Welcome to this insightful exploration of teamwork and collaboration, with Clare Collins, your guide on this journey. As a Co-Creation Consultant with a passion for unraveling the mysteries of effective teamwork, Clare explores the power of coming together to achieve a common goal.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the origins of the word ‘team,’ dissect traditional and modern approaches to teamwork, and uncover the three fundamental factors that determine a team’s success.

So, whether you’re a history enthusiast, a business professional, or simply someone curious about what makes teams thrive, read on to embark on this fascinating exploration.

Old English tēam’ team of draught animals’

I’ve always been interested in the origin of words, and I was the lonely nerd who loved studying Old English on my course at university. 🤓 I expected the word ‘team’ to be a modern American word or originate from sport, but it is OE, the Middle English version was ‘teme’ and until 16th century was only used to describe animals who were tied together to lead or pull something – of course it is, as in ‘a team of horses’. Interestingly, words like ‘tow’, ‘teem’ ‘tether’ and ‘tie’ have the same root. (yep, if you find that interesting, you are a nerd too 🤔)

I’ve been part of many teams in my career. Some were highly effective, but some were a) not tied together and b) not pulling in the same direction.

Essentially, these are the two factors needed to be successful. However high-performing we are as individuals, our true strength comes from working together as a collective.

That ‘one small step for man’ when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, could not have happened without the Apollo 11 crew and the NASA team on the ground, not to mention the scientists who had worked on the space mission for decades; special mention to Margaret Hamilton (the NASA code lady). Michelangelo could not have painted the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel without the many assistants who constructed the wooden scaffolds, plastered the ceiling, and transferred the cartoons to the wet plaster.

Can you think of any outstanding achievement that was done exclusively by one person?

A traditional view

At business school any talk of teams begins with Belbin. Team Roles is a concept developed by Dr. Meredith Belbin that identifies different roles individuals naturally take on within a team setting.

Belbin identified nine distinct team roles, each reflecting a specific set of behaviours and tendencies.

  1. Plant: Creative and imaginative. Generates innovative ideas and solutions. May be introverted and prefer to work independently.
  2. Resource Investigator: Outgoing and extroverted. Explores opportunities and networks outside the team. Brings in external ideas and resources.
  3. Coordinator: Mature and confident. Clarifies goals, delegates tasks, and fosters team cohesion. Can be seen as a natural leader.
  4. Shaper: Dynamic and challenging. Thrives on pressure and has the courage to push the team forward. May be provocative to stimulate action.
  5. Monitor Evaluator: Analytical and discerning. Offers objective analysis and critical evaluation. Helps the team make well-informed decisions.
  6. Team worker: Cooperative and diplomatic. Promotes team harmony and helps resolve conflicts. Supports other team members.
  7. Implementer: Practical and reliable. Turns ideas into action and plans for implementation. Prefers structured and systematic approaches.
  8. Completer Finisher: Conscientious and detail oriented. Ensures tasks are completed with precision and perfection. Often focused on catching errors.
  9. Specialist: Single-minded and self-motivated. Provides specialised knowledge and skills. Often works independently and may be introverted.

Belbin’s model suggests that an effective team comprises individuals who collectively cover all these roles and understanding your roles can help team members leverage their strengths, contribute effectively, and minimise potential weaknesses. The concept is still popular and widely used.

A more modern approach

For a modern take I’d recommend this book, “Will it Make the Boat Go Faster?” from Ben Hunt Davis, Olympic gold medalist rower and, co-author Harriet Beveridge, first published in 2011.

The central theme revolves around the idea of focusing on what truly matters and eliminating anything that doesn’t contribute to success. The authors advocate for a goal-oriented mindset, emphasising the importance of making decisions and taking actions that align with the ultimate objective, symbolised by the question, “Will it make the boat go faster?”

  • Clear Goal Setting: Define a clear and specific goal that motivates and guides your actions.
  • Focus on What Matters: Identify and prioritise activities that directly contribute to your goal. Eliminate distractions and avoid wasting time on non-essential tasks.
  • Continuous Improvement: Embrace a mindset of continuous improvement. Regularly assess and analyse performance to identify areas for enhancement.
  • Commitment to Excellence: Strive for excellence in every aspect of your endeavour. Set high standards and hold yourself accountable for achieving them.
  • Effective Teamwork: Foster a collaborative and supportive team environment. Ensure that every team member is aligned with the common goal.
  • Adaptability: Be willing to adapt and make changes based on feedback and evolving circumstances. Learn from both successes and failures.
  • Resilience and Determination: Develop mental resilience to overcome challenges and setbacks. Maintain determination and a positive attitude, especially during difficult times.
  • Decision-Making: Make decisions based on whether they contribute to the ultimate goal. Prioritise decisions that have a significant impact on progress.
  • Measurement and Metrics: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress. Use data and metrics to inform decision-making and adjustments.
  • Learning from Success: Analyse successful moments to understand what worked well. Replicate successful strategies in future endeavors.

Sport always gives us valuable analogies to use in business and this title instantly gets to the crux of the issue. How often have we seen teams duplicate efforts or do tasks that add nothing to the final outcome.

My view is M.U.D. 😀

So here is my take on it. I’m keeping it simple and sticking to my 3 factors that determine success or failure for a team.

1)   Motivation

Drive, we are back to the team of horses’ image. A manager should understand what the motivation is, within that individual, to succeed. How can you then leverage that for better performance? Don’t assume that what motivates you will motivate others.

Take Action: give people flexibility in how they do things, ensure the right people are in the right roles, and give people opportunities to develop careers in multiple directions.


2)   Understanding

Communication is the key to success in most business situations. We spend time perfecting our ability to speak to people in different situations, but the real focus should be on understanding. George Bernard Shaw said, ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’. Also reflect on Stephen Covey’s habit 5, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.

Take Action: ask people to summarise their understanding after key meetings, make sure everyone is clear on the vision; assumptions will derail you. Centralise key documents which may be trackers or points of reference, and encourage learning through coaching and mentoring.


3)   Difference

(I do not call this Diversity because I mean it in its broadest sense and not just protected characteristics). We favour people who are like ourselves, but we need to recognise the value of difference and harness the power that difference in perspective will bring. A diverse team is more able to solve a complex problem than a group of experts.

Take Action: have fair and inclusive processes for recruiting and promoting. Alert people to unconscious biases they will have, which makes them favour people who are like themselves. Do some profiling like, Strengthscope™, so people can reflect on their differences and appreciate what each person brings to the task.


All of these tips and tools are useful. It is certainly not enough to bring people together and hope for the best. People need time and resources, as well as the skill and will to collaborate.

The final thought I want to leave you with is to return to the origin of the word team: animals tied together and pulling in a common direction. If you want an amazing example of this done well to inspire your own team, then follow this link. (duration 3 mins)

Ready to transform your team dynamics, embrace diversity, and maximise productivity? Find out how these insights can work for your organisation, contact us at Co-Creation today by calling 0161 969 5612 or emailing info@co-creation.group.