Browse Google’s search for teamwork and up pop about 1,980,000,000 results; refine that to scholarly articles only and you shorten your selection to about 1,270,000 results. When it comes to learning more theory about teamwork, you are faced with a diverse and prolific range of titles. From “The importance of teamwork in nursing” to “Teamwork quality and the success of innovative projects”, and of course there’s always a good article relating to how the New Zealand All Blacks use teamwork to get to the very top of the Rubgy world. Much ground has been covered by many, over decades of research on just what a difference effective teamwork can have, and it’s something that most of us already know instinctively from our life experience. So how do you turn all that theory and instinct into practical application that will improve teamwork?
If teamwork is that important, how can we ensure that our teams really are functioning as well as they possibly can be? What are the elements of ‘successful’ teamwork? Does it only happen by accident, or can you engineer great teams?
What are the elements of effective teamwork?
There are almost as many people writing about what makes teams work as there are scholarly articles in the UK on any known subject, but we’ve distilled down the expanse into five essential points.
Roles and accountability
The best place to start is to make sure that all team members understand not just the team’s purpose and responsibilities, but also specifically what their role and requirements are within the team. We’re not only talking about formal aspects, like job descriptions and organisation charts, but also informal elements. Understanding who in your team is the ‘details person’ or the ‘completer/finisher’ can be just as important to effective teamwork as knowing who can sign off a purchase.
Using a profiling tool like Everything DiSC® is an insight into how our minds work. Individuals will often look at their own results and be prompted to recognise that “Yes, I do tend to do that”, great for their own self-awareness. It can also then give them the confidence to value their strengths and so share their results with others in the team. Understanding each other’s strengths and motivations is also the key to effective communication so we will circle back to that a little later. From a team-leading point of view, these insights can also make allocating and delegating tasks much more effective as the ‘right’ task is more likely to be delegated to the most appropriate individual. In turn, this helps to foster a sense of collective responsibility, which helps a team gel and self-regulate.
Clear plans and goals
We are all familiar with the saying “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” If your team doesn’t know the goal, how will they know what their priorities are? Clear, shared goals are not only essential for great teamwork, but they also stimulate more creative ideas and problem-solving. Sharing your goals with your team, with all their varied strengths, can be the most effective way to group work potential problems and come up with the most practical plans of action. This also helps to maintain transparency across the team, reinforcing that sense of collective responsibility.
A tool like Everything DiSC® will help to identify which individuals in a team enjoy the blue-sky thinking and which are better at working through the implications and details of various alternate options. Everyone feels more valued when their contributions are seen to count.
Effective processes and support
Once again, we are talking about both formal and informal structures here. Formal processes could include things like the weekly team meeting, the staff appraisal and the support offered by an HR professional. Informal processes could be the end-of-month pizza lunch, the water-cooler conversations and occasional team drinks. Each has their place in effective teamwork, but some individuals will respond better to some than others. Everything DiSC® can help you understand who is likely to prefer which. For example, our ‘Influencers’ may favour the informal processes, where they feel they are being listened to as individuals in a more relaxed context. By contrast, individuals with strong ‘Conscientious’ traits may prefer the more formal structures, where they are reassured their ideas or stages are not missed.
Of course, an effectively functioning team often becomes its own support network, which is even more reason to provide effective professional development an enable a full appreciate of what each member brings to the team. Team members are likely to provide great encouragement to each other and to learn best from each other than in isolation.
To have clear roles, clear goals, and clear processes, you really need effective communication. The most effective communicators are those who listen well; they respect and care enough to think about how their communication is received by others. True communication is a two-way street, not a one-way broadcast.
How communication is received and understood is in large part about the priorities of the individual receiving. It’s all about perspective and priority.
Using and sharing results from profiling tools can help individuals to understand the priorities of others better so that they are communicating the most relevant (and perceived useful) information. For example, in selling a car, ‘Details people’ might not care that it’s metallic blue with a sunroof, they want to know how many miles to the gallon it can do, before they feel comfortable driving it off the forecourt.
Strong working relationships
All the areas we have looked at will help to build strong working relationships, where team members trust and respect each other and value each other’s input. They recognise each other’s commitment to their shared plans and goals and are, therefore, less likely to dwell on short-term issues to focus on achieving the collective result.
It’s probably true to say that the most effective teams are not necessarily based on friendship groups, as we tend to build friendships with people who think or respond similarly to us. Effective teams are stronger when they include a diversity of skills, strengths, and views in an environment that feels supportive and safe enough for each member to speak up for the greater good. And, who knows, a team that values and respects each other, may well become friends too!
If you’d like to explore the possibilities that Everything DiSC® can offer your teams through consultation with Maddison Coaching, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.