What Does a Successful Team Look Like?

I facilitated a World Cafe type exercise the other day, and the question we explored was ‘What Does a Successful Team Look Like?

As the conversation built up in layers there was one theme that just kept recurring, no matter where people’s reflections led us… It was ‘Trust’.

Here are all the sub-themes it cropped up in Motivation, Organisation and Communication: 


A successful team is nothing if not a motivated team, and it was broadly agreed that empowerment is a short-cut to motivation. 

When we unpacked this a bit, we saw how big a role that giving people the freedom to make decisions and learn through experience has to play, and the absolute necessity of avoiding the dreaded M.M – (micromanagement!). 

Micromanagement stifles people by eroding their confidence in their abilities, whereas giving the team choices and responsibilities grows them.

Teams can grow skill and their ability to learn through experimentation. 

Why do leaders micromanage? 9 times out of 10, it’s because they don’t trust their people to do the job. 

This lack of trust in this situation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because when people sense they’re not trusted, they dis-invest emotionally and stop giving it their best. And understandably so.


Teams are successful if they are given this sort of freedom, and this freedom works best when the team is also given the right level of containment and support. 

Someone in the discussion came up with an analogy of a garden, having its paths and borders to support the soil beds where all the growth and life and experiments happen. Having that structure builds the teams’ trust that they are in an environment that is safe enough to take risks and that the processes and procedures are robust enough to make sure that missteps won’t be fatal (for their career or the company). 

A sense of organisation gets fostered by having clarity of roles and responsibilities – one contributor shared how her whole team have (very successfully) written their own Rs and Rs, and she allowed then to do this because she trusted that they understood the organisation’s values and mission sufficiently to know how they could best use their strengths to support it. 

Things feel held and organised too when reflection and review are structured into the company culture. 

It means people can be exploratory and innovative safe in the knowledge that no-one gets dragged out to sea.


We talked about the importance of communication that is open. 

A culture of transparency and feedback where people at all levels and to all levels, are unafraid to speak up, ask questions, challenge and trust that they will be heard, their voice will be valued. 

To have a successful team where continuous improvement is a reality rather than a goal, this one is essential. 

A participant recounted how their volunteers get invited to make suggestions to the CEO, and their suggestions have an impact. 

Communicating with lightness, with humour was reflected in a way that successful teams are a place where people feel at ease, let their defences down and trust that they belong enough to show up as their authentic selves. 

Eating together, beer and crisps in the cupboard, and having days when work stops at 5 on the dot and fun together begins were all these things were mentioned as ways of building up a ‘family culture’ in the team. (Though that concept is funny in a way as so many families are an utter nightmare to belong to. I’m not sure how successful a team would be if it replicated the dynamics of my family of origin! – so maybe ‘functional family culture; is a more accurate tag to use here). 

Knowing each other in a social sense, not just a role sense, knowing what makes everyone tick as individuals, and communicating the company vision in a way that strikes a chord with all, that fosters that sense of belonging too. 

And with a sense of belonging, of course, comes trust.

So from that 20-minute world cafe exercise, we can start to appreciate just how deep a role that trust has to play in the creation of successful teams. 

For successful teams, trust is a must!

If you’d like to learn more about how your team can be strengthened and developed, get in touch with us at Light Box Leadership today for a free initial consultation on your organisation’s learning needs.