14 Characteristics of Great Teams for Small Business Success

building strong employee teams
14 Characteristics of Great Teams: Part 1 of 2

If you read my recent post titled, “Playing to Win” then you know that I’m an avid football fan. And while my favorite team was knocked out of the playoffs, I’m still watching the remaining games with great interest, including the two divisional championship games that were played yesterday. In just under two weeks, this season’s NFL champion will be anointed after winning the Super Bowl.

This got me thinking: what is it that sets great teams apart?
What do the great teams do differently and better than the others?

Whether you have a small business or not, cultivating these traits within your business and employee culture will give you a competitive advantage and put you in a position to gain ground when it comes to sales, customer loyalty and employee engagement. What’s more, it will make your business stronger – more successful not only in the short term but better prepared for the long haul.

So here are my 14 characteristics of great teams for small business success:  

1. Great teams study the competition. They scout the players and analyze the play of other teams. They discover the strengths and exceptional players of the other team and they look for weaknesses they can exploit for competitive advantage.

  • Do you know who your competitors are? Do you know what they are best at? Do you know what their ‘fans’ love most about them? Do you know where their weaknesses are?
  • The answers to these questions can help you develop tactics to improve your own performance to better compete against them. And by analyzing their weaknesses, you can gain not only competitive advantage but you may also be able to identify portions of your shared target markets which they are not serving well. In other words, rather than competing against the competition at their points of strength, become good in areas where they are weak or may overlook completely.

2. Great teams strategize and plan.
They spend hours and hours and hours “off the field” creating detailed game plans and even contingency plans for the team to follow on the field.

  • Do you have a plan? Do you have a mission and vision statement? Do you have a customer bill of rights? Do all of your employees know the plan, understand your mission and vision, support the promises you make to customers and – most importantly – understand how their role helps to fulfill each? When was the last time you conducted a SWOT analysis?
    (SWOT=Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, Threats)
  • Do you have a marketing plan, or are you winging it? Do you have specific goals for sales, new customer acquisition, retention, referrals, customer life cycle management and strategies to achieve them?
  • Do you have contingency plans for when things go awry, competitors emerge, the market changes or emergencies occur?

3. Great teams work as a team.
While players who carry, catch or throw the ball might get more time in the spotlight, they represent only a small fraction of the players on the team, most of whom rarely touch the ball at all. On great teams, those in the spotlight understand that they can only do what they do because of the efforts of their teammates who perform other roles. On great teams, every team member understands their own role and how it contributes to the success of the team as a whole. They know the importance of what they do and they strive, continually, to improve.

  • Few businesses of any size can say that all or most of their team members perform at this level; it’s likely that there are few businesses where even a significant portion of their employees perform at this level.

To develop this type of employee culture:

  • Make sure that all employees know the game plan: the mission and vision of your company, the promises you make to customers, your business goals and long term objectives.
  • Make sure that all employees study the play book: the strategies and tactics that will be employed in order to fulfill the mission and vision of the organization fulfill customer promises and reach goals.
  • Every employee must understand how their job works to fulfill the mission and vision of the organization, how it enhances and impacts the customer experience and how what they do impacts the ability of others in the organization to succeed.
  • Create a culture where each employee feels equally valuable and needed by the organization. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about money; what I mean is that in many organizations, one or more departments or individuals is made to feel that they are more important than others. Some are driven by the sales department. Some by operations. Some by singularly charismatic, dominant individuals. But for a team to feel and perform like a team, it’s vital to develop a culture where people understand why ‘what they do’ is vital to the organization and one in which no one department or team consciously or subconsciously believes that they are more important than the others.
  • Don’t pit people against one another or create power silos. Nip negative behaviors such as hoarding power, information or contacts in the bud. And conversely, make it absolutely safe for people to share information, power, contacts and even customers by behaving with integrity and insisting that all employees do the same.


4. Great teams recruit strategically.
They go after the best players for each position; people who are not only great at what they do, but people whose strengths, personality (on and off the field) and abilities complement their style of play, work to fulfill their game plan, enhance and complement the strengths of other players and ultimately will help to generate immediate “wins” but will also help to build the team for the future.

  • When hiring, remember that you’re not just looking for superstars, you’re looking for individuals who will fit in well with the employee culture that you have (or the one you want to develop).


  • If you want to have a positive workplace, you must hire people who are positively charged. If you want to grow your business, you must hire people who can embrace change, welcome the suggestions and ideas of others and understand the concept of continuous improvement. If you want to deliver exceptional customer experiences, you must hire people who are positive, patient, knowledgeable, good at problem solving, can think on their feet, who don’t take criticism personally and who absolutely live to make the lives of others better.
  • Hire for personality and attitude as well as abilities and experience. Make sure that not only your screening and interview processes but also your reference checks include questions which will help you determine whether the individual will be a good fit relative to other employees, whether they will add skills and abilities that you strategically desire, and whether they are individuals who can help you achieve not only short term “wins” but also build for the long term.


5. Great teams are committed to continuous improvement
which they achieve by running drills, training, education and good old practice, practice, practice. Never satisfied with “good enough” or how good they were last season or during the last game, great teams constantly analyze their own performance to identify areas where they can improve, and then set out to do so. They work out to stay in shape and to get stronger and faster. They study the game plan. They learn every play in the playbook so that, if called upon, they can do their job to the absolute best of their ability.

  • For many businesses, especially small businesses, this is an area which is often shelved for some time in the future when you believe that you will “have time” to develop a plan for improvement. In many businesses, employees are putting in a “good enough” performance because there is no reason or incentive for them to go above and beyond the call of duty. They don’t see a career path and opportunities for strategic development and advancement are not put in front of them. Mentoring and cross-training – practicing new skills — is non-existent.


  • Have you created a climate of continuous improvement, or is “good enough” good enough at your business? Do you incentivize, reward or acknowledge ideas for improving sales, reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and other process improvements? Do you make it safe for people to make suggestions and share ideas relative to their own jobs and to those of others?
  • Do you encourage or support continuing education and training? Do you even have a training plan? How about a job mentoring or employee development program?
  • How often do you even analyze the ‘play’ of your team to look for areas which can be improved? Do you conduct employee and customer surveys? Do you encourage and facilitate customer or employee feedback in any way? Do you act on ideas and complaints? Do you report results?


6. Great teams take time to reassess and adjust their game plan
mid-season or even mid-game, and they do so for many reasons. They may have lost key players due to injury or trades. They may have lost one or more coaches, or even fired them for poor performance. Or what they are doing may simply not be working.

  • Part of your planning process should include incremental measurements; points in time when you will step back and analyze whether the tactics you’re employing are working. You (and all the members of your team) must be able willing to make needed adjustments to your game plan. You must be open to change.


  • You have to create a culture where managers and employees feel safe; safe to make suggestions and where criticisms are given and taken constructively (rather than personally). It’s not easy to develop this type of climate, and it starts at the top and is a climate to which all of the leaders in your organization should be held accountable.
  • This is not a culture you’ll develop by accident; ‘fight or flight’ is human nature when it comes to confrontation and criticism. Creating a culture where it is safe for the people within it to operate, make and receive suggestions and implement needed change is something you’ll only achieve when it’s an authentic part of who you are as the leader of your business and the steps you take strategically to nurture it.


7. Great teams listen to experts on and off the field.
Great teams don’t just have one great coach, or even a great coach plus a great offensive and defensive coordinator. Great teams have experts on and off the field and in the booth, people who have a different perspective of things because of where they’re sitting, who can be tapped for advice and insight.

  • This may be scary, because top down, dictatorial leadership can seem easier. It gives you the illusion of having control – but it’s not the way to build a great team. To build a great team, all of the leaders and influencers within your business need to feel (and should be) valued and heard.


  • To build a great team, you need to tap the advice and insights of people who are watching your game from a different perspective. No man is an island, and great leaders seek out mentors, peers and consultants who can provide them with real time feedback on their own performance as well as that of their team.


The next 7 characteristics of a great team will be published on Thursday, January 26th -it’s going to be a great year!  


Elizabeth Kraus is the author of 365 Days of Marketing.

If you want to build a business which provides the maximum when it comes to customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty as well as profitability, change the way that you  understand and use marketing.  365 Days of Marketing is available on amazon.com.
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  1. […] this week I posted the first 7 characteristics that great teams not only “do” but that they do better than the competition. […]

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