What is Teamwork?

Teamwork. What is it? It’s mentioned in job descriptions. You know you use it in school projects and company proposals. You use it in your sports team on the weekends and even with your friends during board game nights. We’ve all heard of it and we think we know all about it, but what makes teamwork a job skill? Well, to be a good team member, there are some ‘skills within the skill’ that need to be mastered first.

1.  Communication

This is obvious: communication is key. A team is defined as a group of people coming together to achieve a common goal. So how can you be a team if you don’t know what that goal is? However, I believe communication goes deeper. It’s not just useful, it’s a courtesy. It’s not just talking, it’s listening. People may drop out of communications for all kinds of reasons. They might think they have nothing to say, don’t understand what is happening, feel they haven’t been heard or perhaps a bigger issue has left them to not wanting to talk to the team. In all these cases, it would just be easier for both sides if they had communicated. I’ve completed many projects and the ones where people asked questions, made decisions together and just send check-ins to say where they were at every now and then were the most successful and least stressful.

2.  Leadership

Without a clear leader who sets the tone of a project, you won’t get anywhere. What I’ve learned is that being a leader or manager doesn’t mean you do most of the work or control the outcomes. Recently someone made it clear to me. Leaders 1) inspire 2) guide 3) motivate and 4) coach. That’s it. If you are not actively removing obstacles and being available to your team, you are not leading. That does not mean you cannot contribute, you just cannot control. The best leaders understand what their team’s daily struggles are and are not afraid to get in and lend a hand when it’s needed. Just know where your part ends and you’ve helped out enough. It’s a delicate balance and the only way you can find it is by going back to point number one: communicate. It will not make you a vulnerable leader to ask your team for their opinions and for what you might be not be seeing. This will, in fact, make you a more relatable leader and faster at solving unforeseen problems.

3.  Role playing

We already discussed the leaders, but what about the rest of the team? It’s important to remember that everyone plays a specific part of the team. You might need to fill more than one role, but also be conscious of not overstepping into someone else’s. Either way, it’s not just the team leaders that need to be able to recognize who plays each role. Benne and Sheats’ Theory describes different roles found within a team under the categories of Task roles, Social roles and Individualistic roles. Mindtools has a helpful article which outlines each and includes a guide on using the theory.

As a leader, you need to figure out where each team member’s strengths and capabilities lie and to use them for the betterment of the project. How does you do that? Well, once again, you communicate as a team. You should find out what everyone feels they do best while motivating them to challenge themselves. This way the team will create something great while developing the skills of each of its members and thus the team overall.

For more tips on building effective teams check out Psychology Today’s 10 Rules for High-Performing Teams and Workplace Psychology’s 8 Common Problems Team Encounter.