While many will happily put down on their CV that they ‘work well in a team’, putting it down on paper and actually being capable of it, are two different things. Usually we’ll say we can just because it sounds good and we’re more likely to get a job or be called on to take on an important task at work. Other times, we just like the idea that we’re popular, friendly and can get on with others. It can more difficult than it seems, which is why from an early age, we are placed in groups so we can practise, like on sports day or as we progress through school and university. Some people find that they work well on their own and can’t relinquish control easily, which can pose a problem.
In a workplace environment, we may often be called upon to work closely with our fellow-colleagues on a particular project, which is what this article will address. Other times, these tips may just be handy when it comes to working alongside others in a company or workspace.
1) Picking the Team
Just like picking teams for football when you were younger, you can get off to a great start if you’re able to put a team together. So ideally, find yourself in a position whereby you have the discretion to do so. If you’re not in a lead role, and are instead placed in a team, then this is trickier. If you’re in charge of assembling a team, assess all the objectives of the project, and find a mix of people who can each approach and help in achieving said objectives. This will require assessing what each person’s strength is, and where someone else can help them on something they are not so strong at. It can be a thankless task if you only have so many spots and more candidates to choose from, so you’ll have to show some ruthlessness.
In school, there was always one person who contributed nothing to the project and got by on the work of others. You don’t want this to happen here or you risk them receiving plaudits from those in higher positions when you deserve that credit (come promotion-time, this can count against you). To avoid this, and any miscommunication, ensure everyone has each other’s contact information and can be reached at reasonable times. If someone is sick, then their half of the work has to be able to be picked up easily by the others, seamlessly. When you all go away to work on your own, people will work at various times according to their own workload and lifestyles, so don’t assume everyone will be free to speak when you are; an email may be necessary. If you are required to perform a presentation, making sure you can reach each other if someone can’t make it, is vital or else you risk looking unprofessional. Usually, a mobile phone number and email address will suffice.
If you do come across problems either individually or as a group, address them as soon as possible. If they go unaddressed, or made public, then they build up and any issues will take longer to address. If things aren’t addressed in a public forum within the group, then you risk people breaking off into clusters and talking amongst themselves which creates a negative and divided dynamic. Some group members may be shy or non-confrontational, so have some sort of leader or protocol in place, either within the group or externally, whom they can go to anonymously and privately to speak with. You want your team to be happy at all times (within reason) because a content will group will work harder.
If time allows and you don’t have a deadline coming up immediately, then take some time to socialise. It may very well be the first time you work with certain members of your group, and it can afford you the opportunity to get to know them away from work. A break, whether something simple like a meal or a drink can refresh the mind, so it approaches a task reinvigorated and with new insight. It’s also a great way to see what makes people tick, and then delegate tasks accordingly. Alternatively, you can plan a social after the project is complete so there is something to look forward to and work towards at the end.
You can’t expect every team project to be perfect, and there will always be kinks that can be worked on in the future. This is important, as it is likely that you’ll be asked to work with the same individuals in the future; so you need to take what you’ve learned during one project and consider it in the future. This may be best a week or two after the project is complete to give some perspective. Either you can come together as a team to discuss what worked and didn’t work, or you can meet privately with a supervisor or manager. This is where techniques such as 360 feedback (whereby someone is given feedback by all of those around them in a given environment rather than just from above through reports) can be a productive resource to call upon. It can work the other way round, where by putting people in teams can benefit this technique as well and provide individuals with a more well-rounded, thorough form of constructive criticism and assessment.
Paul is a keen volunteer, and has worked in a few different workplace environments, so appreciates that no team or project is exactly the same; each has it’s own challenges. As a society administrator at university, he has dealt with having a group report to him and delegate tasks. This is all in addition to working in groups during his degree.