Updated: Oct 24, 2019
"Team Player", "Teamwork Skills", "Work in collaboration with others" ... all are examples of ways we highlight one of the essential skills needed by anyone looking to fulfill his / her career or hope to be promoted at work. However, we still fail to work in teams, and we still struggle to show that we have this skill. So, what are the reasons for failing to work as a team?
1. No clear expectations
The members of any team need to realize what is expected from them when working together. And this is no brainer; wise leadership will always set the goals and clarify—beforehand—what is expected from the team at the end of the task assigned to them. However, some leaders fail to highlight what is expected from each member about how to work collaboratively with others, and how to interact and engage with the team. This will lead to the team member knowing exactly his role in the overall task, but not quite clear about how to interact with other team members.
My son used to work in high school in team projects. He usually found difficulty communicating with other team members, so he used to end up doing most of the project and then giving parts of his work for his teammates to present. He felt that the burden of doing the extra work is less than the burden of trying to interact with his mates and convince them to do the project his way. I’m not saying that this was the right thing to do, I’m highlighting that it’s extremely important for the task owner, the teacher in this example, to set the expectations for the team not only about what to be accomplished, but also about how it would be accomplished. Also to include the level of engagement and interaction expected from each one of them during this process of task accomplishment as part of the task rubric.
Set the expectations … please! Team members need to know why and how they will cooperate and interact. Make sure that the group fully realize how they will compliment each other, and why this team may fail in accomplishing the task at hand if one member does not do his or her part (actually, this is a good exercise for the leadership. Think about the success of this team if one or more members were not included, if you think that the task can still be accomplished, and that there is no added benefit of those members then maybe there is a redundancy in the structure of the team).
This is a fine line to draw; clarifying the rule of each member of the group and setting the way the team will interact in total clarity sounds quite right, but it has its drawbacks as well. It takes away the spontaneity of the team, and hence minimizes the opportunities for the team to improvise, innovate and so evolve. In other words: this deep involvement in setting the rules of team engagement will create a group of people each doing part of the task that when all put together will lead to a task being accomplished, but it will not develop a team that can take the execution of this task to a new level of innovation and creativity, and will also fail to create a team that can continue working together on the long term without strict follow up and guidance.
Finally, the ability to work in teams is definitely a big asset for anyone looking to get promoted at work or fulfilling his / her career. But sincere willingness and enthusiasm are not enough, a proper structure for teamwork must be set beforehand, and this structure starts with setting the right expectations about the team interaction before the team members start working together. I discuss teamwork in more details in my book.
"Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability." – Patrick Lencionie.