Our experience in working with teams, both locally and across the world, tells us that the most effective and successful teams are those in which members understand their reason for being. They  have no difficulty explaining why they are working together and can identify their joint measures of success. And they know what the outcome will be when they have succeeded.

Many of the ‘teams’ we meet are simply groups of people who are collected together in a particular area. They are teams in name only, created based on a similarity of skills and/or capabilities, as opposed to having a common purpose.

That doesn’t necessarily mean these groups are not effective or will not achieve success. However, what we notice in such groups is that success is more likely to be recognised on an individual basis, that is, with people being recognised and rewarded for achieving their own goals rather than those of the group or even the organisation as a whole.

In these instances, ‘team’ is simply the name that is given to this collective of individuals rather than being a reflection of a different way of working together.

When we reveal a situation like this back to an organisation we’re working with, the question that often comes back to us is, ‘Well, what does it really mean to be a team?’

Exploring this question is a genuine opportunity to determine how a ‘real’ team can add value to an organisation and how important teams can be in achieving success.

Our first goal is to determine the purpose of the team. What are they really there to accomplish as a team? Importantly, what is it that they can do together that they can’t do apart?

Answering these questions can take time and energy. There are usually a variety of perspectives that arrive at the beginning of a conversation like this – particularly when this question hasn’t been asked before or for some time.

Where a team is able define their purpose, they are well positioned to create a ‘Shared Team Vision’. This identifies what they want to be known for and defines how they go about achieving what ‘they are here for’.

Our next question relates to what success will look like as a result of the group working together. (Occasionally the group is unable to determine a common reason for being, and this can be an end point itself and a source of reflection for leadership.)

Elaborating on what a team’s end results or outcomes will look like sets the path for further questions. What does this (the purpose) mean for the way in which we work together? What won’t we compromise to achieve our purpose – to achieve success?

In our work, answering these questions provides the team with a set of agreed ‘Guiding Principles’. These support effective and collaborative ways of working together and influence the way in which work gets done.

Our final question relates to how the team will hold each other to account in achieving success, and what that will look like in action. This is often the most difficult question to answer. Many of us are not used to, or don’t have much experience in, being mutually accountable for the success of the work we do.

Following this process really supports a group in determining whether or not they are a ‘team’ and what that looks like – or could look like – collectively as a result. Teams and their organisations can then build on this through using our Building a Great Team Culture map [pdf] which expands and builds on the base questions to truly develop an effective and successful team.


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash