It sounds like an interview question, doesn’t it? Years ago, if I were asked the question, I would reply, “It is about people working together toward a common goal.” And yes, that’s true. But when I became a manager, my viewpoint on that changed a great deal. I was making sure others were working as team members, and the manager too, was equally just as hands-on with the rest of the people working. As a manager, I was instructed to ensure that the people under me learned to do the job as good as I could and that they stayed motivated. This too was part of “teamwork”. Suddenly, I realized teamwork wasn’t at all just a bunch of ants doing something. The “big ants” also worked, but they were in charge of something else – making things happen.
Types of Teamwork
But wait, there’s more to it than that, even. I’ve recently had the enjoyable experience of being able to train someone and essentially, I was teaching teamwork also. Where I work, often employees seem as if they are thrown in and forced to drown in the process – it is a very “do or die approach”. They are almost always hastily shown how to handle the job and learning happens as things happen. Most of the time, the employee starts off by working in one specific team role and stays there – with the intent of following what they were directed to do. This continues until they feel more confident to reach out and start seeing the big picture and eventually help others outside of their own roles while still maintaining their own position. However, with this new employee that I’ve had to train – she sees the world in a completely different way – and that difference is her viewpoint on teamwork.
This new employee – while she is well-meaning and definitely interested in being a team player, seems completely unable to comprehend how teamwork works. Yes, she wants to be in the team and she is always found running around offering help and asking lots of questions. However, the moment the work level becomes something great enough to where one person cannot handle it all alone, and then someone like myself jumps in to help her as a fellow team member- that is when she is apologizing for not doing more, even dropping what she was doing, and completely unable to focus on handling her own workload that she had at the moment. It seems she really doesn’t understand how two or more people work together!
Most employees that I have seen who have a weak concept of teamwork will instead cluster up and finish off the work together. They tend to think something like this: “I have x amount of things to be completed. Let’s tackle this together and it will be over sooner.” Having a lot of food service experience, I can definitely relate with one remark made by Rick Lee in his blog, Hooray for Teamwork in Web Design: “In my time as a web designer I’ve faced the extremes of being overwhelmed from start to finish as well as having too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Ultimately yes, sometimes adding more manpower is necessary. But often the cluster-type workers don’t think very far ahead. When the workloads are medium sized or even large sized, it is sometimes better to divide the work into different tasks rather than have everyone do one thing because if there is no head to the entire process, the next thing waiting in line to be done might end up being severely neglected. Ultimately, I guess I just summarized how to think like a manager. But it still surprised me recently to see somebody who eagerly gets started working independently along with such a strong work ethic, yet somehow still sees no farther than what they have in their hands.
Making Teamwork Happen
The solution to the enthusiastic employee who had no idea what to do was simple: her roles had to defined to her because she kept being convinced she had to do everything. Wikihow sums it up best as to what to further keep in mind:
- It’s better to accidentally over-communicate than to risk under-communicating.
- Try to understand every aspect of the issue at hand.
- Clarify errors and clear up misunderstandings as soon as they arise.
- Reinforce teamwork and cooperation, and recognize your employees’ efforts.
Sometimes this requires patience. But I think it’s always worth it! The quality of work produced in the long run will show for it when team players are happy.
The Cost of Teamwork
Lastly, a point perhaps not the most obvious when discussing teamwork itself is how the team players themselves can cost a company literally (in terms of paying the employees) and in time (as in getting a finished product out when anticipated). When it comes to web design, the developing process might find some snags along the way in the sense that not everybody may agree on how they want their project to come out or, in the case of a one-person job for a freelance web designer, the finished work might take longer than anticipated because, well, then it’s just one person doing everything. Collaborating together in terms of creativity is still valuable however, because it can add quality and a better user experience from having so many minds put together to think about the project.