Communication Skills

Teamwork Skills: How To Work In A Team Effectively

People skills | Teamwork

Teamplayer, what a fantastic cliche it has become. To understand how we can work in a team effectively, we should first look at the things that make up a team, the whys and the whats first.


Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.

- Casey Stenge


You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.

- Steve Honey


None of us is as smart as all of us

- Ken Blanchard


1. What is teamwork?

Teamworking is an essential skill using which we are able to give our best to a cause/project, and utilizes a wide variety of people/communication skills along with our main skill - working confidently within a group, contributing our own ideas effectively, taking a share of the responsibility, being assertive (not passive or aggressive), accepting and learning from constructive criticism and giving positive, constructive feedback to others, meeting deadlines, and other stuff.


To be an effective teamworker, we need more than just being good at what you do (ideally, that should have been enough) - we will also have to be good at collaborating with others to get the job done.


Please also see the guides on communication, time management, stress management, leadership, and meetings to be able to get a good handle on all aspects of teamworking.


2. Why work in teams?

Because many tasks in the working world require contributions from more than one skill (e.g. moviemaking) and/or more people with the same skills (e.g. editing 500 articles).


Because it also gives us a chance to learn from others, and know more about other skills and disciplines.


Working in teams helps us develop more as a person (we learn to go along with other people).


3. Types of teams

Project teams: Most common type of team. A group of people brought together to accomplish a particular project, within a time limit. The team disbands after the project is over. (e.g. a negotiation team)


Standing teams: Comprising of people from various departments/specialty, on stand by to deal with any urgent task. (e.g. The emergency room team in hospitals)


Self-directed work team: Like a project team, but with more autonomy - it decides how to get the job done etc - (e.g. a movie project)


4. What makes a team successful?

A team succeeds when everyone understands the mission (and the resulting objectives) of the team, is committed to it; when each team member’s roles and responsibilities are clearly laid out; where there are clear ground rules (e.g. no trespassing), and everyone knows how the decisions will be made (e.g. group meet) and who will make the decisions.


In a good team, people communicate openly (not behind each other's back) and frequently, everyone is held accountable for one's actions (make it right asap if you got it wrong), and all keep track of how well (or not) they are doing at all times.


5. What kinds of roles do team have?

There are two lines of thought about this:


A. The classic roles


- Task roles: Our specialty - marketing, sales, finance, IT, etc.

- Functional and maintenance roles: The roles that makes the team working together towards the goal - Coordinator, mediator, volunteer, etc.

- Dysfunctional roles: The assholes who disrupt more than contribute - aggressive blocking or nit-picking, competing (instead of collaborating), clowning or joking to disrupt the work of the group, withdrawing (sulking), being sarcastic or cynical (pontificating rather than working), blaming (shirking accountability), taking all the credit (selfish), dominating, manipulating.


B. Belbin’s Team Roles

Shaper: The driving force, responsible for the mission and the overall vision.

Implementer: The hatchet person', who gets things done. (The trusted second-in-command in the movies)

Completer-Finisher: Tidies up all the loose ends.

Coordinator: Like a leader but more involved in making people and groups work together.

Team Worker: The person in the middle, doing what is required of her/him, easily going along with others.

Resource Investigator: Goes out and gets resources and data, whatever the team needs.

Plant: The ideas/solutions person, this one has seen many battles and has read much, but not all ideas will be practical.

Monitor-Evaluator: Looks at the ongoing work, at incoming ideas/materials etc and helps the leader reach at decisions.

Specialist: The person in middle who is really great at one skill, and may or may not be comfortable with team work, is more of a doer than a talker or waiter.


6. How a team develops

Group research shows that all groups pass through five stages of development (just like humans go through stages of development). The five stages are given below. Look at them as if you are seeing a movie.


- Forming: When the team comes together, people from various fields and temperaments joining up.

- Storming: When the sparks start to fly (conflicts etc). Then, people start to think that someone must manage the group if things are to move forward.

- Norming: When they work out the rules - the deadlines, the responsibilities, templates and cheatsheets - playbook for various scenarios (e.g. conflict resolution, client negotiation etc), and others.

- Performing: When people get the job done, always looking for efficiencies and gains, working according to each other's strengths and weaknesses, working through interpersonal problems without delay, and forging on . And staying on time, under budget (preferably).

- Mourning, or breaking up: End of project/story. Where do we go from here? What did we learn? What did we do right?


7. How we can make the most of our teamwork

We may hate teamwork or we may love it (most hate it, but won't admit it for sake of their jobs. Most of us just want to be able to our jobs, our specialty, well, and then be left alone, but a team has meetings, other toes and stuff, so we hate teamwork). But, if we decide to come out of our shells, just a little, we can see how to make teamwork a fun and fulfilling activity.


Many people act as if being a team player is the ultimate measure of one’s worth, which it clearly is not. There are many things individuals can do better on their own, and they should not be penalized for it.

(Professor J. Richard Hackman, Harvard University)


- Just do the job, and don't wait for others to do their bit. (but beware when other start to use you and be lazy themselves).

- Know the team goals, responsibilities and the timelines promptly and then set up your work goals (deadlines etc) and get to finishing them one by one.

- Share ideas/solutions/problems openly and quickly, so people can get to work on them.

- Be the helpful person. Whatever might be happening in the team, the success of people and the team is each person's responsibility, right?

- Respect others. Empathize with them. They have their skills and their own way of looking at the world, just as you have yours.

- Be enthusiastic and positive: It is the most positive kind of infection a team can have.

- Be available and meet other team members frequently.

- Ask for the team leader's feedback on your performance regularly.

- Be a force of light: Have a sense of humor. Always keep things in perspective.

- Keep on working through the tough times. When one wheel stops to work...


8. Things That Make An Effective Team


A research study among 27 organizations done by a group Professor J. Richard Hackman, who teaches Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University found three important things about what makes a team really work:


1. Get the start right: Things that happen the first time a group meets strongly affect how the group operates throughout its entire life. They establish not only where the group is going but also what the relationship will be between the team leader and the group, and what basic norms of conduct will be expected and enforced.


2. Get the three main points on the project timeline right: The team leader needs to know how to run a team launch meeting (to orient members and tell them about their jobs); and how to help the team review at the midpoint (what's working, what's not), using the information to correct the team’s performance strategy; and when the work is done, take a few minutes when the work is finished to reflect on what went well or poorly (helps in related projects in future)


3. Get the team coaching right: Team coaching must focus on group processes, as well getting the timing right. Team coaching must work on improving better teamwork on the task, not on improving members’ social interactions/interpersonal relationships.


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