The Four Fundamentals of Successful Teams

/The Four Fundamentals of Successful Teams

The Four Fundamentals of Successful Teams

In the previous posts, I shared that developing a one-team environment requires commitment to a compelling purpose, leaders who articulate clear priorities and build supportive mechanisms, and the consistent cultivation of the unique language of a one-team organization. In this blog, we’ll explore the structure of a team and what it takes to develop the teams who day-in-and-day-out perform the vital work of the organization.

Today, work is completed by teams of people who share information, make decisions, and take action. It’s commonplace for individuals to work on multiple cross-functional teams. On any given day, a worker might start the morning by collaborating online with a team of engineers in several locations, move on to exchange emails with colleagues designing a new product, join a conference call with a marketing team, then get called in to help solve a customer problem, all while juggling various meetings with stakeholders and suppliers.

Work teams are the backbone of a one-team organization.

Based on these examples, an organization that operates as one-team is really a collection of individuals and teams, working together toward the achievement of shared goals. Work teams are the backbone of a one-team organization. Work teams include teams that work together daily to serve customers, or they could be project teams, problem-solving teams, or leadership teams. Teams can be housed in a single location or distributed across the globe in different time zones. They can be short-term, long-term, formal, informal, functional, cross-functional, and/or self-organizing. They can serve many purposes, but typically, they share certain, consistent characteristics.

The Four Fundamentals

When you are establishing and developing work teams, consider building these four fundamentals: purpose, people, practices and relationships. (My colleagues groan and roll their eyes when I jokingly call this model the “PPPR model” because the four fundamentals help make your team PPPR-fect. It’s cheesy, but it works.)

  • Purpose: Work teams depend on a clear purpose from leadership. They know precisely what the team is expected to achieve with appropriate measures. Without a clear and compelling what, teams will struggle and become frustrated figuring out the how.
  • People: Clear roles and responsibilities, both within and between work teams, facilitate coordination and leverage team member knowledge, skills, strengths, and abilities. Without clear roles and responsibilities, teams will become confused about who is responsible for what. Without the right skills and experiences, teams may work hard, but will underperform.
  • Practices: Operating practices effectively guide how a single team works together, and how teams work with other teams. Consider how the team(s) communicate, employ technology, solve problems, resolve conflicts, make decisions, and perform the work. High performing teams are constantly evaluating and improving how they work together. Without well designed operating practices, teams will certainly be inefficient, and likely ineffective.

High performing teams are constantly evaluating and improving how they work together.

  • Relationships: Collaborative working relationships establish and grow trust between people. Highly effective teams are aware of, and agree on, the behaviors that can build and destroy trust. Team members get to know each other’s nonbusiness lives, they develop personal connections that often last well beyond the life of the team, and they care for each other. They become aware of and are sensitive to each other’s preferred style(s) for communication, decision making, and dealing with conflict. They create a safe place for each member to grow. In short, the members’ personal relationships bind them together and unite them around working toward the team’s clear purpose.

Behavioral Norms Create the Secret Sauce

Teams with high trust and collaborative relationships create energy and make the workplace enjoyable. Teams with poor working relationships … well, you know how draining these can be to an individual and to an organization. A team’s working relationships are influenced by team norms—the traditions, behavioral expectations, and unwritten rules that govern how a team functions.

Teams falter without supportive and positive behavioral norms. Consider two of the most impactful:

  • Balanced sharing of conversations – each team member is given more or less equal time to talk and share their opinions.
  • Interpersonal awareness – team members can tell how others feel based on their expressions, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues. Successful teams know when someone is feeling concerned or excluded.

These norms foster an environment of openness and interpersonal growth. They lay the foundation for what has been termed “psychological safety”[1]—a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

What Google Learned

Google, in its well-publicized search[2] to understand why some teams succeeded while others failed, came to similar conclusions about team norms:

  • The “Who” is not the most important factor
    “…there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.”
  • It’s the “How” that makes the difference
    “The researchers [from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College whose work was studied by Google] concluded that what distinguished the ‘good’ teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates treated one another. The right norms (group traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules), could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.”
  • Psychological safety is behavioral norm #1
    “Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.”

The Effect of Successful Teams?… Building Organizational Capability and Capacity

One-team effectiveness bears beautiful fruit. Whatever the purpose of a team, success is ultimately judged by performance. In the traditional sense, successful teams deliver results—they fulfill whatever goal they set out to achieve. And team effectiveness pays additional dividends.

Team effectiveness is the critical, core competency an organization can use to drive consistent, high-levels of performance while it grows individual capabilities and organizational capacity.

This means the one-team experience develops the capability of individuals and teams, while advancing the organization’s capacity to execute its strategies. It’s a PPPR-fect combination.


In this blog series, I have attempted to convey that certain actions and supporting mechanisms are required to create and sustain a one-team environment.  This kind of environment can be described as one where people willfully and energetically work together to achieve something of meaning and purpose. Organization leaders, plus team members who have the ability and desire to shape the future, play a key role in developing the mechanisms and behaviors that support the one-team environment.

I introduced you to John Vandegrift, an extraordinary leader who taught me that a leader should be able to articulate a clear, compelling direction and purpose that aligns with the values of team members. He also put supporting mechanisms in place, such as overarching performance goals and measures, a team-based structure, personal accountability, team training for leaders, and team rewards tied to organizational results.

I also discussed the power of language and conversations as an important component of a one-team environment. Leaders can influence the words and phrases that reflect and sustain the teaming culture. And in this final blog, I described the four fundamentals required to facilitate the movement of individuals into teams. A one-team environment works for individuals, teams, and teams of teams.

We discussed that supportive team norms create the psychological safety needed for team members to bring their best, confident selves to work and to feel positive about their contribution to the team’s goals and the organization’s success.

All things considered, a one-team workplace is a great place to work.

Creating and sustaining a one-team environment is complicated whether or not you have the word “leader” in your title. We help companies create environments for great teamwork. Get in touch to see how we can help.


This blog post is the fourth installment in a series about creating a one-team organization.

  1. “One Team” Lays the Foundation for All Teams
  2. “One Team” Starts with Leadership and Thrives on Trust
  3. One-Team Conversations Connect People

[1] Psychological safety was first defined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson in 1999.[2] What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, New York Times Magazine, February 2016.

About the Author:

John Lyden
John Lyden is a veteran organizational change consultant, by way of 27 years of business experience at Xerox Corporation and Delta Airlines. He has worked as an Operations Manager, Trainer, Consultant, and Business Owner. John is passionate about working with people to solve problems, develop leadership skills, and create organizational environments where teams get results and grow organizational capability.

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