Teamwork is a key component of almost any workplace. It is is widely accepted that team synergy and team intelligence lead to greater efficiency and better results in most situations. Why, then, are some people reluctant to engage in teamwork? Perhaps this reluctance stems from ineffective or dysfunctional teamwork experiences in the past. Often the culprit in these situations is not a “poor team player” or an “inability to get along with others.” More likely it was caused by one of two things: misaligned goals or confusion over roles. For teamwork to be effective, all members of the team must understand and share the goals of the project, and all members must fully understand their roles—what is expected of them, and how they will be held accountable. An effective team leader will make sure that goals and roles are fully understood by all team members.
Some common benefits of working in teams include increased productivity, increased innovation, and increased efficiency. Excellent teams have synergy that makes them more than simply the sum of their parts. The term “team intelligence” refers to the fact that collectively, teams have more knowledge and skill than the single individuals working separately. However, challenges can also arise when working in a team. Conflicts within a team do occur and often they begin as a result of poor communication and weak focus. Some ways to handle these challenges include the following:
- Elect a team leader: the team leader will act as the hub for communication and tasks. This person helps provide direction and guidance for the team. This should be someone who has earned the team’s respect and who can be persuasive and tactful. This role can be rotated among team members.
- Ensure the goal is clear: a team is governed by the goal that everyone works to achieve. It is important that the goal is clearly understood and agreed upon by everyone on the team.
- Establish team rules: as a team, determine the rules by which the team will operate. These should include expectations around time, meetings, attendance, communication, decision-making, contribution, and mechanisms to warn and/or fire a team member or quit a team.
- Assign responsibilities: as part of the breakdown of tasks, members should be assigned responsibility for certain tasks, which means that they are the primary leads in preventing and addressing issues that come up in that area.
- Set agendas for meetings and keep minutes: to ensure that team meeting time is useful and achieves its purpose, plan an agenda for each meeting to help keep everyone on task. In addition, have someone take minutes to record decisions that are made. This record helps prevent repetition and ensures work actually gets done.
- Determine the timing for tasks: task timing involves two aspects: the duration for completing the task and the timing of the task in relation to the other tasks. Typically, tasks take longer than you think they will so it is often better to add 25% to your duration estimate. The timing of the tasks are important to figure out because some tasks can be completed concurrently, but others may have to be sequenced. Professionals often use Gantt Charts to outline these tasks and the time they will take within the overall project scale.
- Manage communications: if a problem arises with someone on the team, the team leader should speak privately to the person and clearly indicate what needs to change and why. The focus should be on the behavior, not on the person’s character. Issues should be dealt with quickly rather than left to deteriorate further. If this does not solve the problem, then try other approaches.
There are several tools and strategies that teams can use to improve their functioning and productivity. Some examples include using the following documents:
- Meeting Agendas: outlines the main points for discussion at a meeting
- Meeting Minutes: records the decisions and relevant discussion points for a meeting
- Work Logs: records the tasks and time spent for each team member
- Status Reports: records the completed tasks and work left to complete
- Gantt Charts: breaks down tasks and their estimated duration over the work period.
There are also many software programs and apps that can help teams manage projects. Students often use Google docs to work collaboratively on a document or project. The most common one used in the workplace is Microsoft Project. However, other productivity apps can be used to great effect as well. Slack, Wrike, and Asana are free popular web based options. Whatever tool you choose to use, it should be something that all members can access and understand.
- “Teams: Lessons Learned” from Inside Higher Ed
- “14 Tips for Leading A More Successful Meeting” from Forbes.com
- “Five Models for Understanding Team Dynamics” from Technical Writing Essentials
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"Team Project Management." Technical Writing Essentials. [License: CC BY-SA 4.0]