In this post, we’ll discuss the common pitfalls of introducing teamwork and how you can surpass them. We want to help you achieve a more homogenous work environment. One where conflicts breed ideas rather than fallouts, and there’s no harm in owning up to mistakes.
Have employee conflicts become an everyday scene at the office?
Or does everyone seem to keep their nose buried into their work without consulting their coworkers, even if it would help get the job done quicker?
Either way, if you continue reading you will find out the difference between workgroups and teams, the importance of teamwork in the workplace, and how exactly to achieve it.
What is an example of teamwork?
The simplest examples of teamwork can be found in sports. Every player has their own role and plays the best to their ability. But at the same time, they help boost each other’s morale and work to achieve the goal. Together, they have enough general knowledge of the sport (and each other’s roles) to be able to excel within its rules and limitations.
The odds of a single basketball player scoring a point going against an opposing team are close to none.
In much the same way, there are no actual “loner wolves” in regular workplaces. Everyone chips in a little to keep the company moving forward.
Workgroups VS Teams
Believe it or not, there is a common misconception of what a team is.
Many people think that within a team, individual strengths and proficiencies contribute to the common goal by excelling with their own assignments. However, this is actually the definition of a workgroup.
A workgroup works towards achieving a common goal, with each member working independently on their own tasks. The success of the goal depends on how well each person does their part. They may share insights and advice, but never really play off each other or collaborate for longer periods of time.
A team of journalists where one of them works on interviews, another one reports on the news, the third one does the lifestyle section and so on. They’ve been delegated these tasks and report to their editor. They don’t necessarily need to know the details of their coworker’s articles, because it’s more important they finish their section perfectly to make the latest issue the best it can be.
On the other hand, teams have a more collaborative, interdependent atmosphere. Their members have the common goal in mind and share responsibility for its success or failure.
When a startup company releases an update for their app, other members of the team test it out and contribute feedback – it’s not just the job of the QA department. Or, when a product manager needs to write a description with various technical terms, the programmer can help with their input instead of leaving the product manager to research and possibly miss some key features.
The list of differences can go on, but for convenience sake, we’ve narrowed it down to this table:
|Share leadership||Single designated leader|
|Tasks are discussed delegated with|
|Tasks are discussed and delegated by the leader|
|Work products are collective||Work products are individual|
|Performance is measured based on the collective work products||Performance is measured by individual achievements|
|Nurturing open-ended dialogues with the goal of effective problem solving||Linear, point-by-point meetings|
|Individually and mutually accountable||Individually accountable|
With that being said, how do you know if you need a workgroup or a team?
Since one is not better than the other by default, let’s just briefly look at the conditions in which workgroups work better than teams, and vice versa.
How to know if you need a workgroup or a team
Workgroups are good for projects where:
- There are individual goals that need to be accomplished;
- You want the tasks to be delegated quickly and know who needs to do what;
- There’s a need for one particular leader of the group;
- Things need to be done quickly;
- The project has strict, set deadlines.
Teams are good for projects where:
- Individual goals aren’t as important as the end result;
- Team members can claim tasks themselves;
- There is no need for a single leader/decision-maker;
- There is more time to finish tasks;
- The project has a specific timeline but with a little more breathing room.
Reading both these lists, you should get an idea of which of these two groups describes your projects better. However, a lot of business owners will prefer to have teams over workgroups, as they tend to be more collaborative and overcome issues easier.
After hearing so many success stories of big companies that made it through some tough times thanks to teamwork, it’s no wonder it’s such a sought-after concept in the modern-day office. But, how exactly does it work?
The importance of teamwork in the workplace
Just like a sports team wanting to win a match, the employees want to see the business thrive. Similarly to a trophy and a high ranking on a roster, it brings its own benefits: raises, better working conditions, days off, promotions, etc.
With successful teamwork, a company can rise above and beyond its mission and vision. And as cheesy as it can sound, successful workplace teamwork pushes forward the personal development of everyone involved.
Well, this occurs because:
🔷 Teamwork builds and boosts office morale
Employees don’t need to go out for drinks or hang out personally to be effective teammates. In fact, the common thread that should connect them in the office is knowing each of them is an important part of the whole. When everyone feels like their presence and work not only matters but also helps their colleagues, you have one happy employee.
🔷 Teamwork provides a support system
When teamwork culture is nurtured the right way, it creates a great support system. People help each other with minor work issues, meet deadlines sooner, and are generally more likely to reach out and be honest about any mistakes. This begins to transfer to their personal life as well.
🔷 Teamwork is a constant learning environment
Contrary to popular belief, some conflict and differences in opinion in the workplace are fertile ground for improvement. This kind of environment breeds good ideas and gets people to consider other perspectives and approaches to common problems.
Why does teamwork seem difficult to achieve?
Now, everything we’ve said so far makes it seem like teamwork is key to a tight-knit workforce. And on paper, the benefits are indisputable.
But in most cases, transforming a group of employees into a team can be extremely difficult for multiple reasons:
- There are vast differences in personality types
- The issue of proximity
- Company changes
- Lack of self-awareness
1. There are vast differences in personality types
We are all so different in the way we do things, perceive them, which ideals we uphold, and it all transfers to our workplace. These things alone can create friction among employees, or in other cases – cliques. With such a starting point, it can be very difficult to achieve unity.
How will you know who goes along and who has the potential to blow up at another?
Personalities clash and click in ways we can’t predict. This is why, in recent years, there has been an upsurge in doing more professional assessments of employee personalities. The now-famous Myers Briggs personality test is globally used by HR to assess their employees.
It helps both HR and managers and employees themselves understand what kind of workers they are, the ways in which they accept and give criticism, how they learn, etc. In essence, this provides invaluable insight when assembling teams.
2. The lack of physical proximity
Remote teams suffer greatly from this handicap. People have an innate desire to connect and belong to a group. And despite living in a digital age, we still prefer face-to-face communication. After all, body language accounts for an astounding 93% of our communication!
People connect better when they’re in each other’s presence. Two colleagues who sit across each other are likely to communicate easier and avoid misunderstandings than those who can only see each other’s chat messages. We know from experience how much of the message gets lost in texts, chats, and emails.
While it’s hard to achieve perfection trying to connect remote workers, you can still have high functioning remote teams. If this topic is of special interest to you, we have further reading in our post that discusses remote team management.
3. Difficulty adapting to company changes
The internal structure of a company very much dictates how teams will operate.
Imagine having several teams and each of them works like a dream. They’re in sync, the projects are running smoothly, problems are being solved relatively quickly and without a hitch…
But then comes a change – some team members leave the company, or there is a need for a switch-up of team members due to a new project or deadline. And all of a sudden, there’s unrest between teams because people have grown accustomed to different modes of work. There is no universal set of rules and ideals to go by.
Elaine Pulakos wrote about companies that employ what she calls “ARA – Adaptability, Resilience and Agility”. Three qualities that ensure the workforce withstands any and all changes and bounces back as quickly as possible.
- Adaptability = reacting to change and accepting it. Realizing the change that occurred and finding ways to work within new shifts. Also handling stress.
- Resilience = the ability to slowly ease into the new state and actively try to reach equilibrium.
- Agility = proactively changing the course, finding new strategies and focusing on the new goal.
When a company instills these or similar values in its employees, it becomes much easier to handle change and not buckle under stress. So instead of making every team function for themselves, enable each employee to work in any combination.
4. There’s potential lack of self-awareness
You have probably worked with people who seem very defensive when receiving criticism, are more likely to put blame on factors other than themselves, or think they can do no wrong.
These kinds of people are the first to cause friction within a team. Their fear of failure and public shame makes them shirk accountability for their actions. And before you jump to any conclusions – a Harvard Business Review study had famously proved that only 10-15% of employees within a company are actually self-aware.
A lot of team members will be aware of their strengths and abilities but ignore their weaknesses. For teams, this is bad because they won’t know where to jump in and compensate when problems arise. This is why self-awareness is one of the biggest hurdles to cross.
With a time tracker like Clockify, you can solve this issue by simply creating projects within the software, and assign team members to their tasks/roles. Then, as they track their time, you have complete transparency over who is doing what at any given time. The more transparency there is, the less finger-pointing incidents.
How to promote effective teamwork in your organization
Now that we’ve discussed what teamwork actually is, and what poses problems for successfully nurturing it in the office, what can you actually do to promote it?
The five most important things needed for effective teamwork are to:
- Have a common goal
- Allow for decision freedom/independence
- Nurture and normalize transparency
- Don’t be too on the nose about it
- Don’t try to prevent conflict – mitigate it
1. Have a common goal
Your employees should know how each of them contributes to the bigger picture, as well as how their skills complement one another. They shouldn’t just mind their own business and look at their own tasks. Respectful and mindful involvement in the collective products will push that mutual accountability.
2. Allow for decision freedom/independence
This is the leadership that we mentioned. By taking a single leader out of the picture, you’re allowing for shared responsibility. Naturally, there will be individuals who will rise up as leaders of a sort. But so long as the decision-making and problem-solving processes are done together, there’s no cause for concern. Independence breeds confidence and a greater sense of connection.
3. Nurture and normalize transparency
When we talked about the global lack of self-awareness, we briefly touched on the fear of failure. This is where transparency comes in. Everyone should be able to know who is doing what. And when mistakes are made, they should be addressed respectfully, without pressure, and with focus on solving the problem instead of chastising the culprit. When we concentrate more on the person behind the mistake than on finding the solution, we unknowingly ostracize them. Which makes them more likely to hide their mistakes next time or deflect responsibility completely.
4. Don’t be too on the nose about it
People don’t respond very well to change if it comes in droves, and out of nowhere. You can start with a few out-of-work activities and get a feel for what everyone is like.
Nurturing teamwork is a constant work in progress. There will be no overnight results, so prepare for that. Subtle changes in the work dynamics will be accepted better and cause the least backlash.
5. Don’t try to prevent conflict – mitigate it
We come in all shapes, sizes and with a myriad of different personalities. It’s only natural some of us will cooperate better, while others will clash more often. Looking into online MBTI tests and engaging your HR or professional coaches to discuss office communication can help greatly. Conflict breeds new ideas and expands the perceptions of others. It can be good and constructive when solved with dialogue instead of office outbursts.
Not every group of employees has the potential to become a large, high-functioning team. Which is why it’s important not to enforce it by all means, or you’ll run into a significant amount of pushback. It’s all about finding out the kinds of personalities they all possess, to know in what ways they work and learn. Then you can move on to creating an environment that supports transparency, personal growth, and which is focused on a common goal instead of individual ones. Give your employees a reason to feel like a part of a whole.