Search for "teamwork definition" and you'll quickly realize that there isn’t a commonly agreed definition of what is teamwork actually.
While many authors emphasize the importance of teamwork, they don't provide a clear and straightforward definition of teamwork. Here are a handful of definitions we managed to find:
Teamwork is the process of working collaboratively with a group of people in order to achieve a goal. Teamwork means that people will try to cooperate, using their individual skills and providing constructive feedback, despite any personal conflict between individuals. - BussinesDictionary
Teamwork is a cooperative process that allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results. - J. Scarnati
Team has a common goal or purpose where team members can develop effective, mutual relationships to achieve team goals. Teamwork relies upon individuals working together in a cooperative environment to achieve common team goals through sharing knowledge and skills. P. Harris & K. Harris
Lack of one true definition proves that it is more important to know the purpose of teamwork than trying to define teamwork.
Six key attributes of successful teamwork
According to a case study conducted by P. Tarricone and J. Luca of Edith Cowan University, there are six key attributes of successful teamwork:
Commitment to team success
Team members should share common goals, values, beliefs, as well as commitment and motivation to succeed; for example, each team member has to strive for perfection - which means that if developers have superb performance, designers have to keep up and vice versa.
There is no success for an individual if other members of the team fail; for example, it doesn’t matter that the design is sparkling - if the website crashes with every click, everyone loses.
Respect, support and realistic mutual expectations amongst team members are a must; for example, a team cannot expect an inexperienced junior web developer to pull the same weight as a senior one.
Giving and accepting feedback as well as cultivating team spirit of constructive criticism is paramount; for example, if a young designer willingly accepts more experienced colleagues advice, he may improve his overall performance which will benefit the team.
Appropriate team composition
Specific tasks are handled by specific roles, and specific roles require specific talents and skill sets; for example, a team that is made up solely of developers will create a functional app. Design, however, will probably be way below par.
Commitment to team leadership and accountability
Since team members expect certain freedom when it comes to decision-making, they are more likely to accept individual accountability and personal responsibility for their actions; for example, while team leader delegates tasks and keeps track of progress, it is up to designers and developers to use their skills and deliver the final product. They will often make high-risk/high-reward moves, and be more than willing to accept scolding if their "leap of faith" fails.
Advantages of Teamwork
Since teamwork provides mutual moral support and a greater sense of accomplishment, it is obvious that it very beneficial.
However, the real question is: what does your company get out of it? Why should you even bother?
Sometimes, you will handle projects that have unrealistic and non-negotiable deadlines. At those moments it isn’t enough to issue "all hands on deck" order but to delegate properly. When members use their experience, specialization and skill sets, targets will be achieved and tasks will be accomplished on time, with minimum errors.
Complement each other’s strengths
On the one hand, your company has a top-notch designer whose work will allow you to attract any client. However, he is irresponsible and always breaking deadlines. On the other hand, you have a mediocre designer - but he always delivers on time. By teaming them up, you will get the perfect combination: the former will contribute with excellent ideas, while the latter will make sure that work is done properly and on time. This is also known as the “buddy system”.
Innovation through constructive conflict
Need an immediate solution to the problem that everyone has been stuck with? Introduce a "wildcard" to the team. Clash of characters can cause constructive conflict and produce solutions that “groupthink” others haven’t even considered. Be wary however of long-term consequences: constructive conflict can easily transform to destructive, so the introduction of the “wildcard” should be considered only as a short-term solution.
Less employee turnover
A proper, well balanced and open-minded team is similar to your favorite bar - friendly and welcoming. The only difference is that guests (or members) don’t drink - they contribute to the company’s cause. By maintaining successful teamwork and positive atmosphere, you will reduce staff turnover and avoid costs of losing employees.
Instead of leading the everlasting recruitment campaign, you can cross-train your employees for roles outside their current responsibilities. For example, if your web designer gains basic web development skills, he will be able to pull some of the web developing colleague's weight and avoid a bottleneck in case of his absence.
Disadvantages of Teamwork
While teamwork has a lot of advantages, there are some disadvantages that you should be aware of.
Even though team members are encouraged to bond, things can sometimes go too far. If you notice that your team is neglecting alternative choices or takes irrational actions, it could be a sign they are suffering from Groupthink. Social psychologist Irving Janis has defined 8 symptoms of groupthink and determined that similar background, isolation from outside opinions, and lack of rules for decision making are connected to the appearance of this phenomenon.
Teamwork will peak only if each and every member is given a certain role, has a certain set of skills and is compatible with the rest of the team. But finding all pieces of the puzzle and fitting them together is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. When choosing players for your team, the best advice is to take it one step at the time and avoid hiring anyone you have doubts about.
If there is a great deal of difference in ideas and working methods among team members, even the "buddy system" will fail. Two designers with different abilities that complement each other will produce results. However, if their desires, preferences, and behavioral styles are too far apart, communication is constantly poor and there is a lot of uncertainty during cooperation, that team is destined to fail.
Evaluating an individual’s contribution
Since the team has shared responsibility, it is very difficult to determine if an individual has performed above or under expectations. Sometimes, this issue can result in employee dissatisfaction: if the individual has overperformed, he will be unhappy because he hasn’t been rewarded properly; if he has underperformed, his teammates will be discontent and might mutiny against his lack of contribution and extra work they have to handle.
There is NO proper method to measure an individual’s performance in the team, which is why many companies are using 360 reviews.
Analysis paralysis occurs when a situation is overanalyzed to the point where a person cannot make a decision nor take action. A sudden stop in decision making can cost your company time, money and, in certain cases, even reputation. In well balanced and functional teams it doesn’t and shouldn’t occur often, but when it does - it should be resolved as quickly as possible.
So what is teamwork actually? It’s simple: teamwork is a result of a healthy collective consciousness within the group, which is essential for the group’s transition into the team.
Teamwork is the foundation for productive collaboration and is critical for the success of the company.