Decades of research demonstrate that when people feel psychologically fulfilled, they tend to be healthier, happier, and more productive.
Of those three psychological needs, connection in the workplace has always been the toughest to cultivate. As a manager, you have the tools to help employees satisfy their autonomy and competence needs. Attracting and retaining talented employees is just half of the equation. The other half is to get them to like each other and function as a team.
Over the years, as teams have grown more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic, collaboration has become more complex.
Fostering relations between team members during the pandemic has been even more challenging. While working from home has been great for autonomy and competence, the lack of physical proximity to colleagues took its toll on connection and personal bonds.
But while teams everywhere face new challenges, their success depends on a core of fundamentals. J. Richard Hackman began researching teamwork in the 1970s and discovered that neither personality nor behavior matters most, but whether a team has a direction, structure, and supportive context.
In their research, The Secrets of Great Teamwork, Marine Haas and Mark Mortensen have found that teams need those three “enabling conditions” now more than ever. But their work also revealed that current teams are especially prone to two corrosive problems: “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information. Overcoming those pitfalls requires a new enabling condition: a shared mindset.
What is teamwork?
Teamwork. We talk about it, read about it, do exercises to build it, and even go to keynote speeches and workshops to understand how better to implement it in our organizations. So, what is teamwork? And why do we talk about it so much?
Teamwork is “the collective action of a team to achieve a goal or a task most effectively and efficiently.”
Teamwork is a crucial part of a business, as it is often necessary for colleagues to work well together, trying their best in any circumstance. Teamwork means that people will try to cooperate, using their skills and providing constructive feedback, despite any personal conflict between individuals.
Teamwork is selfless. It focuses on the end goal, and it runs on the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When the entire team focuses on doing great work, however, the particularities of team members turn into strengths that help meet and even exceed the overall goals.
Why is teamwork important in the workplace?
There is very little dispute surrounding the importance of teamwork and collaboration at work. Most leaders understand that working together is crucial to the success of an organization. Companies need collaboration to survive with the business world and workplaces constantly changing as new technologies and innovations arise.
As team members share their experiences and knowledge, they can come to strategic and creative solutions. Every employee brings different skills and perspectives to the table, and multiple viewpoints help companies innovate and excel in the current fast-paced world.
Most people understand the importance of teamwork. Yet working as a team still plagues many organizations. Even though the understanding is there, the application is often not.
Key reasons why is teamwork important in the workplace
1. Teamwork promotes strong working connections
When employees work together and succeed as a team, they form bonds that can turn into trust and friendship. It is human nature. And it is excellent for your organization since employees who like and trust each other are more likely to:
- Communicate well with each other
- Support and motivate each other
- Work cooperatively
- Teammates learn from each other.
Imagine you have a workforce of 10 employees working in separate rooms. Each one works to their strengths and suffers from their weaknesses, with nobody to teach or learn from.
Now put them all in the same room, working together on the same project. Soon, the employees will learn the strengths of the others and correct their mistakes. The overall employee performance will improve.
If you're looking for inspiration on how you can promote teamwork, we have a curated selection of teamwork quotes, that you can use anytime.
2. Teamwork strengthens collaboration not competition
Let’s continue the scenario one year later: what happens to the same team of 10 members when they have learned all they can from each other? They will soon start to compete with one another to prove their ability and chase promotions or other incentives within your organization.
Provided the challenge and rewards are in place to promote competition, team dynamics can keep improving.
3. Teamwork increases efficiency
The division of labor was a pillar of the industrial revolution and a foundation of modern civilization. That is just another way to say teamwork.
Employee teamwork enables your workforce to:
- Split demanding tasks into simpler ones, then work faster
- Develop specialized skills.
In a nutshell, teams make work more efficient. That can lead to improved productivity, reduced costs, greater profitability, and many other benefits.
“There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.” ― Idowu Koyenikan
4. Teamwork increases accountability
When a person works alone, they have total autonomy. What if that person starts to work slowly or ineffectively? Who will set them straight? Nobody.
In teamwork, many people have responsibility for the same goal. When the performance of one team member dips, the others have the knowledge and motivation to help them improve. Without management intervention, effective teams can self-regulate their performance.
The amazing illustrator @successpictures on IG crafted this picture that explains the concept better.
5. Teamwork boosts innovation
There are usually countless solutions for any task or problem. When one employee tackles a project, they might be able to think of a few different ideas given time. But when a team tackles a problem, the project benefits from multiple perspectives, skill sets, and experiences.
A team approach can therefore lead to faster innovation.
Additional benefits on the importance of working as a team:
- Boost problem solving
- Helps to meet tight deadlines
- Improves bonding
- Expands perspective
- Creates better workplace synergies
- Builds camaraderie
- Better productivity
- Smarter risk taking
- Better distribution of workload
- Improved exchange of knowledge.
Improving teamwork in the workplace
Being part of a great team at work is a sweet cocktail of emotions - excitement, challenge, safety, success. You are pumped to get out of bed in the morning and energized throughout the day.
Still, many workforces suffer from poor communication, lack of trust, and low engagement, eroding the chances of great teamwork in the workplace.
But, people still want teamwork. And 3 out of 4 employers consider teamwork very important.
The key is to give your team the right conditions to develop and grow. Here are 12 teamwork “healthy conditions” to consider:
1. Involve leaders in the communication chain
If you want to build great teamwork, start from the top. Leadership is a crucial driver of teamwork, and all they must do is to lead by example. They are the ones that the rest of your company look to for direction, so managers should establish teamwork as the norm.
Ensure leadership is involved in effective communication so employees at all levels can understand the overarching company goal towards which they are working.
- Be visible. If you want to communicate well with your team, be accessible. Emails and phone calls are not enough. Be present, visible, and available. Getting “out there” — consistently and predictably lets your teammates know they can come to you when needed.
- Authenticity counts. Be honest and sincere. Forget about eloquence; find your own voice. Don’t disguise who you are. Teams follow authentic leadership.
- Listen to your teammates. When you listen well, you clearly understand another’s perspective and knowledge. Listening fosters trust, respect, and alignment. Allow people to air their concerns. Pay close, respectful attention to what is said — and what’s left unsaid.
“A team is successful only when they have a common goal. Not only does this goal need to be set, but it also has to be communicated to each team member.” – Laura Noodapera
The key pillar of collaboration is communication. Teamwork develops when team members feel like they can speak openly, share ideas without getting shot down (and build on those of others), make suggestions, and voice their opinions. Make sure communication is not just flowing downward but also upward, and between team members. Multi-way communication is the goal.
Team members don't always have to be on the same page. Creating a safe space for open communication leads to finding a solution and moving forward as a team.
Here are the main steps to create a culture of open communication:
- Be present: attending a meeting is not the same as being present at a meeting. Set aside all the distractions and pay attention to your team. Many leaders brag about having an "open door," but this is not enough: employees also must walk inside.
- Ask for suggestions: listen to your team members' inputs and show them that you are willing to change your approach based on an employee's suggestion.
- Use different communication channels: take advantage of modern technology and use the most suitable tools to reach every employee, whether they are across the globe or in the other office.
3. Create teamwork recognition programs
When it comes to building a solid team, employee rewards and recognition rank very high on the list of perks that attract quality jobseekers. Rewarding successful collaboration creates an incentive for people to do so more frequently. Find ways to publicly acknowledge the hard work of effective teams, whether by giving them an award in front of their peers or by sharing their wins in a writeup. Teams who win together will continue to work well together.
Don’t you know how to reward teamwork? Here are our ideas:
- A simple Thank-you does wonders. Be vocal about a job well done. Employees want to know that their work has a purpose and meaning. According to SHRM, most respondents agreed recognition could help create a positive workplace culture and employee experience, and more than one-half said their program positively affects retention (68%) and recruitment (56%).
- Good old-fashioned bonuses. This is a common and highly appreciated type of employee recognition. Team members usually receive these extra checks at a specific time of year to show the company’s appreciation.
- Team recognition events. Do a little prior research, find out what makes your employees happy, and surprise them with a free restaurant dinner, a paid session at the local wellness center, or tickets to a theater or a match.
4. Set clear organizational and team purposes
Every member of a team should know what the company's long-term goals are. Sharing clear goals ensures the team projects are purpose-driven and valuable, have clearly defined and measurable objectives, and that everyone on the team moves in the same direction. Teamwork is impossible in an environment where no one is sure what the team is working toward. You need to be sure that everyone on every team is on the same page.
- Give them individual goals. Start with setting individual team members' goals and afterward help them find ways to embroider these goals into the general goal fabric of both team and company.
- Set reasonable goals. Provide your team with reasonable goals that include time-based milestones and objectives.
- Ascertain own contributions. You are part of the team too. When your results are transparent, your staff will perceive you as contributing to achieving the overall team goals.
Related: Learn how to setup clear employee performance goals.
"97% of employees and executives surveyed believe a lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of a task or project." - Salesforce
5. Refrain from micromanaging your team
Teams should feel like standalone units even as they contribute to your larger organizational goals. If you don’t give your teams some degree of autonomy, they won’t work as a collective because they will always be waiting for management to issue orders from on high. As much as possible, let teams set their deadlines, develop their workflows, and work out their issues.
Research shows micromanagement is one of the top three reasons employees leave a team. It is a creativity killer, causes undue stress, and demoralizes your team. Here are tips to stop micromanaging your employees.
- Delegate. It is vital to delegate tasks that match each employee's strengths and expertise and enable them to learn and grow in their role.
- Let go of perfectionism. If a project doesn't succeed entirely, consider it an opportunity for growth and a lesson learned for next time. This approach will encourage creativity and new ideas.
- Trust your teammates. By developing a trusting environment, asking questions, listening actively, and being clear on expectations, managers can lean into learning and step back from micromanaging.
6. Mediate disputes
Some companies approach conflict resolution with a wait-and-see approach, but that doesn’t work very well for team members’ disputes. Because these disputes can quickly grow into serious issues that interfere with projects, team members must address them proactively. Ensure interpersonal conflicts are written and bring in mediators to work through issues between colleagues.
- Deal with a conflict immediately. Minor disagreements are easily resolved when addressed early. However, if ignored, they can escalate and affect the entire time.
- Avoid taking sides. Keep your objectivity even when empathizing or agreeing with one employee. Your role is to mediate and reach a resolution that works well for both employees and the team.
- Evaluate your conflict management skills. After resolving a conflict, take time to consider what you did well and what you might wish to do differently in the future. Ask for feedback from the team members involved in the conflict.
„Meeting is a start, staying together is progress, working together is success.” - Henry Ford
7. Ask team members for feedback
Knowledge is power, so if you want to know where your workforce is when it comes to teamwork, why not just ask them? Soliciting feedback doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. You can create an anonymous poll in an employee app like Blink or do short interviews with team members to see how projects are coming along. Just be sure you are committed to taking feedback seriously.
“When a team works well together, it’s because its members are operating from the same mindset and are clear about their goals and norms,” says Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist and the author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams. Regular feedback creates cohesion among your team.
- Create a high-transparency feedback culture within your team. It creates ownership and a sense of collectivism and removes the fear of sharing honest feedback in the open.
- Promote team relationships. Conflicts within a team are inevitable. Help teammates build trust before problems arise by encouraging open conversation.
- Use the framework “Start, Stop, Continue.” This template is a common feedback approach perfect for helping team members assess how they are working together.
8. Focus on strengths
Focusing on the weaknesses of your team members affects engagement and lowers the team’s productivity. According to Gallup’s research, employees who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
Everyone is different - we have different strengths, passions, and weaknesses. One of the cornerstones of a good team leader is focusing on individuals’ strengths and bringing together a team of people with a combined skill set to get the job done.
- Identify your team’s strengths. Knowing and understanding each other’s strengths help teams avoid misunderstandings caused by unrealistic expectations.
- Shape your team. As a manager, you can empower employees to discover and develop their strengths and place them in roles where they can do what they do best every day.
- Encourage professional development. Acknowledging employees’ strengths and encouraging professional development are incredibly powerful tools to bring out the best in your team members.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford
9. Allow flexiwork
Introverts, early risers, night owls, and caregivers can all be valuable team members, so don’t ignore them when considering the improvement of teamwork in the workplace. Offering employees flex work options like telecommuting and quiet workspaces ensures that your entire workforce can be as productive as possible and take advantage of opportunities to work collaboratively.
Before implementing flexible work within your team, check that there are policies in place to ensure that your organization will enjoy the benefits and avoid the common traps.
- Plan flexible options with your team. Simply stating that your company is offering flex work arrangements without planning is a recipe for disaster. To get started, review your team’s performance and the business’s systems, and define a fully scaled process.
- Don’t eliminate the traditional 9-to-five schedule. Not everybody can avoid at-home distractions. Some employees perform better in an office environment, around team members, while maintaining the same daily schedule. They require structure and set hours at the office.
- Adapt your management skills. Managing remote employees is very different from managing in-office employees. The challenge for many teams isn’t the flexible work program as much as it’s a management issue. It is vital to implement different rules and methods to manage people who are working remotely and have flexible schedules.
10. Organize team-building activities together
And I don’t mean aerobics. I am referring to team-building activities. Before deciding on a team-building exercise, it is crucial to assess what specific challenges your team is facing. For example, does your team need to become more familiar with each other, or do they need to recover from a conflict? You may pick different exercises for each of these situations.
- Define your goal (besides building a team). As a manager, don’t just make people play games. You must use these exercises to reach specific results: build trust, strengthen communication, and improve work processes.
- Make it accessible to every team member. Some people love sports, while others are more into music or movies. And let’s not forget the introverts who want to be left alone. Know your team, consider their personalities, and choose an activity appropriate for everyone.
- Schedule virtual coffee meetings. Encourage your remote team to start the workday with a virtual meeting over a cup of coffee. It is supposed to be a light and fun chat that can help lighten up the mood, encouraging virtual team bonding.
11. Take a break
Team building doesn’t have to happen while you are actively working. Taking breaks together can result in higher productivity levels and help reevaluate goals.
One week, you could round up the team and grab a coffee together. Getting together in a less formal setting will encourage better communication, sharing, and bonding between team members. If you want to start small, break up the day by stepping outside to have one of your team meetings on foot.
- Lead by example. Short breaks throughout the workday can re-energize the body and sharpen the mind. Allowing yourself a change of scenery, whether you have lunch, meditate, or go for a short walk outside, shows your teammates that you take care of yourself at work. They will follow your example.
- Change the office environment. A relaxing environment will allow employees to recharge faster, giving them the much-needed motivation to stay on task. Some plants, chill music, and gentle lighting will help keep a calm workplace environment for your employees who feel like a critical part of the team.
- Schedule blocks for breaks. Phone calls, emails, meetings… Who can remember to take a break? To help your team regain focus and clarity, block out time for pauses during the day. Creating calendar blocks prompts people to think twice before scheduling a meeting in that block.
12. Celebrate milestones, big or small
Celebrating your success as a team will bring people closer together, encourage conversation, and boost happiness. Celebrations don’t have to be big, but they should be frequent. By doing this, you are reminding people that your goals are achievable and worth striving for, which will keep motivation high.
Here are some ideas on how to celebrate success:
- Have a casual Friday meeting: Chat about the small successes of the week. Use a post-it board to capture the success and get everyone involved; people write their achievements on a sticky note and put it on the board, then explain it to the group.
- Get out of the office for lunch or drinks: This can be after work or during working hours (depending on your company culture). Be clear on the purpose of this celebration if you reached a big milestone, or your team received praise from senior leadership.
- Celebrate work anniversaries: Employees keep track of how many years they have worked in a team. Get them a personalized quote and a meaningful anniversary gift box to thank them for their devotion.
Main attributes of high-performing teams
High-performing teams gather individuals with specialized expertise who collaborate, innovate, and work toward achieving precise results. But building a great team means more than just pulling together a group of talented people with the right skills. It requires careful development of key characteristics, behaviors, and best practices.
Now you know what makes the ideal team great. What about your team?
As a team leader, you may see some things work smoothly, but others not as much. You may know what takes your team from good to great. But how will you know what needs to change?
Here are eight high performing-teams attributes to cultivate within your team:
- Clear and kind communication
- Mutual trust and respect
- Clear goals tied to team and organizational vision
- Defined roles and responsibilities
- Understand how their work fits the company’s mission
- Manage tasks and deadlines based on priorities
- Celebrate the team’s success and recognize contributions
- Practice continuous improvement and learning.
Essential teamwork skills
Candidates with strong teamwork skills are sought out by employers for many reasons - they demonstrate leadership, collaboration, and good communication. Employers expect employees to be team players. Teamwork is required for almost every industry, ranging from business solutions to information technology to food services.
What are teamwork skills?
Regardless of your role, you need to be able to work well with others and convey your teamwork skills to hiring managers, recruiters, and prospective employers.
Scan any job listing, and you will see that even ads that seek “self-starters” also inevitably use the phrase “team player.” Teamwork skills like communication and a positive attitude can help a team be more productive.
Below is a list of the most crucial teamwork skills that employers seek in candidates:
Being a good team member means communicating your ideas with the group. You must be able to convey information via phone, email, and in person. You want to make sure your tone is always professional but friendly. Both verbal and nonverbal communication types are essential when working within a group setting.
Other communication skills might include:
- Goal settings
2. Conflict management
An essential teamwork skill is being able to mediate problems between team members. You need to be able to negotiate with your team members to settle disputes and make sure everyone is happy with the team’s choices.
Important conflict management abilities:
- Critical thinking
- Emotional intelligence
3. Active listening
Another crucial part of communication is listening. You must be able to listen to the ideas and concerns of your peers to be an effective team member. By asking questions for clarification, demonstrating concern, and using nonverbal cues, you can show your team that you care and understand their ideas or concerns.
Relevant active listening skills:
- Body language
- Exchanging feedback
You want to be a reliable team member so that your coworkers can trust you with time-sensitive tasks and company information. Make sure you stick to deadlines and complete any assigned work.
The characteristics of reliable persons include:
People will be more open to communicating with you if you convey respect for them and their ideas. Simple actions like using a person's name, making eye contact, and actively listening when a person speaks will push your team members to feel appreciated.
The characteristics of respectful managers are:
- Share credit
- Understanding others
- Value diversity.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan
How to improve teamwork skills at work?
Improving teamwork skills at work can be accomplished by fostering communication, collaboration, and trust between team members. Encourage team members to ask questions and share ideas openly, practice active listening, and work with each other to brainstorm solutions. Taking the time to develop relationships with colleagues and recognizing the contributions of each team member will also help create an atmosphere of teamwork.
Here are 10 additional tips to help you improve teamwork skills at work:
- Communicate effectively - Active listening, open dialogue and constructive feedback can help build trust and understanding between team members.
- Establish roles and responsibilities - When each team member understands their role in a project, it can promote more efficient problem-solving and working relationships.
- Set clear expectations - Ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the overall goal.
- Show appreciation - Recognize the contributions of team members and thank them for their hard work.
- Practice collaboration - Encourage team members to work together to brainstorm solutions and come up with creative ideas.
- Celebrate successes - Celebrate important milestones, celebrate successes and recognize everyone’s efforts. It can boost morale and motivate for future successes.
- Set a positive environment - Work to create an atmosphere that encourages open communication, collaboration, and respect for everyone’s ideas.
- Solve problems together - Learn to tackle challenges together instead of pointing fingers. Help each other problem solve and brainstorm solutions.
- Utilize strengths - Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses – use them to your advantage when working together by assigning tasks based on individual abilities.
- Encourage creativity - Try to think of creative solutions and think outside the box. Brainstorm ideas as a team and come up with fresh approaches to solving problems.
Teamwork has never been easy, but it has become much more complex in recent years. And the trends that make it more difficult seem likely to continue as teams become increasingly global, virtual, and project-driven.
Taking a systematic approach to analyzing how well your team is set up to succeed - and identifying where improvements are needed - can make all the difference.