Every team must overcome obstacles, deal with challenges, and determine the necessary quick decisions to reach peak performance. When dealing with teams, the better equipped the people are who make up the group, the higher the chances for success. 

After years of coaching college basketball, researching leadership, and interviewing leaders and organizations of all kinds, I learned why some teams are championship level, and others are not. I discovered six essentials of highly successful teams.

How I Got There

It began as a curiosity project and turned into something much more significant. I traveled the country to observe, learn, and inquire about the core elements of great teams. What did great teams possess that the struggling teams lacked? 

Throughout this research, I watched over 80 practices held by men and women’s Division I, II, and III college basketball teams; men’s and women’s professional basketball teams; girls and boys high school basketball programs; and youth soccer, basketball, and football programs. I then wanted to confirm that the key characteristics crossed over in other sports. Therefore, I talked to and observed softball, golf, hockey, and soccer programs as well.

While I explored the country, I also made a point to meet with and interview coaches, managers, business executives, employees, educators, religious leaders, health professionals, psychologists, former athletes, lawyers, and many others. These interactions allowed me to get an understanding of the varied professional situations as they related to leadership and teams.

In talking to many professionals, I discovered that the conversations and details surrounding these six essential components were as applicable in other professional arenas beyond just sports. 

What I learned was that championship teams have six consistent components. The following vital characteristics consistently appeared on championship teams regardless if we are talking about sports teams or business teams. As a result, Beyond the Talent: Profile of a Winning Team was written.  

6 Characteristics of Winning Teams:

1. Leaders

True and genuine leaders will guide, influence, and inspire others to believe in the mission of the team.

Good leaders are the guides that foster buy-in for the rest of the group. They describe the “why” and influence others to believe. These members need not be the best players or the highest performers, but they must understand the organization’s vision and team needs and be skilled at influencing their followers.

Though it may be simpler if the leaders are the best players, highest performers, or senior members, it’s not a necessity. I’ve seen potential leaders of all ages and levels in businesses that have others following them naturally. Often organically, this following occurs when leaders gain support because of who they are, what they say, and what they stand for. These individuals are the backbone of any high-functioning team. These are the true leaders that all organizations should recruit, mentor, and maintain.

Finding the right leader is crucial to a highly successful team.

2. Workhorses

These members exhibit a high work level, higher than the norm of the company, and set the tone for the desired level of the team. They are the most competitive, gritty, “nails for lunch” type workers who are not afraid of anything.

Typically, they are the first to go to work and last to leave. Workhorses are always working, even when others are not. Having workhorses at every level of the organization can form an unstoppable contagious behavior that trickles over to other workers who may not naturally work as hard. These folks are exciting and energizing to work with every day. Successful teams tend to have more than one workhorse.

If these people are also leaders, the chances of success begin to increase exponentially.

3. Communicative Energy — “the voice”

These team members are vocal cheerleaders who energize and motivate the organization. They raise the energy on the team by their voice and by their actions.

Vocal individuals are easy to spot but difficult to find. They don’t have to be leaders or the highest level performers, but they do bring enough energy to lift everyone to higher and more positive work energy. Vocal energizers bring encouragement and celebrations to all the victories, large and small. They are the energizer bunnies of the group. These are the people who never look like they’re having a bad day. Their positive voice is always present.

When there is good energy, there is production.

4. Connectors

Connectors are the bridge builders and the signal amplifiers. They build bridges to connect workers to other workers, and they make sure the signals between these groups are working at full capacity. In other words, they strengthen the links within the organization.

When there is inadequate communication between two departments, two employees, or employees to high-level management, corrosion may seep into the company, and destructive behavior or wrong assumptions may follow. Connectors are the team members who spot communication breakdowns and find ways to bring people together to re-open communication channels, ensuring they are funneling both ways. Often referred to as the glue members, they keep teams together. It’s vital that all team members, regardless of their direct impact on the outcome, feel they are an essential part of the process.

And, these connectors make sure everyone feels included and united throughout the journey.

5. Teachers

Teachers are the individuals in the company that can recite the company manual. They know what’s going on and know the ins and outs of almost everything about the organization.

These folks know where to find things, how things work, and who to talk to within the organization when someone needs something. These team members get all the questions because they are trusted sources relied on for essential answers. Usually, teachers are longtime employees, but sometimes they’re just quick learners who pick things up quickly. When something about the organization doesn’t make sense, or clarity of issues after a company meeting is necessary, teachers bring that clarity.

They are wisdom.

6. Diffusers

Diffusers are team members that keep things light, especially when the job elicits stressful situations. They defuse high intensity, fight-or-flight moments where the desired outcome is on the line.

When necessary, diffusers step up and carry the heavy loads, making it lighter for the rest of the group. They are effectively productive and remain calm when the storm is intense, thus putting the rest of the team at ease. By diffusing pressure situations, the diffuser raises the level of production of the organization, even when their jobs are on the line. The organization looks to these individuals when the going gets difficult.

Diffusers play prominent roles when the game or the outcome is on the line.

Go Put Them Into Action

When a team or organization has all six of these critical elements present, surely winning follows. However, when all of these components are present, and they’re working together as a collective unit, that’s when the highest level teams and organizations truly outshine their opponents. That is when you see organizations increasing production and hitting the high numbers consistently.

That’s how championships are made. 

Barb Smith is the founder of Courtside Leadership. For more information about how to build these characteristics on your own highly successful team, purchase the book, Beyond the Talent: Profile of a Winning Team.