Let’s just take a few moments to consider some foundational considerations about teams and team work. We’ll see more of these as we work through this module.

What is a Team?

Many people have sought to understand the nature of a team and help others develop them so let’s see some of the answers they have come up with:

“A Team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, common performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”                 G. Moorhead and R.Griffin

“Teams are not the same as groups: they need to be planned, built and maintained. A team has a distinct characteristic – it is a group working together to achieve a common purpose, and it may be composed of people drawn from different functions, departments or disciplines.”      From Business: The Ultimate Resource

“A Team is a group of people committed to a common purpose who choose to cooperate in order to achieve exceptional results.”       Pat MacMillan

“A Team is a group organized to work together to accomplish a set of objectives that cannot be achieved effectively by individuals.”                 Anonymous

  • Take a Moment:
    • Review these four definitions of team
      • What do you learn about the nature of a team?
      • How does this compare to your own initial definition of team?

So what have you found out about teams from these definitions?

  •  Number of People

First there is the obvious:  A team involves a number of people; exactly how many will depend upon the volume of work and range of skills and abilities required. Later we will look at the types of person an effective team needs. These types are independent of technical skills and more about personality and inherent capabilities. It’s important for the team leader to ensure that he has the right mix of team members on his team and that any gaps can be covered effectively.

  • Common Purpose

Next we see that the members of a team have a common purpose. Again, this may seem to be an obvious statement but so often there are problems in this area. These arise because the purpose and objectives of the team have not been worked out and owned by all its members. Then personal agendas come into play. Enabling team members to all subscribe to a single common purpose is a vital task for the team leader.

  • Complimentary and Diverse Skills

As already observed a team is about bringing together a set of people who together are able to achieve their common goal. This means that between them, team members can bring to bear all the necessary skills and capabilities required to achieve the goal. Given that no one person is able to do everything it is obvious that each team member will be different from every other team member. Thus a team comprises a set of diverse people who are able to complement each other as they work towards achieving their common goal.

  • Specific Method

A team must agree exactly how they are going to work together; who does what in order to achieve their goal. Thus they will define and agree a specific method of working.

  • Deliberately Built

Effective teams do not emerge by chance. Chance is not a capable designer and actually resides over disharmony. It cannot achieve a thing.  A team has to be deliberately built. The goals need to be understood and the diverse set of members called according to the skills and capabilities required.  Even then this is not enough. Work must be done to bring this group together to mould them into a team.  This is the key role of the leader. Without it, as we shall see later, a group will remain a group of individuals who, in most cases, will pull against each other.

  • Commitment

A definitive marker of a team is that all its members are committed. They are individually committed to achieving the goal and also committed to help each other to achieve the goal. As we shall see, teams are not about individuals doing their own thing but about people agreeing to complete the same journey to a single destination. They agree to work collaboratively using an agreed specific method, so that as one they achieve their common purpose. No individual can achieve the goal alone they are each interdependently reliant upon the others.

  • Mutual Accountability

Team members choose to be accountable to each other; this also is a definitive marker of a team. They commit to achieve their part of the task not simply for their benefit but for the benefit of the whole team. So they will work in a way that enables their fellows to be able to do their part too.

  • The Individual Cannot Achieve the Goal Alone

Effective teams achieve things that an individual cannot do. It’s why teams are used.

  • Achieve Exceptional Results

Properly formed, committed to each other and achieving a common and shared goal, using an agreed method, effective teams simply outperform individuals and groups of individuals. Teams are capable of astounding achievements. It’s why teams are formed and deployed.

  • Cooperation

The essence of effective team work is collaboration and cooperation. Effective teams do not have people who try to do it alone, to do it their way in their time. That way lays failure.

At first sight Pat MacMillan’s definition of a team seems to lack so much but if you read his book  – The Performance Factor – you will discover all these other factors lie behind his initial, simple definition.

Team Members are Volunteers

At first sight this doesn’t seem to make sense. Surely if my boss assigns me to team I am assigned to it; I’m not a volunteer, I am instructed to join it. Let’s ponder that for a moment and look at three aspects in which team members must be volunteers.


Just because you have been assigned to team does not mean that you are in tune with its purpose and goals, or even that you choose to be in tune with the team. I’m sure we have all seen people who didn’t want to be there and, as the English saying goes: “they drag their feet”. They don’t do what is asked of them and their lack of cooperation causes problems. It is an act of voluntary choice to submit oneself to the goals of the team. It requires a deliberate act of will to choose to embark on the same journey as one’s colleagues.  It’s not possible to force someone to commit to the destination, even if they are instructed to join the team. It is a voluntary act and it is the leader’s job to nurture his team members and lead them to that place of voluntary commitment.


The team leader may be assigned by the management but each team member has to choose to accept them as leader. Following the direction of the leader is a deliberate act of will, a voluntary choice. Thus each team member must volunteer to be led by the leader.


In a team, each of its members is dependent upon others to do their part. More than this, each member needs the others to do their part in order to achieve success. They cannot achieve the common purpose without all the other team members.  Again placing oneself in this position of mutual dependence is an act of will; a voluntary choice.  So, team members who do not make that choice choose to try to succeed without the other members of the team. When they do this they cause disruption and experience frustration and failure.

Benefits and Risks


One of the great advantages of a team, as considered above, is that together an effective team can achieve more than any individual and even more than if the team members worked as individuals. This is synergy, achieving more than the sum of the parts and it’s sometimes expressed as “1+1=3”.

Involves Risk

As we have just observed achieving synergy requires deliberate and voluntary interdependence. This is risky. Why?  Because success depends upon others. As a team member your destiny is no longer in your own hands (if ever it was) but it is now in the hands of others, your team mates. So you put at risk your success, your reputation, your rewards by voluntarily committing to rely upon the effectiveness of your co-workers.

Depends upon Trust

The risk of depending upon others is mitigated by the degree to which you trust them on two levels:

  • Can they do what they say they can?
  • Will they do what they say they will?

You become reliant upon their integrity and you voluntarily place yourself in that position. But this is not a one way street. Your co-workers are doing the same with regard to you. Thus everyone in a team is both vulnerable and under pressure at the same time.

Trust is the foundation of interdependence. Only when everyone in a team trusts each other can a team be truly interdependent and thus truly collaborative.

It has been observed that trust is like a bank account: Money is credited to the bank account and then that money can be drawn down and used. The problem comes when the withdrawals exceed the credits.

Similarly we have “Trust Account” and as we demonstrate our integrity (i.e. we can do what we say we can and we do the things we promise to do) others credit trust in our account.  Sometimes things will go wrong and we will fail. Then we draw on the trust credited to us by others; they recognise that our failure is just a blip and let it go.  Each time we fail we draw on the trust of others and if we fail too often we will overdraw and our team mates will no longer trust us.

It’s worth noting that trust is harder to win than to loose, and having lost the trust of another it’s harder to win it back than to gain it in the first place.

Our integrity is important for the effective working of the team to which we belong. For the leader it is a vital currency that must be jealously guarded.