Optimizing Teamwork in the Workplace

Teamwork is naturally, and quite rightly, touted as among the most important attributes of high-performance departments and organizational efforts. Done correctly, effective teamwork can become a spearhead for entire industries, driving their way toward new innovative breakthroughs.


All too often, however, we see this subject folded into a motivational umbrella, under which the company is everything and the individual’s value is ancillary at best—when acknowledged at all. The truth is far afield from this operational concept, as is often the case with unexamined paradigms. In this article, we will peel back the layers and explain where the true value lies (in each individual and their commitment to excellence) and how an organization can foster (and prosper by) that core understanding.


“There is no ‘I’ in Team” (or is there?)

How many times have you heard this particular maxim? Often enough that most people no longer question its meaning or implications. Firstly, it is crucial for any effective leader to look past the carbon-copy notion that the employee is “lucky” to have their job. If you want someone to truly engage and innovate, seeing each team member as more than merely a part of a whole is imperative. This is not saying that insubordination or disrespect should be tolerated, but we must recall that respect flows both ways: it is not given, it is earned; both ways.  A workplace that goes about its business ignoring or negating the individual’s needs and concerns is setting itself up for failure.

The entire point is to help realign your management team’s perspective to foster a company environment which encourages individual growth, creativity, expression, and innovation; rather than suppressing it.

In that light, let’s examine a few core aspects.

Individual Strengths

There are certain “skills” which fall outside the perimeters of training; mainly attitude, motivation, and a powerful mindset. A single misplaced individual—who underperforms or cares little for the success of the project—put into a team with mission-critical work, can undermine the entire effort merely as a side-effect of their disinterest. Morale is absolutely essential to a team’s success, and if even a quarter of said team is not engaged, it can drag the entire process under. Now, not only is the team working to surmount the creative obstacles themselves, they have to work around and carry the weight of someone who isn’t engaged.

In short, picking the right people for the right job is incredibly important, as is ensuring every member is personally and professionally invested.

Knowing your team’s strengths is one thing—a core virtue in itself, allowing you to apply your greatest assets in their most effective roles. To clarify this section, we’re not talking about identifying each person’s weakest character traits (although this would naturally be valuable information), but rather to help leadership to focus on the right considerations. Specifically, focus on crafting assignments tailored around each person’s strengths, rather than using a cookie-cutter formula which forces individuals into the rough shapes of a job description. The latter will never allow you to see your people shine and truly rise to a challenge, unless you just happen to get lucky. (If you do, make sure to write that person’s name down.)

The Communication Key

One more key aspect that we want to bring to light is communication. Again, as with respect, effective communication is not a one way street. A company that holds to an excessively rigid (and punitive) hierarchical structure cannot hope to foster an environment of honest and open feedback—nobody in such an atmosphere is going to want to take the risk of putting forth creative ideas when they’ve seen initiative rewarded only by a heavy hand of “know your place”!

A typical workplace (especially when goal and task-driven) always bears a convergence of differing personalities and competition for internal resources. These are all natural things, and can be worked through quite easily, as long as they don’t come as a surprise.

Understanding the nature of both people and arising obstacles allows the clever executive to handle conflict and challenges with ease.

Teamwork - two employers looking at document

Bullet-list for Improving Teamwork Quality

  • Expect conflict and train team members how to participate in “high stakes” conversations.
  • Ensure that all team members are aware of the goals, the manner in which goals are tracked, and how their individual actions impact the team’s goals.
  • Build systems which allow each team member to work toward his or her strengths and talents on a regular basis. Include a means of support to reduce the bearing of any weaknesses.
  • Establish a work culture that shows low tolerance for and quickly addresses poor performance.
  • Create a support system which encourages team members to hold one another accountable for their individual performances.
  • Allow team members to be a part of the hiring and selection process.
  • During the hiring process, remember that mindset and attitude weigh even more than skill-set in many circumstances.
  • As team members develop and grow, offer them more decision-making opportunities.
  • Provide a solid training and development program which offers more than technical knowledge by teaching employees the importance of “soft skills” and emotional intelligence, problem-solving, performance feedback, and other business skills such as how to conduct effective meetings. The goal is to teach team members how to operate on a corporate level.

Fred Coon, CEO

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