Effective Teamwork Skills

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Great teamwork has been proven to make a difference in companies of all sizes. More than money, skill and opportunity, it’s teamwork that overcomes odds and defies expectations. Whether you’re a project manager or someone lower on the totem pole, effective teamwork skills will make a difference for you every day of the week. Being effective on teams or leading effective teams is a road map to success for projects and for your career.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Those who are best at being on teams are often those who can make great leaders too. Having high emotional intelligence and working on skills like listening, communicating and problem resolution are critical for those who want to be great on teams.

What Makes Great Teamwork?

It’s only recently that companies have realized teamwork is better than having a team full of superstars, and there’s a new understanding about what makes for great teamwork and camaraderie in the workplace. Some people are so innately powerful at teamwork that they make everyone around them better because they know how to help in so many ways. These are the people who listen well, communicate effectively, collaborate without any ego kicking in and so much more.

Teamwork largely stems from mannerisms and behavior. It is connecting with others and realizing that success is a team accomplishment, and everyone doing well means everyone wins. The guy who arguably knows more about winning than most people alive today, Michael Jordan, famously agrees. He once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." MJ should know — his Chicago Bulls won six championships in eight seasons with that mentality.

Personal Keys to Successful Teamwork

There are workplace skills and talents that aid in being successful on a team, but there are also critical behavior sets that go toward success too. These are all skills that people with high emotional intelligence come by naturally, but they’re also skills and behaviors you can learn through practice.

  • Active listening: If you’ve ever talked to someone who was actively using their smartphone throughout, you’ve experienced inattentive listening — they may have heard you, but you sure don’t feel heard. To listen actively, focus on the person who is talking. Uncross your arms, don’t interject with “yeah” and other utterances, make eye contact, nod and smile if you understand or relate to what he's saying. When people feel heard, it changes relationships for the better.

  • Communication: Be sure people know you understood what they’ve said. Try explaining it back to them, like “So, do you mean ____” so you know you’re on the same page. If you're unsure, "What do you mean?" is a great way to get them to better explain. In turn, also be clear in what you’re saying, and echo it in writing or an email follow up if you want to ensure it’s been comprehended.

  • Empathy: It’s easy to dig in your heels on an issue, but having empathy can mean hearing what others say and learning to understand them. It can help end conflict and spur better relationships too. Plus, empathy can mean creating better products or services once you relate more to challenges others might experience.

  • Honesty: Sitting on how you feel because you think it’s irrelevant can be hugely detrimental in team settings. Perhaps you have a critical perspective the team is overlooking. Speaking up is courageous and transformative on a personal level, but transparency makes the team unit stronger too. Being good at honesty also means developing solid feedback skills.

  • Awareness: Team dynamics don’t work if team members aren’t aware when things are off kilter. If one person is driving idea creation and task setting, that’s not teamwork. If someone never contributes, it may not be that she has nothing to say — maybe she feels there’s no space for her to speak. Encourage contribution from everyone and ensure they have the time and space in which to fully participate.

Teamwork Skills in the Workplace

  • Problem solving: Solving problems can happen in many ways. It can take the form of conflict resolution, which can be critical in a team setting, but it can also be the solving of problems that come up in the workplace or on a project. Whether it’s a shipping snafu or an error in execution or colleagues not getting along, problems require listening, understanding and improvisation. Those who find a way through problems are the ones who make teams successful.

  • Problem framing: Sometimes, people can be negative and only see downsides to situations. This is different from problem framing, which is when one can see problems and understand them from all angles. Even better is when they can help others understand them too because this can mean not just resolving problems for customers or businesses but perhaps even avoiding them before a project, product or service launches, which could be invaluable for the company.

  • Collaboration: Working together well means understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Those diverse skill sets coming together is why a team can be such a powerful force in getting things done, but it only works when team members have humility and respect each other’s abilities to contribute.

How to Improve Your Teamwork Skills

Not everyone is born with the natural inclination to be good on teams. Some people have a preference to fade into the background, and others like to step into the limelight, but a team works best when everyone is on the same playing field, and leadership arises when a nudge is needed.

To get better at teamwork, look at those around you to see who is great at bringing the best out of others. How do they make others feel valued, heard and effective? Mimicking the way they engage with others and how they communicate and encourage participation is a great start. Better yet, approach them and tell them how much you admire the way they build teams around them and ask for honest feedback about what you could be doing better and how to make that happen.

Many books exist to help you improve at teamwork. Some of them, like the Wall Street Journal bestseller “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman, may seem suited to leadership only, but it’s that skill set that brings out the best in everyone on the team.

Sometimes, being a great leader doesn’t mean standing at a podium — it’s simply being that person who facilitates discussion, encourages people to bring their ideas to the table and inspires people to do their very best in everything they do at work. The great thing is that it’s a skill set that is valuable well beyond the team because it will serve you in every avenue of your life.

Teamwork: A Fan-Favorite Example

One of the most incredible sporting accomplishments of the last century was Team USA outworking and beating the dynastic Russian hockey team at the “miracle on ice” in Lake Placid in 1980. At that time, the common belief was that stars won games, not teams. However, when Coach Herb Brooks chose his players, he chose players that he knew believed in teamwork and who could complement each other’s skill sets. The “stars” didn’t even make it to the bench on Herb’s team — they got cut because they played for themselves and not for each other.

By supporting each other, understanding their roles, knowing how to use each other to their best advantage, being honest about their fears and being empathetic to each other’s needs, the 1980 Team USA shocked the world by doing the unthinkable and beating the Russians without a star on their team. That’s the magic of teamwork — it brings individuals with varying skills together and gets the most out of them by having them work as a unit.

Disney’s 2004 film “Miracle” captures the madness behind team building to brilliant effect and is a great popcorn-based learning experience for anyone aspiring to management.

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About the Author

Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.