What is the DNA of an Effective Team?

In the past several years, organizations have begun favoring teams over traditional “top-down” workplace culture. When they function correctly, teams are more creative and innovative and are better than conventional business models in solving problems and making decisions. Teams excel in handling multiple tasks and achieving business goals while motivating employees to contribute to the organization.

If teams are the answer, the question is: How do you design them so that they will work for you?

To begin answering this question, you might recall your own experiences of participating in a team that consistently accomplished its tasks, met its goals, and motivated you and others to become full participants in the workplace. What would be on your list of factors that made the team successful?

I recently did my own inventory of factors that foster productive teamwork. Based on research, personal experience of participating in and coaching teams, and initiating and managing a business that fosters teamwork, I have come up with a list of nine key components.

You might think of these nine components as being like the parts of DNA, the molecules in living cells that carry our genetic information and determine our attributes. Just as each person is a unique individual with particular traits based on the sequence of building blocks in DNA, so each team is unique, fitted to its job in the organization. However, no matter how complex the individual or the make-up of a team, the components that comprise the DNA are the same and they are replicable.

In the years since Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA, biologists have been able to examine the way the nucleotides, the building blocks, link up to create a genetic code for a living organism. In the same way, you can bring a group into a team-building “laboratory” and examine the building blocks and how they interact to form the characteristics of the team. You can analyze the health of the team and prescribe healthy regimens that will strengthen the components and ward off weakness and dysfunction. Ultimately, the test of any healthy operation, whether it’s an organism or an organization, is how it operates in the day-to-day routine. The building blocks may be hidden from view, but they are there, doing the job. The chemistry works.

Before we examine the building blocks that form the DNA of a successful team, let’s take a snapshot of that team, like looking at a strand of DNA under a microscope. Once we know what a team looks like, we can create our framework to put the other pieces into place. I define the success of a team in two ways, by measuring outcomes and examining the process:

  • The results of the team’s effort meet or exceed expectations, desired outcomes and goals, benefiting the team as well as the organization, and
  • The teamwork and process used was effective and motivating so that members are committed to do their best and want to work together in the future.

With these definitions in mind, let’s look at the components that are needed to design a successful team.

The first component, Effective Leadership, is like the double helix of the DNA that provides the framework for the building blocks, which are:

  1. A shared and meaningful purpose
  2. Clear elevating goals
  3. Specific roles and competent team members
  4. A common and collaborative work approach
  5. Mutual accountability and standards of excellence
  6. External support, recognition and intergroup relations
  7. Skills and continuous learning
  8. Passion, unified commitment, and dedication

Next time we will look into how Building Block 1 works and how to put it in place.