Great Teams Are Built With Intention and Easy to Spot

Linda Adams, Abby Curnow-Chavez, Audrey Epstein and Rebecca Teasdale

Great Teams Are Built With Intention and Easy to Spot

For executives, directors, and anyone who leads a team, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that no matter how dysfunctional your team is today, there is hope. Any team can become an extraordinary team.

And the bad news? If your team is dysfunctional, it’s no secret. And the more senior the team the more visible the dysfunction, and the greater the impact throughout the whole organization.

You may think that you’re the only one who knows the extent of the infighting, sloppy handoffs, and missed deadlines. You’re not. We assessed team leaders, team members and stakeholders as we researched thousands of teams in dozens of industries and, in nearly every case, stakeholders know the truth about teams. 

Our research shows that the highest performing teams share a set of identifiable and replicable traits and characteristics. On the most effective teams, people are loyal to one another, the team, and the larger organization. People share information, resources and a commitment to put the team agenda ahead of any individual agenda. We called these teams, “Loyalist Teams.”

We named the other end of the spectrum “Saboteur Teams,” because on these teams, someone is always trying to sabotage a teammate’s efforts. The mindset here is “I can only win if you lose.”Team members feel constantly on the defensive and often work from a “get them before they get me” mentality.

Executives and managers sometimes think that if the work gets done, and the results are solid, how the work gets done on the team doesn’t matter. Some leaders go so far as to encourage infighting and pit teammates against each other because they believe that competition will bring out the best in all of them. The data proves otherwise. Loyalist Teams—where teammates have each other’s backs—are the teams that create new markets, lead existing ones, and skillfully maneuver through any and all challenges. Saboteur Team stories, on the other hand, are littered with lawsuits, bankruptcies, and plunging stock prices. And stakeholders always see it coming.

Our research shows that Loyalist Teams are 2,000 times more likely to be viewed as highly effective by their stakeholders than Saboteur Teams. Think about that for a moment—2,000 times more likely to be viewed as highly effective. If you want to increase the trust and value your stakeholders place in your team—and really, why wouldn’t you?—you can learn the traits and characteristics of Loyalist Teams and practice them.

First, get talking. Loyalist Teams are 292 times more likely to spend time debating, discussing problems, and making decisions than their Saboteur Team counterparts. Loyalist Teams are 125 times more likely to address unacceptable behaviors promptly.

Next, deal with those unacceptable behaviors. As a leader or a member of any team, you get what you tolerate. As a CEO or senior executive, how you lead your team and what you tolerate on your team becomes the blue print for leadership in the rest of your organization. Accepting anything less than Loyalist behaviors just because someone is a great producer or even perhaps an industry leading expert, ensures that you will always have a suboptimal organization. Others throughout the organization will emulate the poor behaviors they equate with success. High performers who choose not to engage in those behaviors will eventually leave.

The higher your team is within any organization, the more important it is that your team is a great team. If you’d like to lead a team that you, your team members, and stakeholders can rely on—and that everyone throughout the organization emulates—you can make that a reality. The highest performing teams are built by individuals who make deliberate choices. The team leader and team members decide how they want to communicate, solve problems, and support one another. Every team has the potential to be an extraordinary team so if you’re not leading one now, what are you waiting for? Start transforming your team into a loyalist team today.

About the Authors

Linda Adams, Abby Curnow-Chavez, Audrey Epstein and Rebecca Teasdale are partners in The Trispective Group and co-authors  of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor and Authenticity Create Great Organizations.