Most of us have had the experience of working on teams, an experience, in retrospect, we often regret having had. Consequently, you probably have a pretty good idea of the things that are typically "wrong" with groups. By "wrong," of course I mean those behaviors that are getting in the way of the group being as effective as they say they want to be.

The thing is, how much thought have we given to how a functional group really looks, if it did in fact exist? Having a vision for the ideal is the first step to making it a reality.

So in an attempt to paint a picture of a fully functional group, I've come up with the following 12 characteristics. They seem to build upon each other in a sort of hierarchy where the later ones tend to rely on the previous ones. I look forward to hearing what you think of them and how they might help you improve the groups you're part of.

1) Basic Needs met. Group understands, acknowledges, and manages basic human needs, balancing them with the needs of the group. Needs include considerations for physical comfort, security, safety, and maintenance of an environment that supports these. If lower order needs are neglected, higher group function is unlikely.

2) Mutual Trust. Trust is developed and maintained to the extent required to accomplish the tasks at hand. Members are honest and transparent with one another, expressing their personal interests clearly and directly. Group purpose and duration will dictate depth of trust required to accomplish task. Mutual trust is essential to complete communication.

3) Complete Communication. Everything expressed is "heard." Everything that needs to be said is stated directly. Environment allows free expression of thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and feelings. Non-verbal or indirect communication is compassionately confronted and resolved. Complete communication deepens trust and lays the foundation for mutual respect.

4) Mutual Respect. Individuals act with civility toward one another. Honest, respectful, and complete communication maintains healthy levels of energy, motivation, and commitment to the group. Mutual respect makes it safe to look at and improve on weaknesses.

5) Committed to Growth. Group installs and maintains feedback loops to support individual and group evolution. Individuals are willing to give and receive constructive feedback. Periodic reviews of process, status of individual members, accomplishments, corrective action plans, etc. assure group corrects problems and continues to improve.

6) Consensus Container. Group operating norms and standards are known, understood, and agreed upon by all members. Most groups have a number of unspoken assumptions about their roles, goals, and expectations. If these are not clearly voiced and agreed upon by all members, they can cause confusion. When they are explicitly voiced, they will help form standards of effective behavior, enabling your group to progress on its substantive work with fewer internal unconscious barriers.

7) Product/Process Balance. Group balances product, process, and relationships, i.e., who, what, and how. This balance assures that the most effective process is developed to get the best product out, in a way that respects and nurtures the relationships between those who produce it. This assures the group's long-term effectiveness by balancing attention to internal needs with outer-focused group activity.

8) Shared Responsibility. All group members are willing and able to contribute to the group vision. This means that they have the skills required and desire to apply them to the problems of the group. Each member assumes 100% responsibility for the group's mission and sees to it that they assume their fair share of the work. This perspective supports a sharing of the leadership burden.

9) Shared Leadership. Group leadership shows up organically as needed. An individual leader may emerge or may not. Everyone in the group assumes responsibility for the emergence of effective leadership. The leadership role may be taken up by different individuals at different times, shifting as the situation warrants and as individuals are internally called to take it on. Comprehensive understanding of leadership responsibilities and burdens cultivates a group's ability to work toward consensus.

10) Consensus Decisions. The group understands the power of consensus, freely expressing and resolving differences that support committed outcomes. At the same time, the group is not attached to building consensus for decisions for which it's not required. Consensus building is inspired by a shared vision.

11) Shared Vision. The group maintains a desire to find and pursue a common goal or vision. A shared vision rallies group energy and commitment to a purpose higher than any one individual. A fully functional group pursuing a shared vision has the best chance of producing their desired results.

12) Produces Desired Results. The group's "product" meets or exceeds the standards of its customer. A clear measure of a group's effectiveness relies on the answer to this question, "Did the group produce results as good or better than required by those who will use them?"

Author's Bio: 

Steve Davis, M.A., M.S., is a Facilitator's Coach, Infoprenuer, and free-lance human, helping facilitators, leaders, educators, trainers, coaches and consultants present themselves confidently, access their creativity, empower their under-performing groups, enhance their facilitation skills, and build their business online and offline. Subscribe to the free weekly ezine for group workers at and check out his virtual university at Contact Steve at