The characteristics that make a great team

Leadership + Management


There are diverging views on what makes a good team. The only common ground is: the larger the group, the more difficult it becomes to work together cooperatively according to Gary Burnison, CEO of management consulting firm Korn Ferry.

Korn Ferry’s CEO Gary Burnison presents two opposing views in one of his most recent articles about team building: The first one is a Google survey which found that the kinds of people in a team or in other words the mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds make no difference. Instead, it is assumed that five key characteristics create enhanced teams:

  • Psychological safety: Everyone feels safe in taking risks around their team members, and that they won't be embarrassed or punished for doing so.
  • Dependability: Everyone completes quality work on time.
  • Structure and clarity: Everyone knows what their specific expectations are. These expectations must be challenging yet attainable.
  • Meaning: Everyone has a sense of purpose in their work (i.e., financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, etc.).
  • Impact: Everyone sees that the result of their work actually contributes to the organisation's overall goals.

The second opposing view stems from various scientific studies. These scientists claim that personality heavily affects the role of an individual within a team. Burnison explains this through the "left brain vs. right brain" theory, which goes that everyone has a dominant side of the brain (the right or the left), and it determines their personality, thoughts and behaviour.

Right-brained people are: more intuitive, creative, free-thinking and have the ability to collaborate and connect. They are the relationship-builders, and they are vital to a team's success.

Left-brained people are: logical, analytical and objective, detail- and fact-oriented, more pragmatic.

In every business and industry, when teams come together, EQ (emotional intelligence) matters much more than IQ (intelligence quotient), Burnison is convinced. This doesn’t mean that left-brained people necessarily fail. “You don't have to be one or the other. Having both pragmatic and strong relationship-building traits can increase the value you bring to a team,” according to the Korn Ferry CEO. This means left-brained or right-brained people can adopt both traits.

Right-brained people should:

  • Develop a strategic mindset.
  • Know and understand what drives company to success.
  • Be known for something (scientific expertise or even highly specialized knowledge such as tax law or M&A accounting).
  • Be proactive in mastering them.
  • Practice tackling complex problems.

Left-brained people should:

  • Develop learning agility.
  • Find joy in ambiguity.
  • Practice coping with uncertainty and making decisions without having all the information beforehand.
  • Put social leadership skills to the test.