11 key characteristics for effective followership in a team

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Any team can benefit from leadership roles that drive progress forward with management strategies and support roles that enable the team to produce deliverables. Successful collaboration relies on effective communication between both sides, which some refer to as followership. If you want to learn more about team formation, understanding what a good follower is can help you recognise how management can ensure teams work cohesively and effectively. In this article, we explain the concept of followership in the workplace and share some of the top qualities of effective followers that leadership roles can support.

What is followership?

Followership describes the ability of professionals in support roles to achieve goals under the direction of a leader/project manager. Being an effective follower includes completing assigned tasks, communicating with leadership and other support employees and showing motivation. Effective followers have good listening skills and a dedication to supporting the vision of others. Good followers hold both themselves and their team to a high standard and ensure that their work meets quality standards and benefits the team in the long term.

Why is followership important?

It's important because it ensures a team can collaborate effectively over time and make decisions as a group. When people in support roles cohesively contribute to the goals set by leaders, the team can function more smoothly and experience less confusion and mistakes. Maintaining a functioning operational hierarchy cuts down on debates about precise roles and allows team members to support each other to complete complex tasks effectively.

Having good followers improves the delegation and sharing of responsibilities by consistently ensuring that support roles contribute to the team. A positive, supportive culture can also improve the team's morale by increasing mutual respect and a sense of long-term development and growth. It can allow personnel in support roles to take the lead on future projects and inspire creative decisions and new workflows.

11 key characteristics of effective followers

The most effective followers in a team often share similar qualities that enable them to support leadership roles well. Here are 11 key characteristics of successful followers:

1. Responsibility

Good followers accept direction and have the courage to point out when that direction is not reliable. If leadership suggests a course of action that's inherently improper, unethical or doesn't benefit the team, effective followers may take steps to counteract this. Confronting leadership with constructive criticism can be daunting, but concerned followers can speak up and raise issues with the team or use internal mechanisms to resolve problems.

Related: Psychology of leadership: 12 tips for improving as a leader

2. Humility

Good followers manage their egos so that they can complete work together as a team without holding themselves back from doing certain tasks due to overconfidence. Successful collaboration relies on goal orientation and focusing on delivering work rather than seeking personal recognition or self-promotion. Effective followers share their professional growth and ensure that the entire team receives credit for their efforts. Acknowledging the actions of others and respecting the contributions of different roles can help the team grow and deliver work successfully.

3. Active listening skills

Effective followers use active listening skills to ensure that all team members have a clear understanding of their expectations. Engaging properly in discussions by listening to others and fully comprehending their comments can help avoid mistakes and miscommunications. Making enquiries and asking for clarification is a fundamental part of active listening, so strong teams enable these discussions and offer staff a platform to raise any concerns. If leadership doesn't allow staff in support roles to constructively question and ask for clarification, they're not enabling good followership and some changes in approach may be beneficial.

4. Adaptability

Effective supporters can adapt to different objectives and may adopt multiple roles in a team so they can respond to challenges flexibly. Illnesses, resignations and changes in management are just a few examples of situations where flexibility is beneficial. Adaptable followers can assist with incomplete tasks and facilitate complex projects by accepting duties they may be unfamiliar with. Adaptability can also demonstrate to managers that followers are capable of learning new strategies and ways of working, making them eligible for promotion to leadership roles later on.

5. The ability to make good judgments

Both followers and leaders demonstrate successful judgement to avoid mistakes and respond quickly to issues. Exercising good judgement means making considered decisions in response to situations and responding deliberately and objectively when things go wrong. Furthermore, good followers can exercise effective judgement by highlighting errors to leadership when they arise rather than blindly following them through instruction. It also includes weighing up the costs and benefits of work in the context of the whole project. Showcasing good judgement demonstrates dependability to managers and allows you to gain more responsibilities over time.

Related: 10 useful project charts to use in project management

6. Loyalty

Encouraging followership entails inspiring loyalty both to the team and the employer. A loyal team may be less likely to experience problems between team members or with others outside the group. This can help to strengthen team cohesion and lead to improved communication. Followers can focus on building allegiance to their team and commitment to the company's mission statement. Likewise, leaders may recognise and reward supporters to increase their loyalty so they continue to work for the company or project. This is more likely if they feel valued.

Related: Project lead vs project manager: definitions and differences

7. Competency

While the concept may focus primarily on teamwork, it's vital for each team member to be competent and able to complete work to a high standard. Driving progress as a follower involves doing your job well independently and keeping up with the progress of others. If anybody in a support role begins to struggle, leaders can organise support to help them manage their workload. This can include extra training, supervision and mentorship, which can boost morale.

Related: 8 types of project deliverables (definitions and examples)

8. Communication skills

A cohesive team communicates effectively, concisely and professionally with empathy and respect. Showing diplomacy when talking to other professionals helps you work in a team environment successfully. When team members share ideas and contribute to debate, show appreciation for their opinions and address concerns constructively and objectively. Effective followers give honest assessments and focus on solutions. Good leaders show their appreciation for positive followership.

9. Critical thinking skills

Critical thinking allows staff in support roles to identify mistakes as they happen and inform the rest of the team about them. Valuable followers and leaders critically assess the contributions of different tasks to the whole project and consider obstacles that may occur during the developmental process. Exercising critical thinking allows followers to better understand their role within a team and how they can contribute to its progress. Leaders can promote critical thinking in support roles by asking personnel to question their work and enabling feedback.

10. Time management skills

It's essential for followers to meet deadlines and complete work within projected timeframes. This helps management to plan projects successfully and ensure they can move forward promptly. This also applies to staff attendance at meetings, where team members can give feedback and encourage better progress in the next development cycle.

Related: What are Scrum values and why do companies use them?

11. Giving attention to detail

Effective followers and strong leaders can develop their attention to detail to improve the quality of their work and minimise mistakes. Many duties involve precision, which can be necessary for followers to complete the handling and documenting of tasks properly. Being proactive regarding details can help avoid complications and confusion that could otherwise use valuable time and resources. As a result, detail-orientated professionals can excel in follower roles and complete high-level tasks successfully, while leaders deal with the broad-scope tasks of managing a project.

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