Abstract: Complex problems often require coordinated group effort and can consume significant resources, yet our understanding of how teams form and succeed has been limited by a lack of large-scale, quantitative data. We analyse activity traces and success levels for approximately 150 000 self-organized, online team projects. While larger teams tend to be more successful, workload is highly focused across the team, with only a few members performing most work. We find that highly successful teams are significantly more focused than average teams of the same size, that their members have worked on more diverse sets of projects, and the members of highly successful teams are more likely to be core members or ‘leads’ of other teams. The relations between team success and size, focus and especially team experience cannot be explained by confounding factors such as team age, external contributions from non-team members, nor by group mechanisms such as social loafing. Taken together, these features point to organizational principles that may maximize the success of collaborative endeavours.