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What makes a good team great? The six characteristics of successful teams

January 17, 2017


A thriving team, on the surface, will very much like any other. But it is the things permeating underneath – the language, the modelled behaviours, the attitudes, the environment – that mark it out as different to simply a ‘good’ team.

All teams, naturally, are different. All teams, too, will be fluid and evolving structures; people come and go (including team leaders); challenges or priorities change; the dynamic constantly adjusts. To that end, creating a thriving successful is something that, as a leader, is never ‘done’ or completed.

Nevertheless, successful, thriving teams do tend to share a range of characteristics and attributes. To cultivate, share and embed these in your team is now your mission.

Thriving teams are focused on, and understand, the vision

If, as the team leader, you have successfully clearly articulated the vision – the goal, the purpose – that the team needs to be aiming for, then it stands to reason it is likely to be more focused and directed towards that.

What differentiates a team from a group of people is a clear, inspiring goal. However, this vision needs to be more than just something that matters to you or has been passed down from on high; it needs to matter to them, to be something they’re going to value and want to get right or achieve because they can see the benefit of doing so. It has to resonate and be real and achievable to them.

Thriving teams listen and learn

Successful teams tend to be successful because they’re more than a bunch of individuals who happen to be working together; their relationships, their direction and their ways of working and collaborating together mean that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

And a key element of achieving this is by ensuring there is a genuine listening relationship – that the team is listening to the leader(and valuing what they hear) but, crucially, the leader is actively listening to them. It is also important, of course, to be learning from what they both hear.

Thriving teams value trust and authenticity

This is about the leader being authentic in how they act and behave, about building honest, meaningful relationships across as well as up and down your team; creating an environment where people feel their input and contribution is being valued.

Another important element is to be using language that encourages collaboration and dialogue between all employees, within all teams and across the entire organisation.

Thriving teams are happy to challenge and disagree

The key here is to understand the difference between challenge and blame, disagreement and criticism. If the environment has been created where people are encouraged to question, challenge and disagree in a constructive, open way, rather than it being about defending territory, criticism or ‘keeping your head down’, the environment and the working relationship is likely to be much more open and creative.

Equally, it’s likely to mean people are constantly working with each other to improve and go forwards.

Thriving teams embrace learning and change

This follows on from embedding a culture of challenge and constant improvement. If challenge and questioning is seen as something positive, to be encouraged (because it is being done in a positive way), then, equally, learning and development, change and difference will become less threatening.

Another facet of this is that it’s ok to make genuine mistakes. This can be one of hardest things for a team to learn. When teams aren’t fearful of mistakes and failure, of constantly watching their backs, when it is clear that mistakes are to be learned from, then you’re more likely to see creativity, innovation, experimentation and new ideas being put forward and tried out.

Thriving teams celebrate and share success

Leadership, ultimately, is not about the individual leader, it’s about the people they serve. To that end, successful teams tend to be the ones that not only celebrate success – which can be as little as remembering to say ‘thank you’ for a job well done – but share in it, too.

Of course, if an individual has been successful, credit should be where credit is due. But if you want to be creating an environment where employees feel able, and are encouraged, to do their best work collaboratively, then the result – success – needs very much to be seen, and celebrated, as a team effort. Alongside this, there needs to be an environment of co-ownership and accountability to each other.


  • Build and model trust and authentic leadership behaviours.
  • As a leader, act on what you say, but also listen and learn.
  • Encourage challenge, questioning and innovation, even mistakes, as long as they are learned from.
  • Articulate clearly what the vision or purpose is, or needs to be.
  • Ensure there is genuine team ownership and accountability, but don’t forget to celebrate success.


If you found this blog interesting, you’ll love The Little Book For… The Thriving Team. In it, you’ll learn how Dave Curry, Chief Officer at Hampshire Fire & Rescue, built high performing teams across disparate locations.

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