Teaching soft skills in the workplace: soft skill 2, teamwork

Whether you work in a #dreamteam, believe that teamwork makes the dreamwork, or all pull together to work on one dream as one team, one thing is clear: there’s a lot of pressure on working well in groups.

And let’s be honest, sometimes it can be a bit of a nightmare.

Part two of our soft skills series looks at the importance of developing positive and healthy teamwork within your organisation.

In any work environment, there’s going to be workplace politics, a clash of personalities, and in some projects simply too many cooks getting involved. No matter how you paint it, the reality is that group dynamics can be hard to master. But the good news is that there is a wide range of things you can do on an individual and organisational level to help teamwork flourish.

Productive team dynamics

Cartoon of five diverse teammates in a productive happy team meeting

 

Before we look at working through awkward or uncomfortable circumstances, let’s take a look at what a well-fitted and productive team looks like:

  • Ideally a small group of 3 – 6 people
  • Goal-oriented, with individual missions all heading towards the larger goal at hand
  • Team members help each other
  • They also hold each other accountable
  • Everyone pulls their weight, without pulling rank

5 ways to encourage teamwork and navigate conflict

We know this dream scenario isn’t realistic in every work environment, but there are plenty of things you can do to get teamwork back on track within your own departments and organisation-wide. Here are a few tips from us to encourage positive collaboration and avoid teamwork disasters.

1. Encourage teams to agree on goals for the project

Group of eight young workers displaying teamwork with hands in the middle of table under a large target icon

 

One of the quickest ways teamwork can fall off-track is if you aren’t clear on goals and objectives for the project before the work begins. It can be easy to end up in a situation where everyone had their own agendas heading in different directions. While this is a natural part of working with other people, agreeing on project goals and ideal outcomes before the full project kick off is a great way to keep everyone moving in the same direction.

2. Take time to agree on etiquette and boundaries

Four disinterested teammates not working together and looking on their phones

 

When it comes to teamwork projects, there is no one size fits all. We would love to give you a list of policies, boundaries, and etiquette rules that will guarantee great tram dynamics, but everyone has different needs. As such, it’s important to encourage your teams, and coach your leaders, to set their own boundaries within project work. For example, how often you want to have meetings to cover off the specific project, if you would like a project lead or a flat organisational structure, or even how comfortable you are with people bringing laptops, phones, or tablets into meeting spaces.

3. Establish team responsibilities early

Project team establishing roles and responsibilities in a meeting

 

Everyone has a specific skillset within their field. One of the best things about team projects is being able to put that specialised knowledge to good use in a varied but valuable way. Perhaps someone is particularly good at making meeting notes or creating spreadsheets; maybe someone is great at public speaking; perhaps a team member has very specialised knowledge about a particular type of stock, product, or service you sell. The key here to is play to everyone’s individual strengths and establish responsibilities early to avoid conflict later down the line.

4. Make meetings meaningful

Diverse team have a productive meaningful meeting in an open plan office

 

Communication is absolutely key to any kind of teamwork (and you can find out more about that in part one of our soft skills series) and this communication will often take place in meetings.

However, according to a survey from Harvard Business Review, 71% of senior managers from a wide range of industries said meetings were unproductive or inefficient, and 62% said meetings missed the chance to bring their team(s) closer together.

What can we do to stop this from happening?

  • Ensure the meeting is completely necessary
  • Encourage independent researched brainstorming and discuss the results at a later date once everyone has their ideas nailed
  • Only involve the absolutely necessary people in any meeting
  • Consider if what you need to say can be communicated over email or via a memo
  • Give everyone in the meeting the chance to get involved and make a contribution
  • Set an agenda before a meeting to help keep things on track
  • Stick to your chosen timeframe
  • Consolidate everything important discussed into organised meeting notes and distribute as needed for later reference

5. Conflict and groupthink

Group of architects arguing about a project on-site in high vis and hard hats

 

This is ultimately the most difficult aspect of working on projects as a team. There is the possibility of conflict, people speaking over each other, and one person bulldozing an entire meeting or project.

But equally, there is a risk of ‘groupthink’, a concept Crash Course Business describe as psychological tendency to “make subpar decisions because people value harmony more than making the best decision [to] avoid disagreement”. It is key to ensure everyone has a voice, and you may actually get some of the best results if someone with a lot of influence, e.g. a manager or stakeholder isn’t in the room.

Improving teamwork in the workplace

Want to start introducing teamwork training into your organisation? Leave the stale sandwiches and awkward trust falls aside and focus on a sustainable training plan that works for your organisation’s needs.

Want to improve teamwork in your workplace? Take a look at our brand new soft skills training template.

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