Is There An Ideal Team?


The performance of teams is a critical part of achieving business results, and having a clear understanding of the ideal team is therefore very important. The ideal team is usually described in terms of attributes, some that I hear often include:
• Team members are bought in to a clear goal
• A high level of trust between team members
• Team members regularly collaborate for the good of the team
• They hold each other accountable to achieve the team’s goals
• They offer help to each other
• The team is small
• Roles are flexible, members take on responsibility for what needs to be done

Do these resonate with you, are they on your list of ideal team attributes?

While I agree these are excellent attributes for a high performing team, I don’t consider them to be the ideal. I say that because I don’t believe there is one ideal team, instead the characteristics of the ideal team are a match to its particular situation. In other words, a team could be the ideal in one situation and a dysfunctional one in another. Matching the design of a team to the situation is key.

Some of the attributes described above are common to all high performing teams, for example a high level of trust between team members. Many of the others describe a self-managing team; this is a team model that works well when there is a high level of interdependency amongst members, who have to collaborate well to achieve the team’s goal. In this situation, trust must be very high, members must be able to deal with conflict, hold each other accountable and pitch in wherever needed. The leadership role on this type of team often shifts depending on the skills of team members, and the situation and need.

Contrast this highly collaborative interdependent team with a senior leadership team made up of functional business heads. The roles on this team are clearly defined, and even though the members must work together setting direction and assessing progress to overall goals, the majority of the work is performed independently in their separate business functions. At the center of this team is the appointed leader, typically the direct manager of the team members; they are the final decision maker, and they hold individual team members accountable for their performance to their individual goals. If each function within the team performs well, they are likely to succeed and achieve their collective goals. This is the team model I have been most familiar with in my roles as a business leader. I describe this as a leader-directed team.

Is one form of team better than the other? I say no, both forms are equally valid, what is most important is designing the right team model that best matches the nature of the work they are performing. Being able to recognize the type of team you need to create is a critical leadership skill.

What has been your experience with teams, do you have an ideal?