Traits That Make (and Break) Great Teams in These Uncertain Times

We’re living in crazy and uncertain times. During times like these, the importance of having a great team is more important to our organizations than ever. Your survival truly depends on it. If you don’t have the makeup of a great team, it’s time to make the changes needed to ensure your survival.

Great teams start with having people with the necessary skills. Do you currently have the team members with the skills you really need? Are you settling for someone that does not have what you need, but have hesitated to make the change? If yes, stop procrastinating.

Beyond just skill, there are certain traits common to members of exemplary teams and should be sought out when hiring. Some personality traits are counterproductive to effective team building; a good leader will recognize these potential pitfalls and manage accordingly. But having team members with hard and soft skills is just the start; great teams require great leadership. Learn more about what makes a team successful: the traits you want, the traits you want to watch out for and the traits needed in your leadership.


Common Traits of Great Team Members

No matter the industry or level in the organizational hierarchy, certain soft skills benefit teams and the business at large. Typically, when we are looking to hire, we are looking for certain skillsets. If it’s an accountant — do they understand accounting principles, Excel and know how to use specific software, etc.

But it is also very important to understand the soft skills they have. Are they good communicators? Are they trustworthy? Do they have a strong work ethic? All these skills are critical when it comes to ensuring they can play roles in your organization beyond just the hard skills they possess. 

Desire to Continually Learn and Improve

Employees with the desire to learn new skills, information or methods are vital to the long-term health of the business. The desire to continually learn and improve leads to flexible, agile teams that can adapt quickly to changing technologies and changes in industries. A great team must constantly evolve to keep the business current.

Active Participation in the Organization

Great team members recognize that their success connects to the success of the organization as well. Active participants share their ideas, contribute their suggestions and take interest in the business beyond their assigned work.


Traits That Prevent Team Members’ Greatness

Certain personality traits can dampen a team’s growth and undermine its success. Look out for employees with these characteristics, coaching them away from expressing these traits in damaging ways.

1. Extreme Independence

Teams thrive with collaboration. Yet some people adopt an “I can do it all on my own” attitude that spurns any help or input from others. Such extreme independence breaks down teams into loose collections of individuals.

2. Pervasive Pessimism

Some people project negativity and their pessimism can be detrimental to the team. In constant crisis mode (“the world is ending”), the pervasive pessimists can drag down other team members. The pessimism also limits reflection on past successes and restricts planning very far into the future.

3. Excessive Optimism

Sometimes employees refuse to acknowledge any problems exist. “Everything is perfect. Nothing’s wrong.” Though optimism can be uplifting at times, excessive and unrealistic optimism does not advance the team. If you aren’t aware of the issues, you can’t address them. No solutions can be found if you don’t know there are problems needing solving.

4. Conflict Avoidance

When people have an extreme aversion to conflict of any sort, they will avoid it at any cost. To avoid conflict, these employees do not express disagreement or share potentially contentious or controversial opinions. This conflict avoidance not only deprives the team of opportunities to innovate or improve, it stunts the development of a healthy work environment that values respectful communication.

5. Opinion Withholding

The opinion withholders are those staff members who sit quietly during meetings, keeping their ideas to themselves. After the meeting, they might privately share their feedback with you, one-on-one. This behavior is divisive and self-isolating from the team. The withholders also are holding back the team’s ability to grow through introduction of new ideas or through self-critique.

6. Change-Resistant

Some team members hold much experience, which can be beneficial. This experience is not useful when the employee relies exclusively on that experience and resists change because “this is how I’ve always done it.” These employees refuse to apply knowledge in new ways, no longer push themselves or others to learn, and stifle team development.

7. Inflated Self-Confidence

When people adopt an “I know best” attitude, they will not objectively examine their own work and refuse to consider other approaches or opinions. They do not trust their teammates. Self-confidence is important, but so is confidence in those you’re working with; this two-way trust is essential for successful teams.


How to Lead a Great Team

Diverse teams with a spectrum of personality types and varying levels of experience and skills can be great with the right coaching and leadership. Leaders of great teams must:

  • Bring together team members with a passion for lifelong learning and who participate in the organization’s overall success.

  • Recognize traits among the different personalities on the team that could work against the team’s best interests.

  • Create an environment where people are encouraged to speak up and can do so without fear. They foster a collaborative, inquisitive culture where respectful communication is required, and contributions of opinions and ideas are expected.

  • Guide with questions. Good leaders ask questions of their team members that encourage them to question their perspectives, get people to better define the issues, lead them to reach their own solutions and help them learn from mistakes.

  • Share their experiences as a leader. Sharing how you handled similar situations in the past accomplishes several things: You share valuable experience and knowledge, staff have the opportunity to learn from the past and you remind the team that solutions can be found.

Bringing the right people together and then bringing out their best can be tricky. Forming and then building a great business team requires balance, among other things.


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you have the right team in place to get you through these difficult times? Can they work together to make the tough decisions to survive?
  2. How many of the personalities outlined above do you have on your team? Are they productive members or cause issues?
  3. Do you have the right mix of people on your team? Do they work collectively to challenge each other, and you, toward the best outcomes?