What do the best work teams do that goes above and beyond?

by Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.


  • The very best work teams go beyond performance; they have synergy and a high degree of professionalism.
  • Team members in top teams come to work mentally prepared and “present.”
  • Top work teams have a form of engagement, trust, and a sense of belonging that we term “chemistry.”

A good work team is productive, stable, and satisfied. A great work team is something entirely different. In a recent publication, we proposed four processes that take team outcomes to a whole new level. Instead of focusing on whether a team produces superior work and has satisfied members, we examine how the highest-functioning teams operate. Moreover, rather than just looking at team members’ collective performance, we incorporate the leaders’ contributions as part of the team.

What are these four qualities?
  1. Synergy is the term we use to describe team performance, whereby leaders and team members work together to produce at levels “over and above expectations.” Synergy can only occur if all team members are functioning well, and there is intensive collaboration among team members and with the team leader. In synergistic teams, members feel that everyone is working in unison, and the leader is facilitating, rather than simply directing, performance. Synergy goes beyond mere productivity.
  2. Professionalism is when team members and team leaders are committed not just to quality work but are dedicated to excellence in the work they perform. It is a never-ending pursuit of high standards of excellence on the part of both leaders and followers. Team members saying, “We hold to the highest standards of performance” and “I can honestly say we have no weak links on our team,” would suggest high levels of professionalism.
  3. Presence goes beyond workers merely showing up at the job. It means that all members – leaders and followers – are engaged and “mentally present.” It reflects an intense dedication to the team, to the work being done, and to the mission and goals of the organization. Presence means that team members come to work focused and ready to contribute.
  4. Chemistry is the term we use to describe the extremely high levels of satisfaction and engagement among members that occur in the very best teams. It focuses specifically on the quality of the leader-follower relationship and how both leaders and followers feel about it. It comprises subjective experiences of unity, cohesion, and enjoyment produced by the team dynamics and the relationships among leaders and followers. Chemistry means that levels of trust are very high and there is a sense of belonging and togetherness.
Related: Don’t run from adversity

We have developed scales to assess these dimensions and are exploring how these shared, leader-follower outcomes relate to more traditional indexes of productivity, quality, attendance at work, and member satisfaction/engagement. We believe that thinking about these “higher-level” team outcomes will encourage teams to perform at the very highest level and engage in continuous improvement of outcomes and team dynamics.

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