Five traits of highly successful teams

Teams that work well together keep communication channels open and are clear about their needs and intentions.

Teams that work well together keep communication channels open and are clear about their needs and intentions.

Published Jul 11, 2024


The value of human capital in any business should never be underestimated. In a small business, this statement is even more true.

Small business working environments are typically more fast-paced, more demanding and often more emotionally and mentally taxing than their larger counterparts. But, if business owners can get a handle on these challenges and build a resilient team, the results can be remarkable.

Not all teams are created equal. Choosing team members because they tick all the right boxes in terms of skills sets, experience and expertise is only half the challenge. The other half is choosing team members who have the right mindset, work ethic and personal traits to work effectively with their peers, and contribute towards a positive working culture.

Though every small business has different needs in terms of what these factors are there are a few common traits that define highly successful teams, regardless of the type or size of the business.

These are five of the main ones to consider:

Open and clear communication

Teams that work well together keep communication channels open and are clear about their needs and intentions. While this may seem like a rather obvious characteristic in theory, in practice it can be tricky to perfect. An important factor in getting it right is creating an environment in which people are not afraid to ask questions, share their ideas and opinions, solve problems in a collaborative way, and keep everyone informed and engaged.

According to a study by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, successful teams communicate frequently, both formally and informally. The study involved tracking team members’ tone of voice and body language using wearable electronic sensors. The findings revealed that consistent communication patterns are linked to team productivity, regardless of the work-type. Effective communication patterns were also found to be the most crucial factor – surpassing skills, intelligence, and all other team-building factors combined.

Ongoing learning as a winning factor

Successful teams are committed to continuous learning and improvement. Team members should regularly seek feedback, reflect on their performance, and identify areas for growth. By focusing on continuously improving and iterating according to what the business needs, teams can grow together. In fact, teams that don’t learn and grow together are more likely to grow apart as the business evolves. Fostering a culture that is conducive to developing people – both personally and professionally is therefore a vital part of setting a business up for long-term success.

Those who adapt, survive

In a rapidly-changing business landscape, adaptability is crucial. Successful teams are flexible and can pivot quickly in response to new challenges or opportunities. Small businesses operating in this hyper-connected and often unstable economic and social climate need to be agile in response to emerging risks. The pandemic shed light on the importance of adaptability and in South Africa, doing business in an economic downturn has emphasised this point even more.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “adaptability is the new competitive advantage”. This is particularly true of doing business in the digital age, where change is quite literally the only constant. The paper asserted that successful teams swiftly recognise and respond to signals of change. They focus on mastering the art of rapid, frequent, and cost-effective experimentation not just with products and services, but also with their business models, processes, and strategies.

The importance of good leadership

Team leaders also play a vital role in helping a business achieve its goals and ensuring each individual team member has the right resources to perform at their best. Leaders need to be able to guide the team and make critical decisions and to be able to think on their feet during times of volatility. With clear, sound leadership, team members can gain the fulfilment they need to enjoy job satisfaction and develop the resilience needed to overcome the many challenges that face a small business.

Diverse teams are stronger

In the past, teams that consisted of people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, political or social persuasions and upbringings were viewed in a negative light. Too much focus was placed on “finding the right fit” – someone who shares similar leanings to their colleagues. This was believed to be an integral part of building a team of people who were always in agreement and who brought similar perspectives to the table.

Now, through various studies and a growing body of research we know that the exact opposite is true. Diversity is not a weakness but a strength. Bringing people together who are different in the way that they think, act and share is not only an ethical imperative, but a business one.

Research by McKinsey & Company shows that diverse teams are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. This is primarily because diversity fosters creativity and innovation, enabling the team to tackle challenges from different angles.

Ben Bierman is managing director of Business Partners