17 May 2010



Teamwork is defined as: "co-operation between those who are working on a task." Commonly teamwork is understood as co-operation and willingness to work together. For example we often use the phrase:" he or she is a good team player", meaning that they have the interests of the team at heart, working for the good of the team.

Teamwork though is not exclusive to teams. You can have good teamwork in a committee which is not necessarily a team. Teamwork then, as in co-operation and effective working together, may exist in groups which are not necessarily a team.

To define teamwork it may be worth clarifying what it isn't and thinking about the distinction between teams and teamwork. In our view a team is in place when individual strengths and skills are combined with teamwork in pursuing a common direction or cause to produce meaningful results for the team members and the organization. A team combines individual strengths with a shared commitment to performance; it's not just about getting on well together. Teamwork is absolutely necessary, in fact it is fundamental to a team, but teamwork is not sufficient of it self for a group of people to be called a team. Only when teamwork is joined with the skills and strengths of individual team members with shared goals and a focus on collective performance do you start to see the benefits of a team at work.
Why does this matter? Well language can sometimes be confusing and teamwork is perhaps more helpfully understood as only being a part of what is needed to having effective teams.

Based on this understanding of teams and teamwork, whilst you can't have a team without teamwork, you can have teamwork without being a team!

Define teamwork: what you value and what you do
So having clarified the difference between a team and teamwork, how should we then define teamwork? One way is to think of teamwork is as it is often commonly understood, as both an attitude and a set of behaviors. It is about how people work together effectively. Attitudes come from what you value and are expressed in how you behave. If you place a high regard on such things as team spirit, valuing and respecting others, and that together you can achieve much more than being apart, then what you do should reflect that, you behave accordingly.

The French language has a wonderful phrase for teamwork: esprit de corps. The spirit of a group that makes the members want to succeed. There is a sense of unity, of enthusiasm shared in common interests and responsibilities.
This is one of the reasons we suggest that you define teamwork together with your team, because it is your own shared understanding and commitment to behaviors which will make teamwork work.

Think for a moment about what you value about teamwork?

Here are some thoughts and ideas which might help your thinking. Teamwork suggests that people work in an atmosphere of mutual support and trust, working together cohesively, with good inter-group relations. Each other's strengths are valued. It should also foster an increasing maturity of relationship, where people are free to disagree constructively, and where both support and challenge are a part of helping teams work.

When teamwork is in place we tend to see:
• Everybody pulling their weight
• Everyone pulling in the same direction
• Depending on your colleagues to deliver what they said
• Getting help when it's needed,
• Sharing an exciting vision of the future.
• Co-operation and blending of each others strengths

When teamwork is flourishing it's supported by behaviors demonstrating what we value such as:
• Actively listening,
• Giving the benefit of the doubt,
• Supporting others,
• Providing encouragement,
• Persuading and building consensus,
• Resolving conflict,
• Communicating openly.

Teamwork perhaps then is a group of people working together cohesively, creating a great spirit and working atmosphere, and supporting each other so that their strengths combine to enhance what they do.

Define teamwork: words are not enough.
To define teamwork then this article is a good place to start (we have deliberately kept a broad and hopefully rich sense of what teamwork is), but really it is best to build a shared understanding in your team, and more widely in your organization of what teamwork means in your context. That's because words are not enough. To begin to build teamwork into what you do, then as individuals you need to share your understanding of teamwork and agree together what you value. That is exactly what our "teamwork definition" tool is designed to do.

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