The 7 Cornerstones of Teamwork

What separates a good team from a dysfunctional one?

Often, when we talk about teams, we speak in generalities. We know a team must be cohesive and that team members must communicate well together, for example. But what specifically differentiates a high-performing team from the rest of the pack? At Eagle’s Flight, we’ve identified seven key differentiators. We call them the seven cornerstones of teamwork because if even just one cornerstone is missing, the entire team dynamic can crumble. Following are the seven components you need to cultivate and encourage teamwork within your teams.

1. Leadership

Why is leadership the first cornerstone of teamwork? When many people think of teams, they envision a group working together without centralized authority, sharing all responsibilities and decisions equally. In reality, that’s not how a team works best. If you don’t appoint a leader, you’ll face power struggles and clashes between individuals.

Designating a team leader isn’t just about avoiding team infighting about who should be in charge. A team leader takes full accountability for the team’s final results—which inspires the entire team to collectively complete the project.

2. Unanimous focus on a common goal

It’s easy to become sidetracked when working in a team, especially if it’s a larger group of people, and when a team is assembled with colleagues from different departments and specializations, members may also have different ideas about what the team should prioritize. That’s why it’s so vital to determine the overall goal as soon as the team is formed—so if members’ focuses start to wander, a leader can use this goal to refocus the team.

3. Clearly defined roles for subgroups

When teams are tackling large, unwieldy challenges, it’s often a good idea to break a larger team into smaller subgroups. The key when doing so, however, is clearly defining subgoals for these groups, with the understanding that each subgoal is in service to the overall team goal. Subgroups aren’t opportunities for members to explore tangents—they should be laser-focused on fulfilling their roles, in order to help every other subgroup succeed.

4. Shared resources

Have you ever been on a team where members hoarded resources for themselves? Maybe one of the subgroups used up most of the project budget, or a key member of the team neglected to share some important information that could’ve moved the project forward faster. Hoarding resources—regarding material goods and tools and “intangible” resources like ideas and information—is a hallmark of a dysfunctional team.

That’s why sharing resources is one of the cornerstones of teamwork. Some team members may have a tendency to hoard resources as if they were in competition with the other members. They want to make sure their specific task or subgroup goal can be deemed a success. Team members must realize that when they share with others, the team has a greater chance of succeeding together—which links back to the importance of establishing a unanimous, common goal.

5. Effective and frequent communication

A team can’t succeed without strong communication skills (that’s why so many team-building trainings focus on communication), but what does “strong” communication include? According to the seven cornerstones of teamwork, communication should be both effective and frequent. “Effective” means not just elegantly delivered but easily understood by all members of the team. If a team member can’t repeat back to you what you just said in their own words, then your communication wasn’t effective.

“Frequent” communication ensures a team leader consistently checks in with team members and their progress and reinforces the vision of the project or a common goal, which can all be easily lost in day-to-day activity. For example, frequent communication may mean starting every team meeting by having team members share the biggest wins or progress they’ve made toward the overall goal.

6. Consistent, united, and enthusiastic effort

Once teams get into the thick of things, the initial enthusiasm surrounding the team project often starts to wear off. Members might start arriving late to meetings, take longer to respond to emails, or even try to get some of their other work done while in a team meeting! Having each member pledge to stay consistent, united, and enthusiastic in their effort can help keep the momentum going when the going gets tough. It’s important to stress that team members rely on each other, so if one person starts to slack off—either mentally or physically—that affects how well and how efficiently other members can complete their tasks. And keeping the enthusiasm going isn’t just the job of a team leader; part of the responsibility of being on a team is a promise to give your all, all of the time.

7. Periodic and temporary suppression of the ego

This cornerstone of teamwork may sound like a mouthful, but it’s a pretty simple concept. High-performing teams tend to be made up of high-performing individual players. The only problem? High performers may have more trouble than most realizing they’re not always the smartest person in the room. Inevitably, a team member or two will disagree with the direction that the team, as a whole, decides to go in. When that happens, the team member has an obligation to keep his or her ego in check in service to the greater goal of the team. While sharing ideas and resources is vital to teamwork, knowing when to hold your tongue—if it only serves your individual agenda or ego—is just as important.

When each member of a team vows to uphold all seven cornerstones of teamwork, the team becomes so much stronger, creative, and effective. What cornerstone (or cornerstones) do you think is currently missing in your teams?


Ian has been with Eagle’s Flight since 1997, and is Executive Vice President, Global Accounts. He holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of British Columbia. Ian spent 12 years at Nestlé Canada and brings a wide range of experience that includes practical business experience in management, sales, program design, development and mentoring. He works closely with the Global licensees to ensure their success as they represent Eagle’s Flight in the worldwide marketplace. He has developed outstanding communication skills and currently is the Executive in Charge of a large Fortune 500 client with a team of employees dedicated to this specific account. As a result, Ian has been instrumental in driving the company’s growth and strategic direction.

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