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5 Signs of a Strong Team

21 Mar 2016 | Being Human, Communication

“Strong teams pull together when the shit hits the fan, where others fall apart.”

I shared this on social media a couple of weeks ago, after working with a particular team that really struck me with their team spirit.

Like many teams I work with, they were dealing with the pressure of heavy workloads, rapid change, high uncertainty, obstacles aplenty and constant pressure from both colleagues and clients. One thing they did that was very noticeable, was that they pulled together, at times where other teams were falling apart.

So you can imagine the irony when shortly after writing a post about what strong teams do differently, my own teamwork and crisis management was put to the test – when my laptop died in the middle of the hotel the night before 2 days of workshops.

The good news is, my laptop has been revived – hurrah! And all the lessons I wrote about held true for me too. So what is it that sets strong teams apart from others? Here are five things I’ve noticed:

1. They laugh more

The most noticeable thing about the group I worked with the other week was how much they laughed. And I mean proper belly laughs, not just polite chuckles. They laughed at the good and the bad, at themselves and the situation. And in laughter, they found sanity, survival and surprising solutions too. Laughter is immensely powerful. It releases pressure, builds resilience and unlocks creativity.

I’ve noticed this from TPHQ’s famous ‘Cake and Irate’ sessions, and more recently in how wonderfully inappropriate humour has featured in my friend’s blog about her cancer journey.

The morning of my first workshop sans laptop, I found myself holding onto this. And yes, laughing is not the first thing you think of in times of crisis, but the truth was I couldn’t afford a sense of humour failure. It’s amazing how much you can find to laugh about, when you allow yourself to: from the security guard mysteriously changing my name to Michelle, to joking with my host and delegates arriving in the room laughing about various things that had happened to them over the weekend. I found myself surrounded by a lightness that was contagious, that lifted everyone up during the day.

Laughter is like oil on parched skin. It soothes, it heals, it fills the cracks and restores suppleness and flexibility. Next time you feel like you’re cracking up, find something that actually makes you crack up – in a good way.

2. They choose to be hummingbirds

My friend and fellow author Cathy Madavan speaks of the difference between being a hummingbird and a vulture. A hummingbird seeks nectar and signs of life. A vulture looks for death and decay. Both find what they are looking for.

In times of pressure, finding the problems – the broken, the messy, the things that go wrong – is easy. Finding the light, the good, the things that go well or right, may not be as obvious, but strong teams will actively look for those things in themselves and each other. They will choose to take home the one thing that went well instead of the fifty things that didn’t. They will choose to start each meeting with “what’s your good news?” rather than “what’s the problem?” and they will actively celebrate successes – especially in the tough times.

So what’s the upside of spending two hours waiting for my laptop to download some kind of fix via a slow hotel wifi – which in the end didn’t work? I got to spend two hours on the phone with my husband, which is an opportunity we haven’t had for a long time!

3. They encourage each other

Strong teams genuinely care about each other – not just about what they can do for each other at work, but about their lives outside of work as well. They support each other through births and bereavements, diets and marathon training, concerts, childcare, court cases… They know that these details matter. They are the glue that connects us together as human beings and take our relationships beyond the transactional to something potentially transformational.

This last week I have been so grateful to my team who rallied around me with backup slides, backup laptops, tech support, logistics support, emotional and prayer support – and far from being annoyed at the extra work, they were so incredibly encouraging. I felt so cared for – not just in my ability to deliver the work, but for my own sanity and wellbeing too.

4. They speak openly about mistakes

There’s something very powerful about working in an environment where you can ‘fess up to your own mistakes “Sh*t, I messed up” or to point out a colleague’s mistake constructively “Hey did you mean to…” or “Oops I just noticed…”

The ability to speak honest truths, candidly and openly, without blame or shame means that resentment has no place to fester. And everyone can focus on taking the learning forwards rather than hiding, or beating themselves up about it.

My mistake? Turns out that when the little rubber feet come off the bottom of your Macbook Pro, it exposes the inside of your machine to dust and crumbs. Apparently it only take a small crumb to wedge its way between a cable and the outer shell, to rub and short out the cable that connects to the hard disk. There you go, now you know – if you use your Macbook so much that the rubber feet have come off, get them replaced – or tape over the holes!

5. They share what works

Seems like an obvious one, but when the pressure is on and everyone is busy, it’s amazing how we can find ourselves locked into our own screens, lists, issues and commitments that we forget to share with each other our discoveries, workarounds, resources, contacts, answers and ideas – and we hold back from asking too.

Strong teams keep the lines of communications open when they are in survival mode, instead of locking down to every individual for themselves.

Laptop issues aside, the past few weeks have been an unprecedented stretching season for us as a team, and while there have been plenty for each of us to get on with, we’ve taken the time to share our thoughts and learnings along the way and I believe that has made us stronger, both individually and as a team. It’s been a challenging season for sure, but at no point have I felt alone in my challenges, and for that I am grateful.

What about you? What have you noticed about strong teams you’ve been part of or seen in action? I’d love to hear your stories and experiences too. Feel free to comment and share…


  1. Bev Murrill

    This is a fantastic article, Grace. I have also found that the best teams laugh together, support each other in the work environment and outside of it. They acknowledge their mistakes and they don’t accuse and blame when others make mistakes. And gosh… I’m going to check the feet of my laptop!

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Bev! Glad to hear you have found the same – and hope your laptop stays healthy and well connected!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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