Working in Groups

What Makes a Group Effective

Above all, effective groups are characterized by individual and mutual accountability and a sense of common commitment. All members (whether they are leaders or not), must take responsibility for the overall group effectiveness and for dealing with the problems that are inevitable. "The best teams invest tremendous amount of time and effort exploring, shaping, and agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually and then translate this purpose into specific performance goals." (Katzenbach and Smith)

There is no absolute checklist for what makes a group effective. Different situations may call for different approaches. For example, one particular situation may call for one dominant leader, while another situation may call for shared leadership.

In general, however, an effective group has these characteristics:

  • A sense of urgency and direction, purpose and goals
  • A lot of work at the start setting a tone, setting a "contract," specifying a clear set of rules
  • A clear notion of what the "problem" is
  • Immediate and demanding performance-oriented tasks and goals
  • A broad sense of shared responsibility for the group outcomes and group process
  • Membership based on skill and skill potential, not personality
  • Use of positive feedback, recognition, and rewards
  • Shared leadership and effective ways of making decisions 
  • A high level of commitment among members
  • A balance of satisfying individual and group needs
  • A climate that is cohesive yet doesn't stifle individuality
  • An ability to brainstorm
  • Dealing with differences, conflict, and minority opinions effectively
  • Effective communication patterns for ideas and feelings; good listening skills among members
  • The ability to review its performance objectively
An ineffective group as these characteristics:
  • A high level of negativity and passivity
  • Quick problem solving; lack of clarity about what the problem is
  • Too many win-lose situations among members
  • Strangled information flow; dominance by one or two members; power-plays
  • Mistaking silence for support
Another helpful list of effective group characteristics has items whose first letter form the word PERFORM:
  • Purpose
  • Empowerment
  • Relationships and Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Optimal Productivity
  • Recognition
  • Morale


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