particular objective, they have limited life-spans and a clear set of short-term objectives. They are often cross-functional, with members selected for the contribution their expertise can make.
  • Advice and involvement teams – with the aim of improving, for example, working conditions or quality. Members will not devote a great deal of time to them and, once they have achieved their objectives, they should be disbanded.
  • Crews – such as airline crews, which may be formed from members who have rarely worked together but through prior training clearly understand their respective roles.
  • Action and negotiation teams – such as surgical and legal teams, these consist of people who tend to work together regularly. They have well-developed processes and clear objectives.
  • Virtual teams – whose members work in separate buildings and may even be in different countries. They may need to communicate by telephone, email and tele- or video-conferencing rather than face-to-face. Managing such teams can be particularly difficult, not least because remote working can exacerbate misunderstandings. Where some members of the remote teams are located overseas (for example, with the offshoring of certain ‘back-office’ roles), additional challenges may arise with issues such as time differences when planning communications.
  • Self-managed teams – where much decision-making is devolved from line managers to team members. Such teams may also be known as semi-autonomous or fully autonomous teams, according to the degree of self-management.

Identifying skills and experiences

Ideally, a high-performance team should have a balanced mix both of skill and experience.  These may be existing skills developed in other parts of the organisation and in other teams, and often a mix of experienced people who have been with the organisation some time, along with the periodic injection of “fresh blood” from outside the organisation to bring in new ways of thinking.  Lack of training is a major barrier to successful team implementation.

Team members require:

  • job-specific skills
  • team/interactive skills (eg. conflict resolution)
  • quality action training (identifying improvement opportunities, developing and selecting solutions)
  • continuous improvement (career-long learning) at “teachable moments”

Identifying roles

Teams work best when individuals can contribute according to personal inclination and talent.  The Belbin team roles questionnaire facilitates this process by identifying preferred functions.  You can use it to introduce the team concept.  With this information it is possible to build a matrix to complete your team.  It can also be used to quickly assemble smaller teams with specific characteristics for particular projects or short-term tasks.  By identifying secondary roles that individuals can fill, it can also be used as a professional development tool for your staff and to fill any gaps in your ideal team structure.  Almost all teams require settling into place before they reach optimum effectiveness, the questionnaire can reduce some of the stress and time involved in this.

Belbin role types within the team

The completer-finisher A stickler for detail, orderly, spots errors, attention to detail.  May worry about small things and be reluctant to let go.
The co-ordinator Natural chairperson, calm, mature, can elicit useful contributions.
The implementer The team’s work horse, practical, logical, reliable, hard-working.  May lack creative vision.
The plant Ideas person, imaginative, creative, possibly unorthodox in approach.  May lack practical skills.
The shaper Often a self-selected leader, dynamic, positive and keen to get results.  May be impatient or provoke opposition.
The team worker A counselling type, socially oriented, perceptive, will promote harmony.  May be indecisive.
The monitor-evaluator The team’s “rock”, sober, good analytical skills and very practical.  Can lack imagination and motivational skills.
The resource-investigator A fixer, extrovert, good at making and using contacts.  May have a short attention span during a project.


Team Building approaches

The research around effective teams clearly shows that teams that take time out to reflect on how they are working periodically, are more effective, through things like:

  • Regular team meetings
  • Including time in team meetings to assess how well the team are performing, whats working, what isnt and why
  • Working through some basic team review tools (such as the examples below)
  • Creating a “critical mass” of people who want to make things happen, and are “pointing in the right direction”
  • Away Days/Strategic planning days
  • Creating ideas/feedback mechanism and the right culture in the team
  • Defining rules and ethics for the team; what goes and what doesn’t


A really helpful, free team roles test similar to Belbin which each team member can complete


Another really helpful tool is Benne and Sheats group roles for identifying positive and negative group behaviour roles

Team Effectiveness Review

See Team values article

See Manager as Coach article

Businessballs information on Teams and Team building exercises