Teamwork and Collaboration
What is Teamwork?
When a team is working well it has high levels of “synergy.” Synergy means the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual contributions – that is, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Even if this were not the case, the semi-coordinated efforts of a team would still be more successful than the efforts of a lone individual. How much more effective, therefore, would be a team showing high degrees of coordination and interaction, with all team members focused on the same goal, with all team members pulling together in the same broad direction? This is not to say that individuality is not important – it is; but it is to say that an individual may be able to achieve more by combining her or his talents with the talents of others.
When any individual joins a team, he or she will typically have a few basic questions about where to best focus his or her attention and it is getting good answers to these that will ultimately lead to higher overall team synergy.
These include questions such as:
- What do you want me to achieve?
- What is my role?
- What are the team’s targets or goals?
- What will constitute individual or team success?
- How will I know how I am doing?
Four teamwork strategies
All of the above essentially boils down to one thing: as we work together as a team, every individual needs to have regular feedback on what the team is trying to do, in what way and about how each person and the group as a whole is doing from an overall performance perspective. It may not always be easy to give regular and focused feedback but as a team leader there are four core strategies that should be adopted with every team member as follows:
- Clarify goals. What is it that we are trying to achieve? What is the end point of this phase, this aspect, this project? This is so obvious, that is often overlooked: most team members presume that everyone is after the same thing, and that coordination of efforts will therefore happen by default. This is sometimes true in situations where teams have done a task many times over, and so therefore it might be unnecessary to check everyone’s perceptions of just what it is that we think we are doing. But it is nevertheless surprising just how often team members do not in fact have their eyes on the same goal, and do not bother to ask others in the interests of reality checking.
- Clarify roles: who is doing what, so that we all work together to achieve our goals? This often relates to technical specialization: who is good at what? Other team members need to respect the area of expertise of a particular member, and that member must realize that when others show respect, then he or she has taken on a leadership role, even if it is only for one small segment or phase of an operation or project. The responsibility of leadership is not to try to blind others with science, but to translate the details so that others can understand.
- Always have standards and guidelines to hand, as readily available reference points. Standards of performance at all levels need to be spelled out, and clear to all team members. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter whether the official standards and guidelines actually bear resemblance to reality: even if they are a little inaccurate, they are still something to focus on and to react against. Of course, if standards and guidelines are so removed from reality, then it really is time for some systematic reality checking, and some brainstorming on new standards and guidelines that can really work.
- Talk, talk and then talk some more within the team. Explain what is happening today has an impact upon what happens this time next year or this time five years from now (and listen to team members’ comments and feedback). How does the macro view affect what is happening here and now at the micro level? How can we at the micro level affect and change the macro view? What mechanisms for input are there? How can our voices be heard at higher levels?
Ultimately, teamwork can only be achieved when people work together successfully towards a common goal. Most teams need steering or guidance to do this and these simple approaches will go a long way to getting everyone pulling in the same direction. In this way, a team leader or even members of the team will not need to read about the excellent teamwork in another organization but can experience it for themselves.