The importance of teamwork (Article)


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Derek Stockley conducts one day leadership courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth or London. He conducts in-house and public training courses.

This free High Performance Newsletter article explores the continuing discussion about the importance of teamwork.

Teams and teamwork is still an important concept for successful organisations

Is teamwork important or essential for your business organisation?

Most of the people I deal with regard teamwork as an essential aspect of their operations. Business survival depends upon it.

The nature of teams may be changing, but the underlying nature and benefits of teams are not. Teams are becoming more numerous and complex, with one person often being a member of a number of teams in an organisation. Recent discussions have highlighted:

  • In one medium sized organisation, formal management responsibilities being assigned to teams of people from different parts of the organisation. Instead of having formal positions for specific functions (human resources, health and safety, etc), a committee structure has been created and successfully implemented. This helps ensure that the responsibility and accountability for these important functions is shared between a number of people.

  • In one technology based company, product and system implementations for different clients require different parts of the organisation to provide services. Consequently, the project team can be very different for each client, depending on the expertise required. Team members may be based locally, in Australia or other parts of the world.

  • In another services company, staff find themselves working in multiple teams at the same time. At any given part of the year, the number of projects can range from two to six, depending on the current client assignments.

These team structures are in addition to the formal organisational unit structure where team members reside. They are expected to use teamwork to complete the functional aspects of their positions along with their colleagues in the same organisational unit.

In these environments, the demands on team members are heavy. Communication is often difficult, but these situations add to communication complexity. These structures demand good teamwork. Important projects depend on it.

How do you achieve good teamwork?

Good teamwork starts with a shared understanding of its importance. Many organisations recruit people with an aptitude for and leaning towards teamwork. Their induction process emphasises it. The way teams work demonstrates it. Although team members have clear and designated responsibilities, they help others when required. Good teamwork behaviour is recognised and rewarded. Teamwork is built into the organisation culture - it is a part of 'the way we do things around here'.

It has to be carefully nurtured.

Teams within teams

A team may be subset of a bigger team. In the more formal language of organisation structure, a team can be a section which is part of a department which is part of a division and so on. Each organisational unit is a team, where eventually the whole organisation is one big team. This fits in with my definition of a team as 'A group of people, contributing their individual knowledge and skills but working together to achieve a common goal/task.'

The nature of our society can create competition between teams. It is a part of our competitive society. If you think of teams in a sporting context, you immediately think of two competing teams. That is the way sport is constructed.

A management training game I use is called 'Win as Much as You Can'. The rules of the game clearly show the benefits of co-operation, but teams playing the game often adopt a competitive approach which has dramatic, negative impacts on the outcome of the exercise.

Senior managers have to work on this problem, although I have some doubts about a solution I heard of recently. A building change provided the opportunity to locate employees in different locations. In other words, instead of setting up workstations where team members from the same team (section) were located together, the plan is to mix up employees from different teams in the same area. The idea is to help overcome barriers between teams by physically placing different employees together. I look forward to progress reports on how this approach works when it is implemented shortly.

Summary

Teams may be organised in different and more complex ways, but teamwork it still very important. There are still issues with team management, but the benefits still outweigh the costs.

Related reading

The importance of teams and teamwork - highlights the role of teamwork in achieving improved organisation performance and better morale.

Articles about specific topics are listed at:

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Derek Stockley conducts public training courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, including a Public Train the Trainer Program.



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