What Makes Teams Click

Published: May 2, 2017

“Team chemistry” is hard to define. Everyone knows it when they see it. Teammates appear locked in to success, whatever the endeavor might be. Colleagues anticipate each other’s needs. Players play with field vision. Interdependence unfolds naturally. However, teams don’t just conjure up chemistry like magic. There is a recipe. Unfortunately, it takes a level of sacrifice few teams are willing to make.

So, what’s the recipe for team chemistry? As soon as you shift from “you and I” to “we,” a blend of accountability and collaboration begins to take shape. After all, what makes teams click has little to do with individual performance. It’s about everyone else. Team chemistry starts with a few basic interactional competencies:

Civility Norms: The way we treat each other matters daily and either strengthens or weakens trust.

Mission/Value Alignment: While we may differ on the path to the goal, we must share the same destination.

Constructive Conflict: Disagreement, done professionally, is the life blood of innovation.

Meaningful Connection: Motivation begins with a healthy dose of caring for the well-being of others. We rise and fall together.

Accountability: The most powerful drivers of interdependence are honesty, reliability, consistency, and follow-through.

Courageous Sacrifice: Distancing from the status quo and daring smart risks energizes a group of collaborators. The combination of fear and excitement invigorates.

Letting Go: Growth, in any form, includes loss. Teams only evolve when they are willing to shed previously important parts in exchange for new possibilities.

Embracing Change: As living, breathing ecosystems, healthy teams keep adapting to new circumstances. As soon as a group of people stops adjusting, they stop growing.

As elusive as team chemistry may appear, it arises from mutual investment. Shared direction enables trust and safety. The inevitable consequence is that magical phenomenon where everyone on the team seems to be acting as one. Once achieved, it doesn’t sustain itself. Each teammate needs to morph continuously to acclimate to the new environment the team just created. Tomorrow’s chemistry will not resemble today’s.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.