Three attributes of a great team

Great teams don’t form by accident. They take work to form, pulling individuals together so that the team truly is greater than the sum of its parts. The best teams I worked with had 3 things in common: a unifying vision of who the team is, trust, and a big, hairy, audacious goal.

Unifying Vision

Before a team can form, there must be some reason for the team to exist in the first place. For a sports team, such as a baseball team, the game itself can bring the team together; 18 individuals can’t play baseball by themselves. A good coach will provide a more detailed vision: we’re going to be a team focussed on great fielding, or all-start pitching, or powerhouse offense. This focus gives charecter to the team and gives it an identity that it can rally around.


Trust is essential among team members. Patrick Lencioni labels lack of trust as the first dysfunction of a team. Trust is essential for a team to accomplish amazing results. How can a team accomplish greatness if team members don’t trust that another teammate will do what they say they will do? If there is a lack of trust, team members will question eachother’s motives and time is wasted on infighting instead of getting results.

Trust is not an easy thing to develop. “Trust falls” and other team building activities may build a small amount of trust, but there is no cure for lack of trust other than time. “Time heals all wounds”, but if used intentionally, it also builds trust as small committments are accomplished each day to build trust up slowly.

Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG)

In “Built to Last”, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined the term “Big Hairy, Audacious Goal”, or BHAG for short, as a goal that is a mid to long-term goal that is worthwhile, yet lies just out of reach. For a team, a BHAG is only achievable when everyone is working together. It’s such a large goal that no one person could accomplish it on their own. Only through team work and hard efforts can the goal be achieved.

In sports, this may look like a coach rallying his team of underdogs to a championship, taking on impossible odds, and still ending up on top. I’m reminded of my Cincinnati Reds and the 1990 season where they went wire to wire, advanced to the National League pennant, then were faced with the Oakland A’s and their ‘Dynasty’ in the World Series. The Reds werethe underdogs in the series, but the crappy team with ‘Da Nasty’ boys in the bullpen swept the Oakland A’s 4 games to 0.

A BHAG may sound ridiculous, like the underdogs sweeping the opposing team. It may seem impossible. But in my career, the best teams I’ve coached were forged in the fire of battling a BHAG. By overcoming adversity and accomplishing the seemingly impossible, anything else thrown at the team felt like a walk in the park. In such a battle, trust will be required, but if the team consists of the right people, they will deliver and build trust at a phenomonal rate. And it’s teams like these that we look back on and marvel at all that we were able to accomplish together.