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What makes for a successful team?


Jan Bailey, Marketing Manager of the Leadership Trust examines the qualities that make a team successful.

What makes for a successful team? How many organisations throughout the UK and across the world have pondered this question? And it is not only business organisations. In the world of sport, for example, teamwork is frequently crucial – and lessons from that arena have, in fact, been successfully applied to business scenarios.

In our view, successful teams are founded upon four key elements:

- Atmosphere

- Leadership

- Strengths and weaknesses

- Relationships


It is vital for you as leader to create the right atmosphere within a team. The right atmosphere is one that switches people on and really brings out the best in them. It is based on openness, honesty, creativity and supportiveness. The wrong atmosphere is one that is closed, rigid and status ridden – possibly even threatening. This type of atmosphere will only dull creativity, de-motivate and switch people off.


Downwards, outwards and upwards leadership is what is required for successful team performance.

Downwards leadership is the one most of us are familiar with – it’s leadership from you (as leader) to your team members. You will need to set the right goals for your team, keep an eye on the objective, match individual strengths to the task at hand and to organise the resources the team needs. Your job is not to get involved with the “nuts and bolts”, but to stay in the “helicopter” position, enabling you to watch what is happening, and to swoop down on any areas which need your attention.

Outwards leadership is about providing feedback to your peers, whereas upwards leadership is doing the same with your boss. To do this effectively requires you not to sycophantically agree with whatever your boss or peers suggest, but to muster the courage and self-confidence to say what you think and feel.

To facilitate each kind of leadership – upwards, downwards and outwards – requires the creation of an open and honest atmosphere.

Strengths and Weaknesses

We all have strengths and weaknesses. These can be described broadly in three areas: mental, emotional and physical. Mental abilities include such things as lateral thinking, creativity, powers of analysis, and so forth. Emotional abilities include empathy, humour and moral courage, whereas physical strengths can be fitness, physical presence and practical aptitudes.

As a leader it is important that you understand your own and your team members’ strengths and weaknesses in order that the right people can be deployed in the right areas. This approach recognises that nobody (including you as leader) can have all the knowledge, experience or skills to tackle every task effectively. The key is to use all of your and your team members’ strengths, whilst controlling and handling your weaknesses.


The foundation of all teams, and the bedrock on which they are built is relationships. Relationships are built on three critical factors – mutual trust, respect and support. Mutual trust, respect and support arise from an atmosphere of openness and honesty, where people are able to express truly what they think and feel. We need to be able to argue our points of view, when necessary, yet all parties still emerge unharmed and intact. If you can’t do this at the moment in your teams, then the relationships within them are probably weak and a little superficial, and your team will not be able to function effectively when the going gets tough.

Getting it right in these four areas will lead to successful team performance and – ultimately – better business performance.


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