Six Ingredients for a Successful Team

November 6, 2009

What Makes a Team Successful? I’ve watched different sports teams succeed and fail over the years, and regardless of whether you are talking about high school sports or professional sports, the same key ingredients are present in the teams that are successful. The same holds true in the workplace.
  1. A clear goal with a specific focus. Even teams that should be great will fail if they attempt to take on too much. By keeping the focus narrow, and with clear objectives, teams can achieve success. If you truly have a lot of ground to cover, then cover it in small steps, using specific, measurable intermediate goals. Too many software projects in particular fail because they attempt to cover too much ground all in one shot.

  2. Talent. Without talented players, you can only go so far. Talented people have a gift, the capability to perform, with the potential to reach greater heights than others. On the flip side, there are talented people out there who don’t reach their true potential because they don’t work to develop their potential. They remain on par and competitive with others, but rob themselves because they don’t apply themselves.

  3. Dedication. This is displayed by those who are enthusiastic and willing to apply themselves to their chosen sport or profession. They study and learn. This can make the difference between being darn good and being a superstar. Even an average Joe can compete with others that possess greater talent if those with the talent aren’t working to improve their game. Larry Bird was known for dribbling a basketball over every square inch of a court prior to a game. Why? Because he wanted to find the flat spots where the ball didn’t bounce back as quickly; he filed this away and used this knowledge to his advantage to make a steal. His dedication provided him an edge. In the working world, my take is that dedication is displayed by those who have the “I’m responsible for …” attitude versus those who have the “I work at… ” attitude.

  4. Practice. Talent and dedication do nothing if you don’t practice what you have learned. As a software developer in years past, I did something that I advocate to this day: Put together your own, small applications to learn things outside of whatever tasks you have going on with your current day-to-day job. This will likely be done on your own time, on your own dime, but it will give you practice and experience that broadens your knowledge and abilities. Focus on understanding developing and honing skills without cutting corners. This means using good approaches to development, not hacks. Practice alone doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

  5. Coaching. Any team that is successful has a good coach behind it. Coaches motivate, recruit, and set the tone and direction. They get people to understand what they need to do and why they need to do it. They recognize and reward people for a job well done. They call the plays and expect the best from themselves and those on the field. They make the hard choices of benching people or removing them from the team when necessary. It’s about blending the individual talents into a cohesive, unified team, helping everyone to realize their full potential in the context of working collectively as a team. Coaches watch the hand-offs, transitions, communications and interactions between teammates.

  6. Playing as a team. The most successful teams are greater than the sum of the parts. Great teams communicate openly and honestly, they understand each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and they push each other to become better. The team score matters the most, but everyone is expected to contribute. Great teams don’t have weak links, and they don’t tolerate laziness. They want talent, but will take someone who is dedicated, hard-working and willing to practice over someone with talent but no drive or lacking in the desire to be a part of the team. The real need for successful teams is to get everyone flowing in the same direction, dividing the effort – with everyone pitching in – to reach a common goal. Personal goals are second to the team’s goal because great teams understand that they can achieve more than a collection of individuals who are out for themselves.