If you are a member of your local, regional or national association, sooner or later you will get involved in a committee or may even become a member of the board. Serving on these “teams” can either be a rewarding and productive experience, or a dysfunctional disaster!

Why the interest in teams? Why not simply assign projects or tasks to individuals? Teams have several advantages:

  • Only a team can bring together all the knowledge and resources necessary to manage complex projects and issues.
  • A well-developed team is capable of responding quickly and energetically to new developments and issues.
  • Teams are capable of making better quality decisions than all but the most brilliant individuals.
  • A team feeds a person’s need to have personal significance, and team processes encourage activity, achievement and high performance.

So what makes for successful teams? Here is what the research shows about the characteristics of effective teams:

1. Clarity of purpose. Team members are absolutely clear about their ultimate purpose or mission and are committed to its accomplishment.

2. Open communication. Team members express their ideas, opinions and feelings openly and authentically.

3. Mutual trust. Trust and openness go hand in hand. Openness is practically impossible to achieve without trust among the team members. Trust is a delicate aspect of relations, influenced more by action than by words.

4. Mutual support. This feature of an effective team is characterized by the absence of hostility or indifference among members, and by the presence of care, concern and active help toward one another.

5. Management of differences. Group creativity typically comes from an open exchange of different ideas, opinions and intuitions, and from an active process of integrating these differences into the desired outcomes.

6. Selective use of the team. Effective teams know when they should meet, and they know how they should use their time.

7. Appropriate member skills. The effective team has among its membership – not just the leader – the variety of skills that are needed for performance of the task and for maintenance of the team as a viable group.

8. Confidence. Group members, including the leader, believe that they as a group can accomplish the impossible. This kind of expectation stretches and challenges the group members and establishes the potential for growth and development.

If you are a board chairperson or a committee leader, what can you do to improve the effectiveness of your team? Here are some suggestions:

1. If you are experiencing poor team performance/dynamics, identify which of the above characteristics are NOT being met. For example, if the team does not agree on its purpose, then some work needs to be done to ensure that everyone is in absolute agreement as to their purpose and expected outcomes. It is useful to write these down before the team starts its work.

2. If you have a choice, select individuals to the team to bring a diversity of expertise, and that are known to work well in groups. Know the strengths, weaknesses and successful projects of all members.

3. Spend some time on “team-building.” This can be done by the group itself, or by using an external facilitator. Take the time to regularly evaluate how well your group is working together, and what needs to be done to make it more effective.

4. Some individuals are “people people” and some are “project people.” Careful assignment of team members to tasks based on their strengths will result in better performance in the long run.

5. Finally, if you are having one or more people causing all the problems in team performance, remove them quickly. Otherwise, the team will become dysfunctional and turn off your good performers. This is especially important where team members are volunteers.

Teams are likely to be around for a long time yet. Properly constituted and managed, they can contribute much to the success of your organization or group.