Solitary work yields impressive results, but at some point, it’s time to engage the team to move the project forward for the betterment of the organization. So, you find your way into your place of work, a place that feels like home, and it’s buzzing with activity. It’s time to gain the attention of your colleagues so they can help you in the team’s joint effort toward shared success. How do you attract interest and support? Well, it depends.
Sometimes you need to waggle. Other times you need to round. Sometimes, a shake is in order. For honeybees, a dance competition is often the best way to attract the attention of other worker bees to help transfer their haul of nectar from outside of the hive to inside so it can be converted into honey.
Although successful teamwork isn’t often determined by impressive dance competitions — although it sometimes can be, and to incredibly funky results — successful teamwork is still a key component to personal satisfaction and professional results, regardless of one’s ability to Cabbage Patch or Roger Rabbit.
In an article titled “The Importance of Teamwork,” John J. Murphy, author of Pulling Together: 10 Rules for High-Performance Teamwork, is quoted saying, “Each individual has unique gifts, and talents and skills. When we bring them to the table and share them for a common purpose, it can give companies a real competitive advantage.” This is why enabling effective teamwork is a “power skill” we all need to work to improve.
Teamwork’s impact on organizational success
Good teams breed good results. We all understand this on a lizard-brain level. For early humans, the ability to work successfully as a team was the difference between life and death. Our cavepeople ancestors “Og” and “Oga” couldn’t take down a woolly mammoth by themselves now, could they? Ineffective team members were banished from the group, so traits that supported effective teamwork were the ones moved forward in the gene pool. (This should make you think twice the next time Betsy offers you birthday cake.)
In today’s world, the impact of teamwork on organizational success isn’t as visceral as woolly mammoth hunts but is no less obvious. Research shows that teamwork promotes the cross-fertilization of ideas, helps to shape a positive mood, breaks down relatively impermeable boundaries between subunits through lateral linkages and improves overall organizational performance.
Communication’s role in successful teamwork
The most effective teams are those that are the best at communicating, both within and outside of the team. Communicating your perception of team members’ strengths and weaknesses can help others see which areas to improve upon, as well as help them gain confidence in their high-performing areas. Regular communication between team members can help avoid feelings of isolation, which can decrease an individual’s productivity by more than 20%. According to the 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Science of Teamwork,” effective teams share the following traits:
- They communicate frequently.
- Team members talk and listen in equal measure.
- They spend about half their time on informal communication.
- They connect with outside sources and bring what they’ve learned back to the group.
Consider the teams you lead and the teams you are on at your organization. How many of those four traits are your teams effective at? Which areas do your teams need to challenge themselves in to improve?
Creating a psychologically safe culture
Effective communication, and the risks that come with it, can only be successful in spaces where individuals feel safe to communicate with others on their team or within their organization.
Dr. Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School defines psychological safety as a “climate in which people are comfortable being and expressing themselves.” According to a 2017 Gallup article “How to Create a Culture of Psychological Safety,” a culture that cultivates psychological safety enables employees “to be engaged, willing to take risks without the fear of failure or retribution.”
The article goes on to describe how an “internal study conducted by Google found that teams with high rates of psychological safety were better than other teams at implementing diverse ideas and driving high performance. They were also more likely to stay with the company.” It shares four questions leaders should ensure their teams consider to enable a space in which effective communication can flourish:
- What can we count on each other for?
- What is our team's purpose?
- What is the reputation we aspire to have?
- What do we need to do differently to achieve that reputation and fulfill our purpose?
So, what have we learned are the keys to enabling successful teamwork at your organization? Make sure your team members communicate frequently. Make sure everyone feels they have a voice and feels truly listened to. Make sure you take time to talk about non-work topics to increase connection. Go outside of the group to learn about new things, and then bring back what you learned and teach your team members about it. And, finally, make sure you enable an environment where everyone feels safe to be willing to take risks without fear of retribution. And, if all these things don’t work, consider waggling.
Adam Bazer, MPD, is director of education at the American Society for Health Care Engineering.