Teamwork is a Skill. It Takes Practice!

Everyone wants to lead, or be a member of a high-performing team. That’s why you’ll see organizations putting a lot of effort into defining roles, setting goals, and hiring the right people. But not every team engages in teamwork, and throwing together a great bunch of people offers no guarantee that they’ll work together productively.

“There are a whole set of skills to being a part of a team,” says Ann Quiroz Gates, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at El Paso. “Our education typically does not include frameworks for learning and practicing how to work in teams. We are expected to know how to do it.”

In a recent women’s leadership webinar, I interviewed Gates, who has researched how effective scientific and engineering teams are built, and asked her to describe some common barriers to teamwork.

Here are four reasons why teamwork breaks down.

1) Team members are in it for themselves.

One pitfall, according to Gates, lies in not recognizing that one’s success is dependent upon the success of other members of the team. High-achieving teams understand that “we’re in this together” but teams fall apart when people are in it for themselves.

When team members approach their work with a “me-first” mentality, Gates says, “You are not building positive interdependence and recognizing that the success of the project is dependent upon everyone contributing.”

To create a team culture that fosters high performance, remind people that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, and that driving toward team success is more important than individual wins.

2) The team does not acknowledge each member’s contribution.

“You have to know and acknowledge what everyone brings to the team,” says Gates. “And there are so many skills that make a difference.” Teams break down when there’s no recognition of the ways in which team members contribute.

It’s important to notice, understand, and acknowledge each individual’s contribution. “Ask yourself, ‘How do I acknowledge what people bring?’” advises Gates. ‘What were people doing that made the team effective? How do I recognize their contributions?’”

3) People don’t listen to each other.

Another behavior that adds to a team’s demise is not listening. In high-performing settings, Gates observes, there’s often someone who is truly listening to the other team members. “Perhaps, they’re paraphrasing what someone says or validating what they have said,” says Gates.

Gates discovered that training in listening skills can have a big impact on a team’s effectiveness. “Encourage the group to take time to think about what a person is trying to convey, before coming up with reasons why that won’t work or why that’s not an appropriate approach. Also, asking questions while seeking clarification is another very important listening skill,” she says.

4) Team members reacting negatively to constructive criticism.

If a person feels like they’re being critiqued, what typically happens, according to Gates, is that they react to that criticism by withdrawing their cooperation. “They may say, ‘I’m going to stop contributing, because I’m feeling like I’m providing input and no one is validating it,’” Gates says. ‘They’re going to do what they want anyway so why should I invest any more time in the team?’”

The solution, says Gates, is twofold. Firstly, one needs to know how to provide constructive criticism, i.e., phrasing the critique so that it is not personalized or directed at the individual. Secondly, one needs to know how to accept critique. Learning and practicing the skill of constructive critique will create an environment in which team work improves and team members continue to contribute.

Teamwork Takes Practice

Is your team suffering from any of these breakdowns? Then use the above list of reasons why teamwork breaks down as a guide to pinpoint areas for improvement. As Gates likes to say, “You cannot become more effective if you do not reflect on what’s working and what’s not.”

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

25 Questions to Ask a Mentor

Whenever I’m asked “What are some of the best questions to ask a ...

25 Songs For Your Leadership Playlist

What are your all-time favorite leadership songs — the ones that make you ...

Four Types of Questions To Ask Your Mentor

Have conversations with your mentor gotten a bit repetitive lately? Perhaps you approached ...

How to Shut Down a Colleague Who Takes Credit for Your Work

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a meeting and the unthinkable ...

11 Leadership Lessons Learned

Here are 11 lessons I’ve learned about leadership—mostly from much-admired colleagues, and just ...

5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a manager and a leader? ...

100 Leadership Qualities

What are your leadership strengths? That’s a question I ask in a survey ...

15 Leadership Quotes to Help You be a Leader, Not a Manager

Sometimes you need a reminder and some inspiration to be a leader, not ...

10 Killer Leadership Skills: The Great Differentiators?

Last week at Hallmark I hosted a couple gentlemen from a partner company. ...

Influencing Without Authority—Using Your Six Sources of Influence

I am in the difficult situation of being unofficial project lead, responsible for ...

Leaderly Quote: The tasks you let go of…
Leaderly Quote: The tasks you let go of…

“Shoulds” are tasks or obligations we take on, accompanied by an inner monologue that goes,

How to Write a Simple and Beautiful Manifesto
How to Write a Simple and Beautiful Manifesto

Traditionally, a manifesto is a written statement where you publicly declare your… – Intentions (what

Leaderly Quote: Leadership is not about doing more
Leaderly Quote: Leadership is not about doing more

You probably already had a to-do list longer than a CVS receipt before this global

What’s on Your Not-To-Do List?
What’s on Your Not-To-Do List?

Leadership is not about doing more. It’s about switching from doing to leading. From this

100 Leadership Qualities: What’s Your Signature Style of Leading?
100 Leadership Qualities: What’s Your Signature Style of Leading?

There’s an entire industry of books and seminars founded on the assumption that if you

20 Leadership Quotes by Women to Inspire You in 2020
20 Leadership Quotes by Women to Inspire You in 2020

20 of our favorite leadership quotes by women At Be Leaderly, we’re on a mission

Happy Holidays 2019
Happy Holidays 2019

May your Holidays sparkle with moments of love, laughter, and goodwill, and may the year

5 Ways to Shift From Doing to Leading
5 Ways to Shift From Doing to Leading

To become a leader, there is a series of key shifts in mindset and behavior

You Do You: Claim Your Leadership Strengths
You Do You: Claim Your Leadership Strengths

We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses that we neglect to

Leaderly Quote: We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses…
Leaderly Quote: We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses…

We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses that we neglect to

At Be Leaderly, our mission is a simple one: To provide proven career strategies that help you lead, climb, and thrive as a rising woman of influence. If you’re ready to lead, we’re here to support and inspire you.

Copyright 2020, Be Leaderly