Jan 14 2011

There is no ‘I’ in Team: The Basics of Teamwork

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In the expansive and dynamic field of web design and development, there are often times when we find ourselves working as part of a team, rather than on a more isolated, lone wolf kind of project. So when we find ourselves playing under these circumstances, then we need to be at our best to ensure that we are in fact being a good team player.

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One that is contributing to the project and the work being done, instead of being a hindrance or somewhat of a hurdle that must be overcome to complete the task in an effective and timely manner. What we have to remember is that when we are working alone we are essentially the entire machine, but as a member of a team we are simply a cog in the machine that has to fit and work with the other cogs to make the machine function.


Each cog has to work together to make the team work.
Image Credit

This means that we are dealing with sort of a different beast when we are assigned to a team, and that our approach should be adjusted accordingly. Now this is not always an easy adjustment for some of us to make, and so we end up playing less than spectacularly with others in these professional settings. Hopefully, that is where this post will come to help.

By highlighting and discussing the various ways that we can best work within a team environment, perhaps there will be areas in our own work that we will recognize where we have some room for improvements. Below we have done just that. But before we dive head first into the behavioral models for success, we are first going to make an important stop off at some warning signs that can spell trouble for your team.

Watch for the Warning Signs

Now before we figure out how to effectively integrate ourselves into a team environment, we want to be sure that we can identify some of the major warning signs that will let us know there is a problem developing within your team. Being able to read people or situations is an important skill in many professional landscapes, and this happens to be one of them.

When you are working on projects where you are more riding solo, then you know what bothers you and what issues that arise are ones that will prove problematic to your progress. However, when you are working on a team, you cannot so easily discern when there is a proverbial roadblock in your way. So you have to be able to read the situation and other players.


You have to keep a watch out for the proverbial roadblocks that can crop up in the way of your team. Image Credit

Through being able to read the other members of the team, you can get a sense for how each member is fitting in with the others through body language, tones, and attitudes. As the various members interact with one another, you can get a sense for how they are getting along and how this compatibility plays into the team’s progress.

Pay attention to the different tones and attitudes that are carried by each of the statements made between the members of the team, for they can be even more telling than the words being used. If certain members of the team are playful in nature with most other members of the team, but not with all, then there is potential for issue interference to rear its ugly head. These kinds of warning signs are not always indicators that a problem will arise, but it certainly has the groundwork laid for it.

There are also other warning signs that you can pick up on by reading the situations surrounding the team interactions and overall project progress. In fact, many of these markers in the road are strong indicators that some sort of corrective action is needed to guarantee a successful outcome for your project. The easiest of these indicators to identify, that should have alarms bells going off left and right, is an overall decline in productivity.

This is a major sign of trouble in your team ranks for sure. Also, as indicators go, picking up on a lack of communication or commitment from any member of the team, is also a signal that should not be ignored. These issues may seem minor at first, but they have the capacity to wreak all kinds of chaos within your team.

Speaking of a sense of lacking sending up a red flag or warning, if you begin to pick up on a lack of trust between members of your team, then troubled waters may lay ahead. In order for members of your team to be able to work together effectively, they have to trust one another, or at least trust that each member of the team is going to be able to hold up their end of the project as professionally and skillfully as everyone else.

Also, low morale among the members of the team can also weigh down your progress and cause further issues to rise within the team. So any morale drops should be addressed as soon as they are observed to prevent them from getting out of hand.


Low morale among the team is usually easy to spot and can stop your progress in its tracks. Image Credit

As warning signs go, another that can crop up from time to time and cause issues within your team ranks, is a resistance to compromise. Now this can be a major wrench thrown in to the works for sure. Just as everyone on the team needs to trust that each member will perform their part of the task at hand, each member needs to feel that there is a combined sense of teamwork underlying every step of the process.

That each member is willing to bend and compromise with the will of the group to do what works best for the project. This may also manifest itself in a more hostile light, which any sign of hostility is another warning sign that should never be ignored. Any disruption to the smooth team atmosphere is toxic in team settings and should never go unaddressed.

Summary of Things to Look Out For:

  • Pay attention to changes in body language.
  • Watch for alterations in attitudes.
  • Monitor tones of voice and messages for any hints of trouble.
  • Keep an eye out for drops in productivity.
  • Take note of declines in any team members commitment to the project.
  • Look for a lack of communication within the team.
  • Make sure that any lack of trust is noted and dealt with as well.
  • Also be on the look out for low morale in your team.
  • Pay attention to anyone on the team who is resistant to compromise, it could spell trouble.
  • Stay on top of the hostility level among the team, any spikes can mean difficult times ahead.

Behavioral Roadmaps

Now we come to the section of the post, where we examine some of the various behaviors to maintain and steps to take if you want to try and get the most out of all your team ventures. Now naturally, unless we are in the position of a team leader, then we might not be in a position to guarantee these things from each member of the team, but as long as we maintain the right course and attitude then others are likely to follow in suit. Besides, it is a well known fact that the only person we have full control over, is ourselves.

Therefore as long as we stick to these helpful hints, we know that our contributions to the team will always be useful pushes for progress. So now we take a look at each of the ways that we can impact the team, in order to discern the best ways to try and integrate ourselves into the team.

Communication

First and foremost we are going to look at the driving force of any team project, communication. Naturally, this is a vital element at play in any and every team environment you happen to be, and it requires that you not only strive to be as respectful as you can be when communicating with other members of your team, but you are also going to want to ensure the effectiveness and regularity of said communications as well.

If respect is not guiding each of our team interactions, then the more than likely, our team members are not going to want to interact with one another. This is completely detrimental to the outcome of the project and survival of the team!


Communication between the team members should always be respectful and should not be allowed to degrade into a shouting match. Image Credit

It is also important to bare in mind that teams cannot survive a project if the communication between team members is in any way hindered or unclear. So this is another area of your comms to keep in mind. Take the necessary time to formulate and completely organize your thoughts ahead of any scheduled team meetings, before you interact with the others to communicate your ideas.

This way you can be sure that any discussions are easy to follow, and this will help to keep the dialog on track as well. Also, remember to be as concise and to the point as possible, not allowing for multiple deviations so that the point gets lost in the wordplay.

In Short:

  • Ensure regular communication between team members to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Keep all communications between team members respectful.
  • Be as clear as you can when communicating ideas to others in the team.
  • Organize your thoughts before meetings to keep everything on track.
  • Be concise, and try not to stray from the point you are attempting to make.

Trust

Next up we are going to look at a different element that we must have in place and nurture so that we can ensure the most effective and productive atmosphere for our team to thrive in. This element is trust. Without which our team projects are less likely to run as smooth, and instead be littered with problematic potholes in the road ahead.

As previously touched on, if each member of the team cannot be trusted by the others to live up to the expectations set upon each them from the beginning, then your project is bound to be stalled a time or two because of this elemental imbalance. Making sure that everyone is on the same page as far as what is expected of them is important for establishing and building this trust.

Not only that, but we have to work to be able to trust the others in the team to honor the implicit non-disclosure teamwork clause that many like to adhere to when working on a new project. There is often an unspoken air of secrecy attached to a new project, wherein we tend to like to progress to a certain point, or even to the finish, before we begin revealing bits about it to the community.

This is not always the case, but sometimes, in order to ensure the originality of a concept we like to play it close to the chest, and we need to know that the others we are working with will do the same. Trust exercises can help with team building and management, but do not discount the contribution communication plays here as well.

In Short:

  • Foster an open environment in which team members can easily share with one another.
  • Make sure each team member knows what is expected of them.
  • Be sure that everyone on the team knows how guarded the concepts and project should be with regards to outsiders.
  • Use trust exercises if necessary to help build up this important aspect of teamwork.

Expertise

As we begin working within a team atmosphere, another important element to have firmly in place is everyone’s expertise. Naturally there is likely going to be some area of crossover, but all in all you want to be sure that each member of the team plays to their strengths and varying skillsets.

Each person that takes up a place on the team should be able to easily identify their strengths and weaknesses themselves, so that they can help ensure that they are being used in the most effective way possible. This is not something that should be left up to a team leader to completely suss out and assign. Instead, we should go into a team atmosphere knowing where we would find the most comfortable and productive fit, and let the others know this.


Each member of the team is their very own puzzle piece, and we need to know where we fit. Image Credit

Now while having some background in a particular area might qualify you to handle a few concerns in that vein, there is a big difference in having somewhat of a grip on something, and having expertise with regards to it. As much as possible, you want to keep your teammates playing to their areas of expertise to keep the team progressing nicely towards the outcome of the project, rather than having a few of them dragging down the rest by being assigned to tasks they are not completely tempered to take on. Teams tend to thrive more when each member is completely engaged and challenged by the task at hand. Usually the best way to ensure this engagement is to keep them working where they work the best.

In Short:

  • Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and how they relate to the rest of the team and the project.
  • This is not the time or place for exaggerating your skillsets…be honest about where you work best.
  • Assign the project tasks according to these expertise levels when you can.
  • Know the difference between subject knowledge and subject expertise.
  • Keep your team engaged and challenged, but not out of the reach of their levels of expertise.

Conflict Resolution

Another very important element of keeping your team on target and ensuring that you are able to consistently meet your project deadlines, is having a comprehensive conflict resolution system in place. With varying personality types and habits all coming together in one place, chances are, your team is going to experience an occasional bump in the road of harmony.

This is not a sign that your team is destined for failure, or that they are not going to be able to work side by side. It is merely a sign that each member of the team is human. Unfortunately, we all have our buttons that can be pressed which make us react less than reasonably, and in a team environment, you have to expect that one or two might get pushed.

Which is why it is not only vital to have a system in place, ready to handle these instances as they arise, but you also have to be sure you remain on top of them. If conflicts arise between members of the team, then the project will begin to suffer the longer these problems are allowed to persist. By keeping on top of any conflicts that may present themselves, you are not only doing what is best for the project, but also for the continuation of the team.

Get in there and get to the source of the problem immediately, without giving it time to root and grow larger. Causing further disruptions and distractions from the project and the endgame the whole team should be focused on.

In Short:

  • Have a conflict resolution system in place at all times.
  • Be aware of the various personality traits and types that you are working with to know better how to approach any rising conflicts.
  • Handle any conflicts that arise immediately before they have an opportunity to get worse.
  • Handle with care, and ensure that all parties involved are satisfied with the outcome.

Ego

Whenever you are working as part of a team, another aspect of your personality to keep an eye on and keep in check, is your ego. As delicate as these situations can be sometimes, egos coming into the equation can seriously upset the flow and functionality of your entire team.

As we said before, it is imperative to know your strengths and to be able to identify them to the other members of your team, but there is a way to this without egotistically alienating them. It should never be about personal boasting and how much the team needs a titan like you, but more about what you can bring to the table to help the team and project thrive.

This is not to say that you fall into some self-deprecating pit of despair and undersell yourself for fear of coming across as boastful. But most of us are able to distinguish between someone humbly explaining their level of skills and someone looking to simply impress those around them through their tireless tales of triumph.

Once again, we have to remember that we are here to serve the project and the team, not simply to serve ourselves or our own reputations. When we let our personal egos get in the way of that, we are seeking to make the project all about us, or worse, to reflect no one but us to the user through the outcome. Neither of which is usually a workable scenario for the team.

In Short:

  • Keep your ego in check when working in a team environment.
  • Do not make it about how badly the team needs you, make it about how well you can serve the project and team.
  • Remember that it is all about the project, not about any sort of personal victories.
  • No one person should stand out from the rest in the team.

Adaptation

Finally, the last area that we are going to cover when it comes to effectively functioning as part of a team deals with adaptation. Remembering that there are numerous areas to watch out for when you step into the team arena, adaptability is one of the most important.

Having any one member of the team be rigid when it comes to making the pieces fit together, is not going to make the experience a pleasant one for any of the people involved. So we want to bring the most adaptable version of ourselves to the table so that we are not the ones causing the team and the project unnecessary stress and delays.

Being able to compromise is key when it comes to working with others, so anytime one takes a position up as part of a team then they should expect this element to play a heavy role before the project is all said and done. Granted there are going to be concepts and ideas that you have for the project that are worth fighting for, but only to a point.

If the rest of the team does not see the same value and merit in working with you on this point, then after you have clearly made your case, it is time to compromise and let it go. Perhaps save it for another project at a later date. There is no sense in continuing to bog down your team efforts and keep the deadline on hold because you are too attached to that one particular idea.

In Short:

  • Be adaptable, not rigid when it comes to the project.
  • Allow for compromises to be made in the name of progress, rather than clinging to an idea the others disagree on.
  • Save ideas for future projects rather than holding up this project until everyone sees things your way.
  • Pick your battles, and know how long to push, without becoming pushy.

All in All

Working in a team environment can be hugely rewarding, or endlessly taxing depending on the way each member of the team integrates themselves into this atmosphere. You want to get out of the experience that which is equal to what you put into it, and in order for that to happen, you need each member of the team to come to the table ready and willing to work as a member of that team.

Hopefully the ideas discussed in this post have helped to put some of us on better ground to start from as we dive in. What areas or aspects do you think should have been included, or ideas that should have been discussed as well?

Consider Some of Our Previous Posts:

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About the Author

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.

Comments and Discussions
  • Matthijn Dijkstra, 14 January 2011

    There is an ‘i’ in team. ;)

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4131/4953310961_54a6d99e1a_z.jpg

  • Vivek Parmar, 14 January 2011

    no one is perfect and team is about which makes everything perfect. Team effort and team work produce amazing work as compared to individual.

  • Wolfy, 14 January 2011

    Yes, compare to be isolation, I prefer team work, more brain storm and more challenge, a great team work will let everyone in the team and bring team forward everyday, care about each other and share with each other and help with each other, encouragement and trust and faith.
    Thank you for sharing this article.
    PS: I do think there is “i” in the team too, that makes team shining not like robot.

  • Ben, 14 January 2011

    There is no team without iiiii’s

  • DPP, 15 January 2011

    Teams are good for brainstorming and ideas in many cases, the only problem with team is everyone wants to be a leader. We have all worked in teams and I think its fair to say we have all come across that one person who feels they are the real brains and creator of the entire project who is quite happy to mention the odd name for their contribution.

    If you have worked in a team and disagree with the above then the chances are you were that person!

  • Jitendra Kumar, 15 January 2011

    I was not expecting such a detailed teamwork understanding from a design blog. very well written and I find myself in agreement with everything that is written here. I beleive that in team you need to understand and respect everyone and motivate them to bring their ideas..

  • Sarah Lynn, 15 January 2011

    This is an excellent article! Working on a team can be a really great experience or an extremely poor one, depending on the chemistry of the team members. Having a patient leader who can listen and delegate professionally is key in having a successful team. I’ve been involved in both types of groups and can tell you many of the things you have pointed out are spot on. Being able to read people is important, but sometimes if you are unable to, it’s best step carefully. Not everyone lives with their life story hanging off their sleeve.

  • ravi, 15 January 2011

    i think the guy in the pic is not communicating at all, there in no “eye contact” lol :)

  • Rana Mukherjee, 17 January 2011

    I do appreciate and agree with Robert. As a team team leader I fill the importance of a team.

  • Ash Menon, 17 January 2011

    Matthijn, that link was priceless!

    While I did enjoy the post, Robert, I think perhaps this subject could have benefited more by being a post series. By the time I finished the ‘trust’ section I was kinda mindlessly scrolling… I enjoyed all the parts that I DID read, though :P

  • James Weinert RN, 26 March 2012

    A wonderfully written Blog covering all important basics of Teamwork. My own experience has shown we much first be aware of who We are and Always treat others with respect. Teams survive; with of Team we die.

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