Teamwork: Who Has Your Back?

Management, Supervisory and Leadership - © Performance Management Consultants

Collaboration is the new imperative. What does it require of employees? How do you turn a group of people who work together into a team?

Teamwork and collaboration organize people around projects, to create a common focus. They create interdependencies: If one team member fails to perform, there are consequences for the whole team.

In a simple group, motivation and rewards – and the definition of success – are individual. With a team, motivation and rewards – and the definition of success – are collective. As Samantha B., who leads PMC’s workshop, Working and Communicating as Part of a Team, says, “collaborators and team members have each other’s backs.”

Work groups are sometimes called – even by their members – teams. But if there is no sense of a common mission, then that “team” may just be a group of people who happen to be working in the same place. If the priority is on individual performance rather than a shared objective, it’s not a team. If the failure of one member to pull his or her weight has little impact on the others, it’s not a team.

Teams are organized around a mission, and share a commitment to that mission.

The American Management Association’s November 2014 article, “Building a Sense of Teamwork Among Staff Members,” identifies three bottom-line benefits to a team approach:

  • Better problem solving
  • Greater productivity
  • More effective use of resources

These are benefits that accrue to the organization. The article also identifies a set of softer benefits that enhance the workplace experience of the employees:

  • Satisfying the human need for socialization
  • Helping people learn and develop
  • Providing purpose, motivation and fulfilment

People often confuse a pleasant, cooperative approach with collaboration or teamwork. While a positive attitude is never a bad thing, teamwork and collaboration go beyond cheerfulness. They demand, as noted in the April 2015 Harvard Business Review article, There’s a Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration, “the ability and flexibility to align their goals and resources with others in real time.”

Teams don’t always need leaders, but they need leadership. And the best leadership is a collaboration among employees at every level of an enterprise – the whole team. Anything less than a solid commitment to a one-for-all, all-for-one approach threatens the success of the entire enterprise.

Sometimes – for the sake of the team – it may even be necessary to lose the strongest player, if that player refuses to accept the primacy of the team and the mission. But we run a risk of losing good people if we don’t recognize the different ways that people can make their most effective contributions. Diane K. facilitates PMC workshops on leadership, teamwork and communications. She says most of us bring an extroverted approach to teamwork: “We judge ourselves by our intentions. We judge others’ intentions by how they make us feel.”

We may, for example, assume that teamwork requires that we all work together, and that introverts who prefer quiet contemplation are disengaged. Those introverts may return to the group with a more valuable contribution than they could have made in a discussion.

Here are some other ways that strong leaders get value from their teams, and that engaged team members contribute:

  • Develop a short, easily understood mission statement for your team, and then make sure you bring it to life every day
  • Get to know your team members and help them work to their strengths. A DiSC personality assessment can build a good picture of the behavioural attributes of your whole team.
  • Make sure people understand and are committed to their roles. Set aside time for one-on-one coaching.
  • Create a judgement-free environment in which everyone feels safe admitting to weakness and error – and asking for help.
  • Embrace differences of opinion. Passionate, creative debate happens when people care about their work.

Building a productive team does take some effort. But the return on investment is unquestionably large, in terms of measurable impact to the organization and increased job satisfaction for the team members.

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