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Before we get into team basics, it may be helpful to look at a definition of a team.

What is a team? One generally accepted definition is:

A small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
Source: Katzenbach and Smith

A team is then a group of people who share a common understanding of their mission, have the variety of skills necessary (or that can be acquired) to meet that mission, and work together to accomplish that mission




There is no I in teams!

Teams are established to solve some problem or to accomplish some task which forms the basis of the team's mission.

This mission or charter should be clearly documented and understood by each of the team members.  A charter is generally written when the team is formally sponsored.

The team may be given a mission statement, develop one together, or shape the given one to meet their needs.

A team should have a name. It may or may not be descriptive of the mission but is something that team members agree on and can relate to. Brainstorming may be helpful in identifying a team name.

Guidelines for team behavior and decision-making are essential for teams. These guidelines are sometimes referred to as norms, a code of conduct, or a code of cooperation.

Each team member has a role and responsibility to play. These should be clearly documented and understood. They may be shaped by the team or team members effected. For example, roles in a software development project may include a project manager, system architect, system owner, systems analyst, programmer, or a librarian.

Teams should meet periodically or as needed to make team decisions, review material of interest, and to keep each other informed. Meetings are not an interruption of work, they are the team's work. Each meeting should have an agenda which should be distributed ahead of time. Minutes should be taken during each meeting and approved in the next meeting. There are several good references on team meetings.

Teams may choose to create a glossary of terms document to store definitions of terms. Definitions help create a commonly understood and shared language. Team members may have a difficult time communicating when their mental models differ because of language. In addition, working through definitions of terms as a team, may reduce future conflict because of language differences.

Deliverables are the products produced by the team. The deliverables should be clear and understood by team members. A schedule chart describing who is responsible for each deliverable and when it is due is very important. Products such as Microsoft's Project are designed to create these schedule charts.

Teams should take time out for periodic assessment towards their goals. There are several instruments for assessing team performance. One such assessment is described below.

Effective teamwork is essential for innovative and fast paced teams. What makes an effective team? Richard Hackman from Harvard University gives these four criteria for effective teams. How effective is your team?

There are several maturity models of teams. One well-known model of a team life cycle is forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. This model is useful in describing the various phases teams frequently take over time.

Another very useful model that addresses teamwork is the Software Engineering Institute's People Capability Maturity Model and Carnegie-Mellon University.

Finally, teams should take time to celebrate when the project ends. Recognition of achievement is an important part of teamwork.




A mission statement represents the team's reason for existence. It may be as short as a single sentence or as long as a few pages. A concise mission statement that covers the task is probably best. When team members understand and know what their mission is, it has a good chance of being accomplished.

A very simple mission statement is.

The mission of this team is to document methods and techniques useful in virtual teams.



Norms are the team's rules. They may be given, developed, or evolve over time. They should be documented, understood, and followed.

One example of a code of cooperation is:

  • Attend all meetings and be on time.
  • Listen to and show respect for the views of others.
  • Criticize ideas, not people.
  • Carry out assignments on schedule.
  • Resolve conflict constructively.
  • Avoid disruptive side conversations.
  • Strive for win-win situations.
  • Everyone is responsible for the team's progress / success.

In addition, a guideline for decision making may be useful. For example, consensus is frequently used as a decision making method. But, other methods are sometimes used such as the manager makes the decision or majority rules. Consensus is obviously more democratic, but whatever method is decided on, define and document it.

Note: Virtual teams may want to include elements of netiquette in their code of cooperation such as responding to email or voice mail messages within 24 hours, notifying people when out of the office for extended periods of time, posting work schedules on the internet, and so on.


Effective Team Criteria


Four criteria of effective teams are the following:

  1. Does the customer accept and approve of the team's work product(s)?

  2. Are the team members personally satisfied with the team environment?

  3. Would the team members work together on another team?

  4. Do the team members work and learn together?

Adapted from: J.R. Hackman (ed). (1990). Groups that Work (and Those that Don't). Jossey-Bass.


Team Assessment


The following instrument is one of many possible instruments that may be used to assess a teams performance. Additional specific questions may be asked related to task completion, sufficient resources, adequate training, etc.

Rate the following questions on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being low and 5 being high. High performance teams should be in the 4 to 5 range.

  1. Does the team have a clear charter, mission statement, or purpose?
  2. Are roles and responsibilities well defined, understood, and followed?
  3. Do all team members participate in problem solving and working assigned tasks?
  4. Do team members use effective listening techniques such as questioning, clarifying, paraphrasing, and summarizing?
  5. Does the team constructively work through conflict?
  6. Does the team share leadership depending on events, circumstances, or requirements?
  7. Do team members have a variety of skills?
  8. Does the team have and use consensus for important decisions?
  9. Do team members feel comfortable in speaking up?
  10. Does the team take time out to assess progress?

Source: Glenn Parker, Team Players and Teamwork.

Date last revised:
December 27, 2005
David Gould, Ed.D.
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