Organizations are only as successful as the teams who move them to success. The difference between being a high-functioning business team and a low-functioning business team is the difference between achieving breakthrough success and producing stagnant results. It’s the difference between experiencing team harmony and getting stuck in interpersonal conflict. It’s the difference between easily adapting to changes in industry or culture and being forced out of business.

The good news is that any team can become high-functioning if they adopt the practices of high-functioning teams. Below are seven things that high-functioning teams do that low-functioning teams are missing.

1. High-functioning teams have a clear picture of success that emphasizes their own do-differently behaviors.

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The picture of success is a co-created document between everyone on the team that describes how the team would be operating at a higher level to achieve breakthrough results. This is not a lofty vision statement or a wish list or a marketing tool for the website. It’s a specific and descriptive account, created by and for the team, of how the team would ideally be working together and what they would be achieving based on their desired outcomes.

The picture of success is one of the most important tools for a team because it unites them under a common sense of purpose and professional growth. Without it, individuals on a team operate based on their own ideas and preferences. The picture of success also creates a sense of ownership for each person on the team, because they’ve each contributed and committed to it.

2. High-functioning teams create and carry out agreed-upon team habits of collective execution.

The picture of success is nothing without agreed-upon team habits of execution. Most people work to some degree on their own habits, but teams hardly ever work on their collective habits. This is unfortunate because, in my experience, team habits of collective execution are the single most game-changing tool for teams. 

The way teams work together is what determines their effectiveness. Think of any professional sports team or music group: While it’s important that each player or musician hones their skill, it’s not enough to just practice individually. It’s the collective habits of the team or group that really make the team or group excel. And the same goes for business teams.

3. High-functioning teams are accountable for producing outcomes, not just performing tasks.

People often mistake accountability as a commitment to agreed-upon tasks. This can easily turn a team into an activity-based team instead of a results-producing team. When tasks are the priority, burnout is the result because the team misses opportunities to streamline operations for efficiency and effectiveness. High-functioning teams know that plans and tasks are only in service to outcomes, so making progress and iterating as you go is all in service to achieving desired outcomes. 

4. High-functioning teams take mutual ownership for outcomes and problem-solve together.

Mutual ownership does not mean everyone has a say in each other’s decisions, approach to execution or any other micro-oriented view of how the results get achieved. Mutual ownership means that everyone has a stake in ensuring that each team member is successful in carrying out their responsibilities.

High-functioning teams don’t let their teammates take the fall for not achieving outcomes. They raise concerns, help problem solve and offer support in ways that keep the responsible team member accountable for producing results. Everyone on the team is accountable for achieving desired outcomes, and this is accomplished by every team member proactively surfacing potential risks or challenges. Together as a team, everyone then develops solutions while understanding the impact of those solutions on all team members as they implement.

5. High-functioning teams anticipate breakdowns and surface potential issues before they become breakdowns.

A big part of being a high-functioning team is anticipating breakdowns and bringing them to the group. This requires a culture of safety and vulnerability, where everyone on the team takes ownership for breakdowns so that no one person feels blamed or shamed if they make a mistake or surface a problem to the team.

High-functioning teams never go for perfection; they know that human beings are flawed and anticipate imperfection, iterate as they learn and support each other with diverse ideas, creative input and joint decision-making to achieve breakthrough results.

6. High-functioning teams are flexible and open to change.

The world is changing all the time, and whether that means changes in industry, culture, technology, people’s personal lives or anything else, change is pretty much a guarantee. Unfortunately, too many teams become attached to their processes, procedures, meeting habits, relationship comfort and follow-up processes that track results, but don’t track the necessary execution to achieve those results.

High-functioning teams acknowledge, expect and anticipate change. They are constantly challenging the status quo. While all teams can become stuck in their ways at times, high-functioning teams catch themselves as early as possible and open themselves up to new possibilities. They are flexible enough to always look for better ways to serve their customers, remove wasted efforts and improve their own operational excellence.

7. High-functioning teams know they don’t know everything.

One of the biggest traps I see in upper management levels is leaders assuming that they are the best decision-makers. In their arrogance, they fail to appreciate that success, especially for larger organizations, requires diverse perspectives for effective decision making. While a leader might have good ideas, their knowledge about the implementation is limited, causing breakdowns, dramatically longer timelines, wasted resources and increased expenses during implementation. Whenever we think we know everything, we become stuck in our ways, inflexible to new ideas and unable to make prudent business decisions. High-functioning teams know they don’t know everything. They are learning-oriented and prepared to be proven wrong.

If you take these seven traits of high-functioning teams to heart and apply them to your team, I believe you can level up your game, achieve breakthrough results and find the success you’ve been looking for.

This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post and also appears on the B State Blog.


  • Mark Samuel is a transformative leader with over 30 years of experience in the business world. He has helped hundreds of companies overcome stagnation, transform their businesses, and eliminate toxic work cultures to increase profits, morale, and customer experience. Mark trains leaders on how to implement sustainable changes within just one or two months--a revolutionary approach that he's pioneered with his team at IMPAQ. Mark writes frequently for Forbes and Thrive Global, and hosts the Conscious Leadership with Mark Samuel podcast. He is the author of 7 books, including his newest book, the USA TODAY / Wall Street Journal Bestseller "Reimagine Teams".