The Team I Choose to Join or Lead

Published: January 29, 2020

A decade ago, Seth Godin, inspired by the Team Clock methodology, said, “…think hard – really hard – about what it means to join or lead a group of people.” He was referencing the powerful responsibility we each have to our teammates regardless of our position or role on the team. On most teams, sadly, only a small percentage assumes that level of ownership. The norm is under-engagement or disengagement. Imagine the characteristics of the ideal team. The Center for Team Excellence sees a rare few of these examples but they do, indeed, exist.

The characteristics of the ideal team

Unanimous agreement on strategic direction: Although there may be many paths charting the journey, the destination must be embraced by all. As the classic proverb predicts, if you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.

Divergence of opinion about how to achieve the vision: Conflict is fuel for innovation when managed professionally. Passion can be intimidating so build psychological safety into the team culture. It’s easier to consider someone else’s view when you believe yours has been heard.

Respectful exchange of perspectives: The uniqueness of each teammate’s history, experience and role creates contribution value. Quiet voices should be elevated in balance with loud ones as they may have devoted more thought to their position.

Family-like connection: Beyond togetherness, warmth, caring and friendship grow naturally when a group of people spends 200+ hours each week contributing to the same mission. Every exchange should include a reminder of that gift.

Accountability that requires no tracking: Ownership mean no one has to ask whether you did what you said you were going to do. No follow-up check-ins. No spreadsheets. No Gantt charts. No red/yellow/green meetings. Everyone simply takes action on their area of responsibility and the work moves forward.

The courage to experiment: Seemingly unsolvable problems grow brains. Mistakes unveil discoveries when the team moves with the flow of the challenge. A wrong note becomes a new key signature in an impassioned improvisation.

Commitment to maturity under stress: The tendency to regress to tantrums or withdrawal under pressure disables dialogue. Whatever the source of tension, resolution usually follows calm reflection and thoughtful conversation. Define the issue, hear all sides, entertain options, weigh pros and cons, execute a choice and evaluate outcomes.

Eagerness to discover the opportunities that arise from change: Every transition refreshes the team. Losing something treasured eventually leads to gaining something new. Cycles of growth and opportunity define the lifespan of all teams. When significant change occurs, step back and take in the view that distance provides. Then step back in with refueled energy and focus on tomorrow’s circumstances until the next disruption forces another stage of growth.

Joining or leading a team expands your scope of responsibility beyond yourself to the entire entity. In addition to accountability for your own role, you now own the wellness of those impacted by your choices and the consequences those actions have on the success or failure of the enterprise. While that can feel like a heavy burden, the rewards of connection, contribution and accomplishment are unmatched.

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.