The book TeamWork by Larson & LaFasto (Copyright © 1989 by Sage Publications) is an oldie but it contains much wisdom about what creates team success. It’s based on a three year study of a wide range of teams seeking to determine what really separates exceptional performing teams from the others. Teams studied included business teams (e.g. management teams, McDonald’s McNugget launch team, IBM-PC team, Boeing 747 team) and other special teams (e.g. sports teams, mountain climbing teams, Center for Disease Control epidemic teams, cardiac surgery teams, military units, GAO investigation teams.)

Their unsurprising conclusion: “Training alone is not enough to make a great team!” Well, what is enough? Ignore these eightfactors at your own peril!

The following 8 factors were found to be associated with exceptional team performance:

  1. CLEAR, ELEVATING GOAL – Top teams have a clear understanding of purpose and a belief that the goal is very worthwhile. This is the most important factor associated with high performing teams!
  2. RESULTS-DRIVEN STRUCTURE – The team process is matched to the overall logical demands of the work. Problem Resolution work requires trust and a process with a focus on issues rather than predetermined positions. Creative Challenge work requires a process supporting autonomy that allows exploration of possibilities. Tactical Implementation work requires role and task clarity with well defined methods.
  3. COMPETENT TEAM MEMBERS – Both technical skills and collaborative thinking/communication skills are important.
  4. UNIFIED COMMITMENT – Team members are loyal and dedicated to the team goal. Intense loyalty is found when individuals are dependent on help from the team for their success. An elevating goal helps here, too!
  5. COLLABORATIVE CLIMATE – Competitive climates and the pursuit of individual agendas are associated with low performing teams. (Teams with an effective process will collaborate more easily and successfully.)
  6. STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE – Leaders are responsible for setting high standards of performance and they support the team members by ensuring they’re accountable and honor ways of working together.
  7. EXTERNAL SUPPORT / RECOGNITION – Incentives (especially money) are properly aligned, resources are allocated in a timely fashion, and kudos support good ideas and inspire high performance.
  8. PRINCIPLED LEADERSHIP – Leaders of top teams give a consistent message, avoid compromising team objectives with political issues, avoid diluting the team energy with too many priorities, are open to new ideas, and are willing to confront inadequate performance of any team member.

The BPI critical thinking training can help establish several of the above factors. For instance, a clear, elevating goal is more likely to be identified by leaders who use the best methods for clarifying the current reality and deciding what to do about it. This clarity and certainty motivates and provides focus for others.

The second factor, a results-driven structure, is a direct match to the BPI thinking framework which includes cause analysis, decision making and planning.

Improving team skills is another impact of BPI training. In addition to technical skill, competent team members can think together. In fact, thinking collaboratively is the real work of business teams. When teams can share their thinking with each other by using a common process, collaboration is easier, and more effective and satisfying.

Defining a worthwhile project with the right people, the right skills (team, leader, technical), with good leadership (principled, focused) and properly deployed resources (incentives, people, materials) produces successful teams. Use this list of factors as a checklist for the next project you do. Have your team members rate their team on all eight factors. Thank you Larson and LaFasto for defining the factors so clearly!