Top Tips for Improving Teamwork

Amanda Luzzader

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

On the topic of teamwork, ten-time NCAA championship-winning basketball coach had this to say: “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

Author and business lecturer Ken Blanchard’s teamwork quip is a bit pithier: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

And motivational speaker Lori Meyers put it even more simply when she wrote, “We = Power.”

Most companies, nonprofits, and agencies know that teamwork is hugely important to their success. For many organizations, teamwork is the only way to achieve their objectives. However, not all organizations know how to make teams work efficiently. Great teamwork can lead to astonishing results. Not-so-great teamwork can lead to mediocrity and frustration.

Just in time for corporate team-building retreat season, here are six tips about teamwork from across the Internet.

  1. Break down communication barriers. In this tip from Business News Daily, it’s suggested that multiple channels of communication (e.g., e-mail, text, online collaboration tools) can actually create barriers to communication. This may sound counterintuitive because it seems like more lines of communication would result in more communication. However, if part of a team is using one channel while others are using other channels, there is actually less communication across the entire team. Using a hodgepodge of communication methods can lead to enclaves of information that are not generally shared or known. To break down these barriers, choose one collaborative communication method and get everyone on board with it.
  2. Clearly define the team’s goals. You may think this one is obvious. However, many teamwork pros and tipsters insist that a team’s goals should never be an unstated assumption. Never presume that the goal of your team goes without saying–doing so is one way that team roles get confused and tasks get mis-prioritized. An article on career development firm Indeed’s blog suggests that your team will not only benefit from a clearly defined goal, but a mission statement for the team might be in order, too. Multiple sub-goals, such as internal deadlines, interim progress reports, and a list of deliverables will also help. Clearly stated and clearly defined goals will help all team members understand their roles and who to rely on for support. And don’t forget–defining goals includes defining the conditions or criteria that determine when the goal has been successfully completed.
  3. Leverage diversity. From Forbes comes this take on diversity: “For most purposes, inclusive company culture shouldn’t need to emphasize age, but instead, foster an atmosphere of conversation and valuing multiple viewpoints to create a stronger offering.” The article goes on to say that in today’s workplace, up to five generations may be working together. “Too many workplaces still promote negative age stereotypes. There has never been a better time for workers to learn from people of all ages and experiences.” The same can be said of gender and cultural backgrounds. The key is to focus on the different kinds of expertise and experience rather than mere demographics. In other words, instead of saying, “We will listen to everyone despite the demographics that make us different,” try something more like “We will listen to everyone because our variety of backgrounds will make our team better.”
  4. Limit the team’s priorities. Yes, limit them. Prioritization in the workplace often amounts to a list of tasks, sequenced in the order in which they should be worked on and completed. However, in a business-guide article in the New York Times, best-selling business author Jim Collins suggests that, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Prioritizing tasks and defining their completion and success is, says Collins, arguably the most important job of a team leader. Most of the teamwork will be aimed at those priorities, so they must be chosen and sequenced with extreme care. Too many priorities can result in misplaced, misguided, and even wasted effort.
  5. Track team progress on a shared scoreboard. When working with larger teams, progress may become vague or even abstract. Many team members may work in relative isolation, rarely glimpsing the bigger picture. This may lead to confusion, lack of motivation, and missed opportunities to achieve “stretch goals.” The New York Times business guide suggests that teams track overall progress on a “scoreboard” that is easily accessible and understandable by every team member. The article compares the workplace team to a professional football team, which comprises numerous sub-teams (offense, defense, special teams, etc.). In a football game, all the players can easily glance at the scoreboard at any moment and thereby understand the team’s overall situation, which can help them modulate their efforts and strategy.
  6. Use team-building activities. Yes, the team-building activity has become a punchline for comedy movies and TV shows that lampoon office life. And yes, you’ve probably attended corporate team-building events that were unintentionally comical or went unexpectedly sideways–obstacle courses, softball games, sack races, water fights, zen meditation sessions. However, an article in U.S. News and World Report’s Money section states, “The truth is, while results vary, team-building events can help co-workers better understand one another and learn to be more effective at working together. Team-building exercises allow management and staff to forget about deadlines and corporate structure and focus on socializing informally.”

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