Practical teamwork skills are exceedingly valuable in life as a whole. At work, at play, in your social life, and more, you’ll find yourself working with or spending time with groups of other people. If you don’t have decent teamwork skills, you’ll have a lot of trouble finding success.
Fortunately, all it takes to build teamwork skills is practice! Practice is vital, but we’ve included many other strategies you can use to develop these skills, too. In the sections below, we’ll introduce you to these essential life skills, as well as activities that help you build them.
Communication is fundamentally the most important skill necessary for good teamwork. If the team in question isn’t communicating, a variety of bad things can happen, such as:
- Nothing getting done
- Some team members not pulling their weight
- Members not being fully up to speed on the scope of the project
- Members feeling like they can’t contribute ideas
- Interpersonal arguing and conflict
When a team can’t communicate properly, whether it’s the fault of one or several people, things just don’t run smoothly.
Communicating clearly, effectively, and efficiently is the goal. Of course, charisma, likability, leadership, and many other things help with communication and keeping a team together, but excellent communication is the groundwork that you build that upon.
As a general rule, most of us gain the social skills necessary to be decent communicators as we age. However, working with teammates is a little different. And, no matter what you do, some people just don’t click together.
Of course, communication in a team environment is all about working past personal disagreements and working for the good of the team as a whole. If the team members aren’t willing to compromise, put personal grudges aside, and work together, there is a significant problem.
Polite communication skills can alleviate a lot of these issues, though. Speaking to your team members as you would want to be spoken to makes a big difference. However, politeness doesn’t forgive a lousy communicator, either. No matter how much charisma you have, if you can’t convey the point concisely and accurately to your team members, issues will eventually arise.
As you can see, there are many different facets to excellent communication among team members. It’s not as clear-cut as good chemistry and being polite to one another. Good teamwork requires synergy, and everyone needs to have good communication skills if things are to run optimally.
The thing about teamwork is that, typically, one person takes the lead role on the team. As long as they’re not overbearing to the other team members, this is a good thing. These excellent communication skills are most important in the leader, though that doesn’t excuse a lack of them in the others, either.
Awareness is the ability to know what’s going on with your team and what your team is working on at any given time. Like communication, awareness breaks down to many different things between team members. Some examples include:
- Monitoring the atmosphere between teammates
- Keeping an eye out for team members not pulling their weight or pulling too much weight
- Watching for animosity between team members
- Making sure everyone has an equal chance to be heard and taken seriously
A responsible, aware teammate should be able to tell when any of the above things happen (or don’t). Awareness is all about the balance between teammates. Everyone should feel like a valued, important part of the team, and every team member, not just the leader, shares the responsibility of maintaining that.
Awareness is tied to the need for a team to create an environment suitable for all of the teammates. If one teammate doesn’t feel like they belong, then it’s up to the rest of the team to do their best to remedy the situation.
Outside of team situations, social awareness is a skill that’s built up over many years. In order to build social awareness, you must put yourself into social situations. If possible, it’s best to experience group outings and social gatherings, since these will be the most similar to a team environment.
Of course, the ability to collaborate is required for any good team. While teamwork and collaboration aren’t necessarily the same, they often intersect. Essentially, the end goal for collaboration is for the team to be able to work together smoothly and naturally.
It often takes time for a team to reach a point where they can collaborate naturally. Collaborating is required of any team if they expect to get anything done, but that’s not to say that they’ll always be collaborating efficiently, either.
The ins and outs of collaboration in a team environment are a bit complicated. When people work as a team on just one occasion, they can usually lend their unique skills to the task at hand reasonably easily. However, for teammates that work together week after week, it would be unfair, not to mention unwise, for the same people to perform the same job every week.
Part of collaborating well is learning how to perform whatever role is best for the team, even if it’s one you’d rather not fill. This is especially true if you’re the most suitable person for the role, to begin with.
However, in the same measure, each team member needs to speak up and take on an undesirable role when it’s their turn, too. This is another aspect of collaboration.
In most of this guide, our examples will be focused on teams that work together under long-term conditions. When you’re working with a temporary group of people, it’s easy to be empathetic towards them in the short-term. However, if you’re stuck with the same group of people for a long time, it can be harder to maintain that sense of empathy.
Part of this is because people are more likely to get on each others’ nerves when they’re exposed to each other for long periods of time. In getting to know each other better, sometimes teams unearth things that they don’t like about their team members, and this can cause disagreements and conflict.
Of course, part of being empathetic toward your teammates is remaining a strong team despite individual traits that you might not like about those you work with. In a team environment, everyone has their own characteristics, talents, and weaknesses, and while that’s something that can be frustrating, it’s also what makes teamwork so great.
However, in exchange for the advantage that teamwork gives, you need to be kind and empathetic to those team members – even those you don’t like. If not, the team will not function properly.
Sometimes, showing empathy to all of your team members is easy. However, it might not be quite as easy to show equal compassion to all of them. You don’t necessarily have to reach the same level of closeness with each member of your team for the team to succeed. However, showing favoritism can also lead to conflict.
It’s a bit of a no-brainer to be honest with your team members. We don’t mean baring your soul to your team members, either – while closeness with your team is excellent, it’s not required to do a good job. However, showing them respect through honesty is essential.
For the most part, being honest about your duties, how you feel, and anything related to the team itself is all you need to be honest about. Some people on teams end up becoming close friends, while others do not. You should feel no compulsion to tell your teammates about your personal life if you don’t want to.
However, if you make a mistake or fall behind on your duties, for example, it’s essential to be honest about it. In particular, not doing your share of the work is sure to disrupt the balance of the whole team. Lying about it will only make that disruption worse.
As a rule, the safest way to practice honesty with your team is just to be honest all the time. Of course, if you don’t want to share something, that’s perfectly okay. But it’s better to say that rather than lying.
Honesty doesn’t just apply to you personally, either. If you make a breakthrough in something, for example, it’s best to go to your team right away and share that breakthrough with them. If you instead keep it to yourself, you’ll end up causing issues down the road. Taking credit for something that was not yours to take credit for is a bad idea, too.
No one wants to work with someone who lies and tries to take credit for more than they deserve. Be honest about the amount of work you do, and be honest with your team members.
Active listening is a technique you may have heard of before. Instead of merely sitting back and listening as someone else speaks (or worse, getting distracted), active listening involves listening carefully to the words being said, asking follow-up questions, and paying more considerable attention to a conversation or speaker than you usually would.
When you’re working as a team, you should practice active listening with the speaker whenever possible. Active listening helps you retain more information from what was said, and it makes the speaker feel more confident and appreciated, too. Listening carefully to what your teammates have to say is important on its own, but making them feel listened to is essential, also.
The process of active listening can be explained through a series of steps. We’ll go over them below.
This first step is relatively straightforward. Simply pay close attention to the person who’s speaking. Be careful not to let yourself get distracted. Look directly at the speaker and pay attention to their words, their emotions, their voice, and their body language.
Show You’re Listening
Show that you’re listening through your body language. Keep your eyes on the speaker, and turn your body toward them at all times. Nod occasionally with what they’re saying. Express your thoughts and emotions on your face. Make sure to smile, too. If appropriate, agree with them and urge them on with the occasional “yes” or “mhm.”
Talk to the speaker about your opinion on what they said. If you were paying attention, you should have a good grasp of what the speaker was talking about. Now is the time to ask for clarification if you have any questions.
Don’t interrupt the speaker while they’re talking. Save counter-arguments and points until after everything is finished. Write down your thoughts and points if necessary. If you have a question, wait until after or wait for the speaker to invite questions.
Give your honest, respectful response to the speaker, whether it’s a positive or a negative one. Speak to the other person the way you’d like to be spoken to. Finish up any arguments or loose ends. Finish the conversation respectfully, and thank the speaker if appropriate.
If you complete the above steps adequately, then you’ve already mastered active listening. Truthfully, you don’t even need a guide to do it well. As long as you’re paying attention and showing respect to the person who’s speaking, you’re already most of the way there.
Whether you’re part of a team for a few days or a few years, you have an obligation both to them and the projects that you take on. It’s paramount that you treat that responsibility correctly and with the respect it deserves.
Imagine what might happen to an important project if one member neglected to do their portion of it. The rest of the project would likely be ruined. When you’re a part of a team, something as simple as neglecting your own duties can affect everyone else in the group, too.
You’re responsible for the quality of your own work, too. The other members of your group will expect your work to rise to a certain standard: the standard of the group as a whole. If one person’s work repeatedly misses that standard, it can breed discontent and eventually conflict.
It’s also your responsibility to have a full understanding of your duties. If you’re unclear on something you need to do, you should seek advice or clarification from your team. If the day comes that your work is needed by the rest of the team and you hand them something they didn’t ask for, it’s no one’s fault but your own.
Finally, everyone on the team has a responsibility to the team. This means stepping up and doing shared duties when it’s your turn, handling emergencies and contingencies between team members, working through disagreements, and more. A team without devoted members won’t last.
When joining and working with a team, it’s essential to start fostering a teamwork-oriented mindset. You should be prepared to work with others, to share the responsibility, the work, the inspiration, even the credit for everything you complete. If you’re not ready to do that, you shouldn’t be working with a team.
Of course, there are times when you don’t necessarily have a choice in the matter. School is an example. At these times, it’s still essential to take on the mindset of a team player, regardless of you’re doing it by your own will or not. A lousy mindset will hamper your team’s performance, after all.
When joining a team, especially one that will be working together long-term, the main mindset change is the one from the individual to the group. If you’re playing a teamwork game, the goal is to save as many people on the team as possible, not just the individual. As humans, we’re used to primarily fending for ourselves, but it’s not too difficult a transition to make.
While many people get away with being disorganized in their personal lives, disorganization in a group setting can be a real killer. Not only do you need to keep roles, duties, and responsibilities organized between all team members, but you may end up sharing materials, too.
For instance, if you’re all working to create a board game together, you may need to pass the board game between group members for any number of reasons. Perhaps group member B is going to paint the pieces for the board game. However, group member C lost some of those game pieces before giving it to member B because they were too disorganized.
While replacing a game piece isn’t terribly tricky, imagine what could happen with something more substantial. Perhaps member C misplaced essential files instead of just a few game pieces? What if they lost a thumb drive with a presentation stored on it? Unless the group has taken advanced countermeasures, this type of disorganization could result in catastrophic failure.
Planning skills go hand-in-hand with organizational skills. However, rather than keeping things organized, planning refers to keeping the group itself organized. The team should plan ahead enough that no one is rushing to get things done.
It all depends on what sort of team we’re talking about here. For a sports team, the coach does much of the planning for the team, and some players might take a role in the planning process, too. However, in a corporate environment, the preparation is mostly done between team members.
Let’s assume that we’re working with a corporate team that works on marketing. Their job is to figure out a newer, more effective way to advertise a product that hasn’t been selling well enough lately.
It’s up to the team to plan out how they’re going to fulfill their duties. There are many questions to ask and things to plan around. Questions like the following are a good start:
- How quickly should this project get done?
- What skills will be the most valuable for this project?
- How long will it take to complete the project?
- How often should group members report on their progress?
- How closely do we need to collaborate? Can everyone work well enough on their own, or will we need to gather regularly outside of work hours?
As you can see, this kind of teamwork requires a lot of planning. Not all types of teamwork are the same, though.
Making decisions while working with a team can be a thoroughly daunting endeavor. If you have many strong, opinionated people on one team, especially, multiple voices might dissent against any given plan of action.
As such, you could argue that decision-making is one of the toughest parts of working with a team. However, this is where teamwork truly shines, too. You’ve heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one.” Well, the more heads you have on your team, the better!
Well, this is true in theory. While it’s true that a pair of fresh eyes is always great for perspective, too many dissenting voices can sometimes cause more harm than good.
Part of each team member’s responsibility to the group is to help said group make reliable decisions. However, if each person has a different idea of what the best path to take might be, you could end up out of luck.
This is why having a leader is so important for teams. The leader is trusted by all members of the team to make the final call when no one else can. The leader is the keystone of the whole decision-making process.
That’s not to say that teams can’t exist without formal leaders. Many of them do have them; there’s the quarterback on a football team, for example, and the conductor in an orchestra. However, in the absence of a formally-appointed leader, it often happens that a natural leader emerges anyway.
Even if this person isn’t the formal leader, they’ll end up taking on many of the roles one would play.
Some people are natural-born mediators, while others learn the skill throughout their lives. Regardless, every team should have at least one person who can mediate when a disagreement happens
In most situations, real mediation skills aren’t necessary for a team environment. Depending on the size of the team, the rest of the members can usually step in to resolve the conflict. However, if a team splits half and half, things can become more of a problem.
It’s not always necessary to get one side or party to give in right away. Persuasion can come later. But keeping everyone on the team civil and happy is the top priority.
In a team setting, mediation of conflicts is always essential, but persuasion is a valuable skill to have, too. After mediation is over, persuasion is the next step, after all. Before you an proceed with whatever the duty of your team is, all of the members need to agree on just how to proceed.
Imagine a man walking into a doctor’s office. He gets examined by two doctors, but they disagree on the diagnosis. None of the nurses can move forward with any treatments until the two doctors agree on one diagnosis.
The same thing goes for teams who disagree. Until the disagreement is resolved and the disagreeing parties agree on a single course of action, no one else can move forward. It holds back the entire group, not just the two fighting with each other.
This is where a bit of persuasion skill comes in handy. Of course, if one of the two individuals in disagreement has some persuasive skills, they’re more likely to bring the other over to their side. However, the whole group can benefit from any one member having good persuasive skills.
The skills of persuasion are most useful to the leader of the group. After all, as the leader, they’ll be a bit more persuasive than the rest of the group by default. Combining that with real persuasion skills makes an excellent combination – that is, if used in the team’s best interests, of course.
Giving your team members constructive, helpful feedback is one of your duties as a team member. This goes for all team members, but especially the leader.
Giving feedback to your friends and teammates about how well they’re doing might feel strange. However, it’s worth any short-term discomfort. Your teammates can’t improve themselves if they don’t know what needs to be improved. As their teammate, you’re in a prime position to provide that for them.
In any serious team environment, all of the members of the team should seek feedback from their team members regularly. If they’re not doing that, they can get feedback from a coach, mentor, or perhaps another team, but that’s not always as effective.
Your teammates often have the best idea of where you might be lacking. This isn’t always true; in a sports team, for example, an enemy team might be better at picking out your weaknesses, since the members of your team should all be around the same skill level as you.
Despite how much we’d like to be, none of us are perfect. Having people close to you that can give you constructive feedback to help you improve is a fantastic blessing. After all, the more you improve and help your team, the more your teamwork will grow.