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What fosters team spirit? What makes a healthy team?

All of us want to serve on healthy teams. Every good leader I know would want to lead a healthy team.

Most of us understand progress towards a vision is more possible if a healthy team is working together.

Also, all of us want to go home at night feeling we’ve done our best, we are appreciated for our efforts, and are ready to go at it again tomorrow. And, those emotions come best when we are serving on a healthy team.

How do we get there?

I’ve led many teams through my career – in business, non-profits and in the church. I’ve written lots of posts on healthy teams and included thoughts on creating them in my book The Mythical Leader. Some teams I have led I would say were healthy, some weren’t, and some were “under construction”. As a leader, I must take complete ownership of each of those scenarios. Team spirit – healthy teams – are greatly shaped by the leadership of the team. (And, that’s a hard word when, as a leader, we know the team isn’t as healthy as it should be.)

There are also seasons for every team. There will be seasons, maybe even because of external influences, where a healthy team is not as healthy as it once was. Among the healthy teams on which I’ve served though, the people and personalities were different, but there have been some commonalities I could clearly identify.

Here are 7 commonalities of healthy teams:

Clear mission, vision and strategy. To feel a part of the team, people need to know where the team is going, why they are going there, and what their role is on the team. An understanding of the overall goals and objectives fuels energy. When the big picture objective is understood each team member is more willing to pull together to accomplish the mission, because they know the why and can better understand where they fit on the team.

Healthy relationships. For a team to have team spirit it needs to be filled with team members who actually like each other and enjoy spending time with one another. This doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict, but conflict is used to make the team stronger not to divide people. There are no hidden agendas or suppressed grudges among team members. (As a leader, when I realize there is unresolved conflict on our team I know I can’t ignore it.)

Celebratory atmosphere. Laughter builds community. A team needs time just to have fun together. And, there needs to be a freedom for spontaneous (and planned) celebration. People need to feel appreciated for their work and that their participation is making a positive difference. On healthy teams no one every person is valued for their contributions. Encouragement is free-flowing and genuine.

Joint ownership – from everyone on the team. This one is huge, because without it the team won’t be completely healthy. Here’s the reality – some people are not team players. Period. They checked out years ago and are now just drawing a paycheck – or continuing to hold onto a title. They may be great people, but they aren’t building team spirit anymore. They don’t want to be on the team or not in the position they’ve been asked to play. Team spirit is built by people who are in it for the common win of the team.

Shared sufferings. A healthy team spirit says, “we are in this together” — through good times and hard times. In addition to laughing together, a good-spirited team can cry together through difficulties of life. They share the pain when things aren’t going well – regardless if it’s “their area” of responsibility.

Shared workload. There are no turf wars on a healthy team. Silos are eliminated and job descriptions frequently overlap. Everyone pulls equal weight and helps one another accomplish individual and collective goals.

Leadership embraces team. This may be the biggest one. As a leader, it’s easy to get distracted with my own responsibilities – even live in my own little world. And, let’s be honest. Some leaders would prefer to lead from the penthouse suite. They give orders well, they are good at controlling things, but they do not really enjoy playing the game with the team. A healthy team spirit requires involvement from every level, but a team-mindset must especially come from leadership.

It’s a challenge leaders. Why don’t you use this as a checklist of sorts to evaluate. How’s your team doing?

Let’s build better teams.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Alex says:

    Excellent post Ron. Healthy teams are often hard to find. One common element I often find missing in various teams is the area of trust. A team member has to learn to trust his/her team's abilities. In addition, Im glad you mentioned that they need to like each other. Wow, it's really tough to lead or be a part of a team where there are dislikes and distrust. Thanks again for this great post. It gave me an idea to work on with my board as well 😉

  • XNXX says:

    Great post. Thank you very very much.This article is efficient. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am visiting this blog on a daily basis and I am finding so much helpful article each time. Keep working on this and thank you once again.

  • Brent Dumler says:

    Ron, I'm so glad you included the 'shared sufferings' point. I lead a completely volunteer staff team at our 6 month old satellite campus. As a team, we have shared…
    – loss of an unborn child.
    – spouse away for 6 months in military
    – incredible illness
    – employment transitions
    – car accidents
    – staff transitions
    – adult children leaving home
    And in the midst of all this, we have prayed for, helped, supported, and encouraged each other. This has brought our team so close. In many ways, we are even closer than our own family. Thanks for this post. God bless!