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SKILLS / JAN. 08, 2017
version 5, draft 5

How to Improve Your Teamwork Skills in the Workplace

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Career professionals have long discussed the importance of teamwork not only in terms of getting a job but also succeeding in one. If you are currently searching for a job, you have probably noticed that the ‘ability to work well as part of a team’ has become one of the main skills every candidate needs. You may be required to do it quite a lot in the workplace, especially if you have a job that involves communicating with other people on a regular basis. So, how can we improve our teamwork skills?

See Also: The Complete Worker’s Guide to Professional Skills

What is ‘teamwork’?

So, what constitutes a great team? While there are many opposing views on what a team is and how it should operate, members of a group can only be considered to be an effective team when they are able to keep true to underlying - but often contrasting - values like trust, consistency, loyalty, commitment, independence, delegation, freedom, flexibility, respect and patience.

The Business Dictionary defines a team as ‘a group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project’. The main idea behind the creation of a team is having people working as a group to achieve a goal. Every team/group is different because it can be made up of people coming from diverse backgrounds that have different personalities, values and working styles. These elements are the ingredients that can either make or break a team – if they aren’t balanced effectively.

Teamwork is the product of bringing all of that together; it requires:

  1. Working confidently with all group members
  2. Contributing your ideas effectively
  3. Behaving with integrity
  4. Taking a share of the responsibility
  5. Allowing others to express their opinion freely
  6. Accepting and learning from others
  7. Respecting their boundaries and individuality
  8. Providing positive and constructive feedback to others

Why is it important?

In any aspect of business, teamwork is an essential component of performance. The ability to work well with other people facilitates effectiveness, efficiency and productivity leading to better and improved results. For employers, this directly translates to increased profitability. Teamwork allows you and your coworkers to combine your super powers a.k.a. individual skills and personality traits, to come up with unique and practical solutions to problems a business is struggling with.

But, that’s not all. Teamwork has the ability to build a fantastic company culture – and reputation. Haven’t you ever heard that employees are the heart and soul of a business? Every company reflects the ethos and values of its employees because they are the driving force of the business. Organisations that have understood the importance of teamwork are promoting team working activities and make sure that they provide a positive, open and friendly workplace environment for everyone to work in.

The Anatomy of a Team

What makes a great team? The answer is the individual members of the team. That’s because each person plays a significant role within a group. This is better understood through the amount of responsibility they share for a project, activity or task and how much they are willing to get involved. The quicker the team members realise that the easier it will be for them to work out a plan on how to move forward, settle their differences, come up with the desirable results and complete their mission.

There is no way to know if you are a good team player or not unless you have been a member of a group e.g. have taken part in a group project while at university or at work. The best way to evaluate yourself in this skill is to think about how you tend to behave in groups. Would you say that you are more likely to be the leader of a pack or a follower? Do you coordinate other people and activities, or do you tend to be more relaxed as far as it concerns working in groups? Identifying which role you have in your team can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses and as such decide on how to improve.

The University of Kent’s career service has an exercise on teamwork skills to help you assess how much of a team player you are. It also helps to distinguish the different roles people play in group activities, for example in meetings. Take a look at the following roles they have identified and see which one(s) apply to you the most:

The Encourager: these people tend to motivate others to do their best. They energise the group and encourage other members to take action. These members also support and praise their colleagues one way or another, and often act as the icebreaker upon first meeting.

The Compromiser: these members are the most easy-going ones. They are willing to change their own views to get a group decision and proceed forward with a viable plan. They are tolerant and diplomatic and can help to resolve differences between opposing personalities and characters restoring the right balance within the group.

The Leader: leaders are responsible for ensuring that the team follows the plan and is on track. These members are more likely to be outgoing and energetic delegating tasks, taking the initiative, coordinating activities and other people.  

The Summarizer: when things get out of control or move away from the original plan, these people are likely to interfere in order to restore structure and order. They tend to oversee the progress of the team and may often go back to summarise the team’s discussions and main findings.

The Ideas Person: the most creative people in the group. When everybody else is in doubt, these members often come up with original and radical ideas that are both practical and effective and often ‘save the day’.

The Evaluator: evaluators are always quick to say ‘no’ and they often encourage members to re-think the course of an action. This is because they don’t like coming up with an agreement quickly. They are logical and methodical and prefer to analyse things before they make decisions.

The Recorder: these members tend to keep the group focused and organised, ensuring that everyone is contributing one way or another. They are also the ones who take notes during meetings and keep a record of ideas and decisions.

Each of these members’ contribution is equally important as it ensures that everyone can chip in one way or another, and everything goes according to the plan. But, you should keep in mind that the roles will change depending on group dynamics e.g. the different characteristics of people in the group and how many people are in it. You may need to adjust depending on who you have to work with. So you might need to become an ‘evaluator’ in one group, and a ‘summariser’ in another.

Luckily, there are many ways to improve teamwork in the workplace, and the good thing is that it can all start from you, whether you are boss, a manager, or an employee. Here’s how you can do it:

Guide, Don’t Command

To ensure that you are working in a group that operates with respect, empathy and integrity, you have to be able to guide other people effectively and treat them like you would like to be treated. Your behaviour plays a determinant role in making other people listen to you. But, if you are going to be the leader of your group, you will need to be able to coordinate others by supporting and providing feedback to other members. Being a leader doesn’t give you the right to command other people, and you should come up with alternative approaches to checking with other members.

Try Out Group Work Exercises

Carrying out brainstorming sessions is always a good idea because five minds are better than one. Group work exercises otherwise known as team-building activities give your team the opportunity to get to know each other better. They will also allow them to exploit their full potential, produce good work and have fun at the same time.

Come up With a Plan

There will be times when things don’t go the way you expect, especially when you don’t have a realistic plan in place. As such, it is important that you decide what you need to do as part of a group early on in the process. Doing so can help you ensure that every member knows exactly what their role is in the project and how much time they have to work on it. Delegating individual activities from start to finish also helps to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses and tackling potential obstacles that may come up in the process.

A friendly and supportive environment allows different opinions to be heard providing the team members with a prosperous ground to work in. However, it will definitely require a lot of work and effort to ensure that there is equal member contribution within workplace. Does your job embrace this team spirit or not? Let us know in the comments section below…  

See Also: 4 Office Culture Hacks That Promote Teamwork

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