5 traits of great software development teams

Most people start out with the goal of creating great products but forget to focus on building the great team they need to successfully execute. Starting with a strong team is how you set yourself up for success. Great teams are the foundation of a successful company. Like small independent startups, they drive innovation from inside. They are productive, challenging and fun to work in. Their energy is contagious and spreads through a company. These are the teams that develop amazing products and services. They are the teams that get things done.

But creating great teams is challenging. They need a magic combination of the right people, environment and goals. That said, there are certain traits that many of the best teams share. By promoting these, you lay the ground for them to develop.

1. Effective Communication

Great teams communicate well. They keep people informed with the least amount of effort. Team members understand what they need to do and buy in to why they are doing it. These teams create open, safe environments where people feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns. When it comes to dealing with problems they also differ. People are upfront about their feelings and quick to deal with issues. Great teams don’t waste time with unnecessary communication and meetings. They seek efficient ways to communicate and keep discussions focused.

Encouraging healthy communication in teams comes down to effective process, tools and leadership.

Encouraging healthy communication in teams comes down to effective process, tools and leadership. Are leads setting a good example by communicating well themselves? Explaining what and why things need to be done. Do they communicate in a compelling fashion? Are they focused on developing great communication channels and ensuring they work? Productive, open weekly meetings, regular product presentations, peer reviews etc. Is there clear process in place to encourage regular communication? Are you providing teams with the right tools to facilitate this?

2. Strong Culture

A strong culture is another common characteristic of great teams. They often develop their own rituals, nicknames, and terms. This binds them closer together and makes them more effective as a group. It also makes coming to work more fun and boosts morale as a result.

Paying attention to how people work together and mixing the right profiles can help.

A great team culture is not something you can force. It develops over time and only in the right environment. That said, it is largely driven by the mix of members and leads on a team. Paying attention to how people work together and mixing the right profiles can help. Picking the right team lead and coaching them to think about culture is critical.

A good sign of a strong culture is when teams spend time outside of the office together. Although this again is not something you can force, there are ways to promote it. Things like Friday evening pizzas and beer, team-building events and discretionary team budgets are some examples. It should be responsibility of a team lead promote this kind of activity.

3. Common Goals

Having a set of clear and achievable goals is critical for any team. Before focusing on anything else, ensure that everyone knows what they are aiming for and why. Without this they will lose their way and become demotivated.

Great teams avoid heavy top-down structure, where only managers care about goals.

Beyond just having goals, great teams promote a sense of shared responsibility. Everyone on a team feels bought in to the team’s shared mission. If the team succeeds, it’s everyone’s win. If they don’t, they band together to find a way forward. They avoid heavy top-down structure, where only managers care about goals. They also know that each team member plays a different role in achieving the team’s goals.

Having teams set and defend their own goals is a good way to encourage this form of accountability. Ensuring team members all share in rewards for success is also key. Leads should be responsible for ensuring that everyone understand and buys in to goals. Answering doubts and keeping the team focused.

4. Clear Roles and Responsibilities

While they share common goals, people on great teams have well defined individual responsibilities. They trust one another to each play a part in getting things done. They hold each other accountable for delivering on promises. This clear definition of roles also spans to leadership. They know who is ultimately responsible for technical, design or product decisions.

Communicating responsibilities in writing and to everyone, is an easy way to set a team up for success.

Ensuring clear definition of responsibilities is an important part of building a healthy team. It allows people to focus on their work and trust that others will do theirs. It also avoids the misunderstanding and frustration that poorly defined roles can lead to. This is particularly true when leadership is not well defined. Decisions take much longer, outcomes are unclear and people get frustrated. Communicating responsibilities in writing and to everyone, is an easy way to set a team up for success.

5. Independence

Teams facing too many internal obstacles struggle to succeed. Great teams need freedom to experiment and find their way. They need the space to develop their own internal process and culture. Too much top-down company control can make this difficult.

Strong teams also often work as self-contained units. Team members collectively share most of the skills they need to build their products. This means they can get work done without constantly depending on external resources. This independence allows them to move quickly and remain focused.

It’s important to consider whether your company is making it difficult for great teams to form.

It’s important to consider whether your company is making it difficult for strong teams to form. Do you have unnecessary process that slows them down? Is there too much control on what tools and process they use? Is too much top-down approval preventing them from making decisions? Do they have easy access to all the resources they need to get things done quickly? Are teams heavily coupled and dependant on one other?

Set up for success

It’s a good idea to run regular reviews of how teams in your company are working. Asking people about their experiences working in their team is a good way to do this. This can be done either formally, with team reviews, or more informally by just chatting to people. It is also useful to look for examples of teams that are running well. Analyze what they are doing that’s different and try to apply this elsewhere.

Most of all, ensure that you are taking the time to iterate on how teams form and develop in your company. Don’t forget that if you want to build an awesome product, you’re going to need a great team.

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