What Is Teamwork?

People often ask us, "What is teamwork?"

Great teams have many similar traits, whether at work, in sports or in local communities.

I once worked with a small team of volunteers to put together a youth disco. Almost 1000 teenagers descended on our small village from neighbouring areas - and it was a great success.

What was the secret? our small team all had different skills that were valued and respected. One person was great at making sandwiches. Another was good at creating an atmosphere with lots of balloons. Another looked after safety and security, based on his work experience, and so on.

We had well run, productive meetings and had a laugh at the same time.

As a team leader in the workplace, you may not have much choice over who is in your team, but with the right approach, you can create great results.

Let us look at what is teamwork in more detail. Research shows that team members have:

  1. A common purpose and clear goals
  2. The necessary skills and resources
  3. A common approach to work
  4. The willingness to share information
  5. Trust and support in each other
  6. The ability to work through conflict
  7. The willingness to take responsibility for team actions.

So if you want to define teamwork, you could state that:

Effective teams consist of individuals who work together to achieve a common goal or purpose and who hold themselves accountable for team output.

Tuckman's Model of Team Development

In order to create the conditions where you have effective teams in the workplace, you need to be aware of the life cycle of a team.

For example, the goal of a soccer team might be to win the championship. Having a clear end goal really motivates - but that doesn't mean that everyone will perform at a high level in the first match of the season.

Bruce Tuckman's contribution to teamwork theory recognised four stages in team development. This has proved very popular in the understanding of what is teamwork. Here is one example of how you might interpret his theory:

1. Forming

John was a new striker in the soccer squad who came from a bigger club at a high price. The existing players were polite and watched him from a distance.

John also observed his new teammates, looking to see who he might get along with as they prepared for their first match. He was keen to make a good impression, yet some of his new teammates were wary - in case he made them look inferior on the pitch.

There was a sense of unease in the dressing room as they got ready for their first match. Many were pre-occupied with their own agendas as they waited to hear instructions from their manager.

2. Storming

The first game did not go well. Jim accused John of not passing the ball enough. John argued that he wasn't getting enough back up from others in midfield. They all complained about the bad decisions made by the referee.

Conflict ensued both within the team and with the ground staff. The team felt despondent and disillusioned.

Their manager patiently listened and challenged, making sure that their opinions were aired. It took a while, but they all expressed their views before leaving for home - either verbally or through their body language.

3. Norming

A few tense games followed, but with direction from the manager the team started to perform better together and results improved. John got to know his teammates and learned how to play alongside them, and they admired his footwork and his sharp wit. They listened to his suggestions about match tactics and respect for him as a team-member grew.

The atmosphere in the dressing room became more relaxed and constructive, with lots of suggestions about how to improve performance.

4. Performing

As the team reach the closing stages of the championship, the team knew what they had to do to get results. They played with a growing level of skill and anticipated each other's moves on the pitch.

Their focus was on winning each game and maintaining a high level of fitness. They respected their manager, who anticipated and dealt with any conflict that arose during preparations for games. Over time, they had got to know each other well and many strong friendships were formed.

As they went out for the final match of the season they felt fit, confident, and most importantly, part of a strong team.

Team Leader Role

If you are a team leader, an awareness of what is teamwork and the stage of development of your team will help you respond in the most effective way.

For example:

1. Forming

Make sure you pick team members with the necessary skills and diverse backgrounds to encourage healthy debate. Your job is to start discussions, share a vision, discuss what outcomes are needed and how you might work together. You need to provide positive and constructive direction.

2. Storming

At this stage, you need to face issues that come up in an assertive way, so that you describe your needs and wants but also listen carefully to what is said by the team members. A calm approach is essential, and if you can keep the atmosphere from becoming too tense that will help you move forward more quickly.

3. Norming

As the team starts to work together, make sure you revisit goals regularly and encourage creativity. Communication is important as well as regular feedback on progress. Your job is to facilitate, encouraging rather than directing the team.

4. Performing

At this stage, you need a more hands-off approach. You need to watch for conflict issues and look for ways to improve and motivate. Your job is also to celebrate the success of the team. A simple "thank you" can go a long way! Look for opportunities to share results so that others are aware of team success.

Develop a greater awareness of the teams you come across on a daily basis. What is teamwork best practice that you notice on the pitch, in the community, in the workplace?

Note the often small things that people do or say that can make all the difference in building a cohesive, productive and enjoyable team.

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