In leadership training programmes, I often ask participants to define teamwork. Working in different teams, their definitions are often similar.
A typical definition is:
‘A group of people, contributing their individual knowledge and skills but working together to achieve a common goal/task’.
During discussions, most people agree that using teams and teamwork provides benefits to both individuals and organisations.
New ways of using teams
Modern technology and new ways of doing business are changing the ways we use teams, but the underlying principles and benefits remain. Distance is less of a barrier. Many people find themselves in teams where individual team members are based all over the country, or in some cases, all over the globe.
In some companies, team members based in different time zones can progress a project 24 hours per day, six days per week. I know a growing Irish consulting firm that uses overseas based PowerPoint developers and editors for major reports and presentations. Consultants complete the drafts by late afternoon, and return to work the next morning to have the completed product waiting for them. This effectively saves one working day.
Virtual teams are increasingly common. Members of a team may never meet face to face. They collaborate from different parts of the word through telephone calls, email, file sharing technology and other online meeting methods.
Why the increased use of teams?
Organisations have embraced teams and teamwork as an effective way of doing business. The last 20 years has seen the replacement of ‘supervisors’ by ‘team leaders’. Companies have embraced these concepts because they work. Employee motivation and morale improves dramatically when people feel valued and when their contributions make a difference.
But, managing teamwork is challenging
Some organisations fail to gain the benefits that teamwork can provide.
Team composition is critical for success. The definition outlined above highlights three important teamwork fundamentals:
- A team is a group of people made up of individuals who each contribute their individual knowledge and skills. Synergy, where the collective whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts, often occurs where teamwork is working well. Teams benefit because individuals often do not have all the knowledge and skills necessary.
- Working together is essential. Harmony and a positive attitude are critical. If the team is not working together, then the expected gains will not materialise.
- An understanding of the common goal/task is also critical. People have to be clear as to why the team exists and what the purpose is.
In the absence of any of the above three features teams will fail. Not everyone has a positive experience. Teamwork has to be well managed. A balanced team composition is essential. Team members have to be carefully selected. The full range of knowledge and skills required must be present. Team members need to be committed to the task.