5-second summary
  • Every team is different, but there are common threads running through successful teams.
  • We identified six teamwork examples – team alignment, emotional intelligence, psychological safety, intentional planning, healthy conflict, and routines and rituals – that productive teams tend to embody.
  • Learn the ropes from notorious teams in history who put these teamwork examples into practice.

When we think about archetypal teamwork examples, their use cases typically fall to one extreme or another – times when teams banded together to achieve a shared goal or times when collaborations majorly ran off the rails. There’s a big difference between lessons learned from the awe-inspiring unity of the “Miracle on Ice” and the embarrassing blunder of the Mars Climate Orbiter, which veered off course after engineers forgot to convert key measurements from imperial to metric. 

But what is it that separates those inspiring joint efforts from the face-palm-worthy flops? 

Follow in the footsteps of successful teams

No high-performing group is quite like another, and it’s impossible to boil down team success to a definitive list of practices. But a close look at some examples of teamwork in action can shine a light on what it takes to successfully work together.  

We combed through some of the most successful teams in history to identify six examples that make top-notch teams tick. 

Teamwork example #1: Team alignment

OKRs vs KPIs: what they are and when to use them

It’s hard to cross the finish line together if everyone’s eyes are on different destinations. Research shows that higher levels of organizational alignment lead to better performance and an edge over competitors.

But what does alignment actually mean? It’s crucial that every team member is in agreement on: 

  • Goals: What objective is the team working toward? 
  • Roles: Who is responsible for what? 
  • Success metrics: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? 
  • Timeline: What is the deadline for achieving your goal? 

Out in the world

During a special address to Congress in 1961, American President John F. Kennedy famously said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

It seemed like a lofty objective at the time, but it was also the clear direction NASA needed to crank its efforts up a notch. While the estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists involved in the moon landing faced plenty of challenges and setbacks, they remained hyper-focused on their shared goal. 

Their efforts paid off when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong touched the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. They made it to the moon before the end of the decade, just as Kennedy had hoped. 

On your team

Use the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) play to define goals, identify the metrics that will determine success, and determine a timeline for achieving those objectives. A shared understanding of these parameters makes it that much more likely you’ll actually achieve your goals.

Teamwork example #2: Emotional intelligence

According to research, “In order to promote positive, progressive, effective working environments, team members need to have a combination of technical knowledge and well-developed emotional intelligence.” That includes several attributes:

  • Self-awareness: You can pinpoint your moods and how they affect others
  • Self-regulation: You can take a beat and manage your emotions before reacting
  • Motivation: You have a grasp of what drives you in your work (beyond a paycheck)
  • Empathy: You can identify and understand the emotions of other people
  • Social skills: You can use that emotional understanding to build stronger relationships

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the emotional undercurrent of yourself and your team members and employ that understanding during interactions with others. After all, if you pick up on the fact that your colleague is already having a terrible day, it’s probably not the best time to share some hard-to-hear feedback. 

Out in the world

Keeping your own emotions in check isn’t always easy. That’s especially true when you’re in a crisis situation. 

But Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III (Captain “Sully”) and his crew on US Airways flight 1549 were able to do just that when they safely landed a plane of 155 people on the Hudson River in January 2009 – an event coined the “Miracle on the Hudson.” 

Sully, his co-pilot, and the flight attendants maintained their composure to keep all of the passengers both calm and safe. Even the air traffic controller, Patrick Harten, who was on the line with Sully, was able to read the situation and respond accordingly. 

“The transcripts of our conversation also show how Patrick’s choice of phrasing was helpful to me,” Sully wrote in his book. “Rather than telling me what airport I had to aim for, he asked me what airport I wanted. His words let me know that he understood that these hard choices were mine to make, and it wasn’t going to help if he tried to dictate a plan to me.”

On your team

Emotional intelligence doesn’t come naturally to everybody, and it can feel even more challenging on a remote team. Running the Work Life Impact play gives your team a chance to understand each other on a deeper level, build empathy, and give each other the support you need. 

Teamwork example #3: Psychological safety

What does psychological safety mean, anyway?

Mutual respect is crucial for high-performing teams. In fact, 94% of respondents in our Open research said it’s important for their team’s success. And psychological safety is a key piece of that puzzle. 

When a team has a high level of psychological safety, its members feel like they’re able to share out-of-the-box ideas, take risks, and make mistakes without any fear of judgment or reprimand.

This not only builds a more positive and supportive team environment but also enables organizations to innovate quickly and roll with the punches when changes inevitably crop up. 

Out in the world

Google did tons of in-depth research into the characteristics of their best teams. Psychological safety topped the list of the most important ingredients. Specifically, teams who were able to be vulnerable with each other outperformed others. 

Now, some Google teams kick off every team meeting by sharing a risk taken during the previous week – whether it was successful or not. It’s an easy-to-implement norm that makes everybody feel safer talking about their wins and their successes. They know their team has their back. 

On your team

Psychological safety starts with a team’s leader. Read this guide to learn how to instill a sense of security on your own team. 

Teamwork example #4: Intentional planning

Sure, there are those rare times when you fly by the seat of your pants and everything works out. But most of the time, you need a thoughtful and thorough plan to guide people from point A to point Z. 

As an article in Harvard Business Review explains, “To make the leap from vision to execution, you can’t just define what needs doing; you also need to spell out the details of getting it done.” 

Intentional planning takes shape on teams in a number of ways, including:

  • Creating agendas for every meeting to keep conversations on track
  • Completing capacity plans so that everybody understands each other’s bandwidth
  • Drafting project plans and timelines so everybody knows the next steps
  • Establishing onboarding and training processes for new members
  • Identifying and standardizing processes and workflows 

All those points require foresight and give team alignment a boost, too. And it’s definitely better than letting everybody wing it while you hope for the best. 

Out in the world

It’s hard to imagine the level of planning involved in the formation and running of the Underground Railroad – the network that helped tens of thousands of enslaved people escape to free states. What started as a network in Philadelphia alone eventually expanded into 14 Northern states and Canada. 

Running the railroad was understandably pretty hush-hush, but its execution took the commitment and coordination of many different people who all stuck to the plan and their roles. Conductors (of which Harriet Tubman was the most famous) guided enslaved people from place to place, while station masters hid them at designated spots.

It was an incredibly complex operation that required careful planning by numerous contributors

On your team

Starting a new project on your team? Before you jump in, schedule a project kickoff meeting to sync on project goals, milestones, and roles. That foresight will serve you well as your project unfolds. 

Teamwork example #5: Healthy conflict

Effective teamwork isn’t all high-fives and happy hours. Teamwork pillars like emotional intelligence and team alignment can help avoid some tension, but that doesn’t mean your team will never butt heads. 

Here’s the good news: conflict is not inherently a bad thing. Some conflicts – provided they’re handled respectfully – can be constructive.

Disagreements teach team members how to deal with difficult situations, give them an opportunity to listen to each other, and nudge them to consider alternate viewpoints. The result is often increased understanding, higher engagement, greater commitment, and even better team cohesion. 

Out in the world

For an example of conflict (and the incredible results it can produce), look no further than the United States’ founding fathers.

Times were tense in 1787, to say the least. The Articles of Confederation were failing, and the entire system of government seemed to be in a steady tailspin toward its ultimate demise.

The country’s brightest lawmakers came together to discuss what a new government system might look like. But changing the course of a country is bound to incite some drama. Apparently, the meeting was plagued with near-constant debate and bickering.

It was all worth it, though. Those conversations, no matter how difficult, resulted in the creation of the U.S. Constitution

On your team

Clear, proactive communication is a surefire way to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Run the Working Agreements play to create a shared list of expectations with your team so that you can steer around any potential misunderstandings and save your energy for more meaningful disputes. 

Teamwork example #6: Rituals and routines

Keep your virtual team connected with these proven rituals

Team rituals might seem like frivolous indulgences, but they’re surprisingly important – and they’re a long-running part of the human experience, with some dating back tens of thousands of years.  

But why are rituals so valuable? The short answer is that they emphasize unity. 

“The function of a shared group ritual is to allow an individual to participate fully in the social world by affiliating with fellow group members, reaffirming one’s position in the group, and sharing in important social conventions and cultural knowledge,” research says

Whether you kick off your weekly meetings with an icebreaker game or make a point to celebrate each team member’s birthday, those seemingly trivial practices can actually bring your team closer together. 

Out in the world

The world of sports is chock full of rituals rooted in superstition, but few are as beloved as the NHL playoff beard. It’s been a tradition since the early 1980s when the New York Islanders won four straight championships without shaving their scruff during the playoff period. 

Now, every NHL team sets down their razors during the playoff season. Teams keep their beards until they’re eliminated, and the last team standing keeps the facial hair until the official team Stanley Cup photo is taken. After that, it’s a clean slate – and a messy bathroom. 

On your team

Not all rituals are created equal. Running the Ritual Reset play can help you understand what rituals and routines are working well for your team, as well as which ones should be amended or removed entirely. 

Teamwork takes…well, work

Impactful teamwork is hardly ever easy. You can’t bring together people with different backgrounds, opinions, communication styles, and work preferences and expect smooth collaboration to happen on its own. 

It takes team alignment, emotional intelligence, psychological safety, intentional planning, healthy conflict, and some unifying rituals and routines. Put these pillars into play and your team will rise to the ranks of history’s most effective teams. 

6 inspiring examples of teamwork through the ages