Teamwork in the Workplace Is No Different from Teamwork Anywhere Else
Consulting on teamwork in the workplace is a multi-million dollar industry. Lots of teams spend lots of time working to improve the ways they work together.
I can't help but wonder. Have we over-complicated this? Is teamwork in the workplace really so different from teamwork we've learned elsewhere? In my opinion, it's not.
Most people don't lack skills or know-how when it comes to teamwork in the workplace. That's not the problem at all. The problem, more often, is how the workplace works against the team and its members.
As a team effectiveness consultant, I am often asked to help "fix" teams. The assumption in that request is that the members of team choose not to play nice with each other. Senior managers hope for a quickie intervention that will transform the team.
That's why I usually start by asking the members of the team what prevents them from being more effective. At first, there is some finger pointing at other members of the team. But when I peel back the layers, those perceptions are usually a by-product of something else.
Teamwork in the Workplace Depends On the Workplace, Not on the Team!
Usually (not always, but usually), the problem with a team is a problem in the workplace. It's not the people, it's the constraints they are expected to deal with and overcome.
Consider this. Everyone has experience on a team. Most people have experienced success as a member of a team. Sports and extra-curricular school teams, family interactions, groups of friends, and social circles -- all of these are places and times where teamwork is essential.
We don't lose those skills when we enter the workplace. Instead, we access those experiences and try to contribute to our workplace teams.
But there is a difference. The experiences we have as team members outside the workplace have something that isn't often available for teamwork in the workplace. That something is dedicated focus.
Sports teams, for example, get your full time and attention during their allocated time. Players aren't on the field checking emails during critical plays. They don't miss the game because the coach calls them into her office at the last minute. They don't prioritize other work over the practice because, if they did, they'd be off the team.
By contract, workplace teams are often relegated to a lower priority status. "Real work" and primary responsibilities routinely trump team participation and focus.
To Improve Teamwork in the Workplace, Enable Team Members to Focus on the Team's Goals
To make a team effective, members of the team must be given time and resources so they can focus on the team. They have the skills they need. But those skills can't be fully utilized or appreciated if there isn't time to access them.