When I started working with this team, it was tense.  No one looked at each other, no one wanted to be there and it was my job to help the team.  The team was filled with resentment, frustration, bitterness and anger.  No one was having any fun.  I asked them, “Do you want to be a team?”  A group of individuals does not make a team.  A team is a group of individuals invested in each other’s success.  Great teams don’t just happen, they take work.

Once they determined they wanted to be a team, I explained the Cycle of Engagement.  It has three parts:  Blame, Ownership and Influence.  This team was living in blame.  They didn’t want to live in blame, but they didn’t know how to break out of that cycle.  They were blaming each other for the past and had lost confidence in the concept of team.  Every problem was someone else’s fault.  This cycle needed to be broken for the team to progress.  I had individual meetings with each team member to discuss the current reality and more importantly the future of the team.  No one wants to be on a terrible team and this group was no exception.  Over the course of several group meetings the barriers started to come down.  Eventually the team was laughing again and telling stories about the future.  I can empathize with teams like this.  Early in my career I was on teams that lived in blame.  I was miserable and it impacted my family, my health and my friends.  It was no way to start a career, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

We all deserve great leaders and great teams.  Have you ever been a part of a great team?  When you are on a great team everything gets better.  Even tough situations are manageable.   You can’t wait to hang out with this group of people.  They become more than co-workers, they become friends, colleagues and trusted advisers.  In a great team you can move quickly, there is a connection that is hard to describe.  It is as if you can communicate without words.  You are in sync with each other and things seem effortless.  Everyone on the team is competent and passionate about the work at hand.  You have so much confidence in your team that you feel you can accomplish anything.  The focus is on progress, the focus is on positively impacting others and the team is winning.

It is compelling when teams find a way to transition from Blame to Ownership to Influence.  This is where teams thrive.  Productivity is off the charts and everyone is having a blast.  This is the end game of every team.   The average person will spend over 75,000 hours at work in their lifetime, why not make it great?

Question:  What characteristics describe a terrible team?  What characteristics describe a great team?  What is the best way to help your team move forward?


  • Jay says:

    Thanks Ben. This so reminded me of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team:
    1. Absence of Trust (fear of being vulnerable)
    2. Fear of Conflict (preservation of artificial harmony)
    3. Lack of Commitment (lack of clarity and buy-in)
    4. Avoidance of Accountability (avoidance of interpersonal discomfort)
    5. Inattention to Results (pursuit of individual goals and personal status)

    Keep up the great work!

  • Aric says:

    Great article,Ben. A great team understands their purpose and vision, how they contribute to the greater whole, and has a feeling of ownership in not only their individual success, but the success of the team and organization. They are continually pulling and pushing each other forward.

  • What makes a great team?
    1. TRUST- it’s the foundation. And not just, I can trust her to not take any of my stuff, but I can say what I am really thinking and feeling and they will like and accept me anyway.
    2. Genuine desire to know each other and see each other win.
    3. Understanding of individual differences and how we benefit from those differences.
    4. Knowing what we are good at and asking for help when we aren’t good at something.
    There are many more, but I believe it all starts with TRUST!

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