Team Effectiveness: what works and what doesn’t

In today’s world of business, teams have become the default for managing almost all work. An observation made by Korn Ferry indicates that unlike previous times, it is no longer the individual but the team that holds the key to business success. This is because teams holistically encompass the efforts of individual contributors thus producing synergistic outcomes. Despite this widespread shift to team work, very little time is spent in understanding what makes teams work effectively. 

Drawing on research, several studies suggest that effective team performance is mostly a function of the type of roles that team members play (Belbin, 1981, 1993; Woodcock, 1989; Margerison & McCann, 1990; Parker, 1990; Spencer & Pruss, 1992). A study by Chong (2007) explored whether there was a relationship between the types of roles represented in a team and the team’s overall performance. This study provided insight into which roles correlated with high team performance as well as shed light on the characteristics that distinguished teams that were more effective from those that performed poorly. 

In this study, a sample of 342 management students were organised into 33 teams where they participated in a management simulation, completed a questionnaire on team roles and reflected on what went well and where the problem areas were during their team exercises. 

Roles that formed part of the study were highly creative problem solver; logical, impartial decision maker; good coordinator; resourceful investigator; strategic implementer; completer finisher; team worker; challenging shaper and specialist.

The results 

Significant correlations were found for roles that were creative and problem solving (r=0.33, p<0.05), those who were good at co-ordinating activities (r=0.15, p<0.05) and those who were generally co-operative team workers (r= 0.40, p<0.05) and high team performance.

The study found that high performing teams were characterized by trust, good communication, high commitment and good time management. In the high performing teams, enthusiasm in taking on management roles that were defined by the team leader were also sighted as a characteristic that contributed to the team’s effectiveness. Teams that were high-average in performance were those that were people-focused. These teams prioritised securing consensus and building morale amongst team members.

The low performing teams seemed to have members who took initiative in assuming leadership roles as well as in securing crucial information from outside the group. As evidenced in the study, these teams initiated training of team members and had detailed plans of activities that needed to be carried out. However, what was attributed to the poor performance was a lack self-confidence of the team members as well as their lack of confidence in their leaders. Teams that were low-average in performance engaged in consultations to determine managerial roles and members were selected to perform roles based on their work experience. Even though detailed plans were set in place and were followed closely, the reluctance to take on leadership roles followed by a lack of commitment from managers to do their jobs resulted in the poor performance.


When it comes to what works and what doesn’t in team effectiveness, some deductions can be made based on the study above. Firstly, the types of roles present in a team has a bearing on how effective a team will perform. Teams that consisted of members who were highly creative problem solvers, good co-ordinators and good team players seemed to be more effective.  Secondly, a consideration of softer skills such as providing person-centred support also enhanced team effectiveness. What was also noteworthy were the characteristics that were required among team members. Teams that were characterised by trust, good communication, high commitment levels and good communication seemed to outperform those who did not have these qualities. However, a lack of confidence amongst team members in themselves as well as their leaders’ capabilities and a lack of commitment on the part of the leader to perform their duties seemed to be detrimental to the team. Given the findings of this study it is possible for I/O Psychologists and HR practitioners to assess the team effectiveness of current intact teams.  By getting a better understanding of their current composition it is possible to take strategic actions to enhance team effectiveness with selection and development interactions. Building more effective teams is possible.

October 14, 2015