Teamwork in the Workplace

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Discussions about teamwork in the workplace often revolve around a few central topics: effective communication, sharing a common goal, and solving problems. While each of these are absolutely essential in strong teams, one key often seems to be missing:

We think of teams as highly democratic entities where everyone contributes equally to complete a project. However, just like the Presidents and Prime Ministers that guide the world’s great democracies, a leader is essential to team success. In fact, the team at Eagle’s Flight considers leadership one of the seven cornerstones of teamwork. Without a clearly defined leader, the whole team foundation will crumble. Here’s why teamwork in the workplace must start with strong leadership:

1. Team Leaders Keep the Team Accountable

It’s far too easy to dodge responsibility in a team setting, since you can “hide” among your sea of colleagues. That’s where a leader comes in. In a team setting, a true team leader takes full responsibility for the team’s final results. Since a leader has so much on the line, he or she is extremely motivated to keep team members accountable for the work.

2. Team Leaders Empower Team Members

Being a leader on a team isn’t about concentrating power — it’s about giving away power. Yes, team leaders are responsible for assigning tasks to the team. Even more importantly, leaders must trust the skills and expertise of other team members. Through trust, leaders empower teams to carry out assigned tasks in the way that they see fit.

Why is trust so important? When other team members see that the leader has put his or her trust in a colleague, they won’t try to undermine or question that colleague. Plus, studies show that employee engagement is closely tied to the level of freedom and ownership that individuals are given. If you want team members to be engaged and excited about the project, leaders must empower members by easing up the reins.

3. Team Leaders Simplify and Streamline the Decision-making Process

Teams can avoid the power struggles commonly found in “equitable” teams with leaders in place. In these “equitable” or “leaderless” teams, members actually compete to gain authority and assert dominance.

Team leaders also make the decision-making process far more streamlined, since they have the final say. Leaderless teams may get stuck on making tough calls when members can’t come to a consensus and there’s no “tie-breaker” to turn to. In the meantime, the entire project — and even teamwork in the workplace overall — stalls.

Having a clear-headed colleague who’s clearly in charge simply makes teams…simpler.

4. Team Leaders Keep Projects Moving Forward

It’s hard to keep a group of people focused, so having someone make it their mission to do so is crucial to team success. A designated leader will move past any hiccups by initiating conversations about potential problems and steering the team back on track during meetings that start to go off the rails.

How do leaders keep projects moving forward? They will:

  • Ensure all team members understand the project goal
  • Establish clear deadlines
  • Clearly define roles within the team
  • Describe how each role contributes to the project goal
  • Remind the team of the shared goal to keep the project on task

When members understand that the part they play on the team is critical to achieving the goal, they’re more motivated and engaged.

Team leaders are typically individuals who know the most about the project — which means they might not have extensive experience with leading. They might not even be the person with the most “senior” rank in the room. That’s why building in leadership skills exercises into your training on teamwork in the workplace is so important.

About the Author

Paul_Profile_WebAs Senior Vice President, North American Business Development, Paul has extensive experience in consultation, design and delivery of programs over his 20 year career with Eagle’s Flight. Through his genuine personable approach, Paul is not only a trusted advisor but also a valued partner to his clients; he works seamlessly to ensure that Eagle’s Flight solutions are aligned to their needs and desired outcomes. As a result, Paul is the account executive for Eagle’s Flight largest account. Many of his clients are multi-year accounts from multinational, Fortune 500 companies.

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Clear communication and alignment are key to successful teamwork in the workplace. According to one survey, 97 percent of respondents believe that a lack of alignment within a team plays a big part in a team’s outcome or impact. Understanding how to implement clear communication strategies, however, is often — well — less clear.

How do you cultivate a strong ethic of teamwork in the workplace through communication? The answer is twofold: by ensuring communication within teams is both frequent and effective.

Frequent Communication: “I Know What I Need To Know”

Frequent communication means keeping everyone in the loop. Teams execute more efficiently when everyone’s on the same page. First, team members avoid duplicating their efforts when knowledge is shared. Second, while each member has a specific role within the team, those roles are interrelated, so communicating frequently about one’s role speeds up the project. For example, let’s say one team member can’t start her role until another has the results of a specific task. In this case, knowing exactly when the other member completes the task keeps her – and the project – moving forward.

To keep communication frequent, the team should revisit key points and ask questions whenever it’s needed. If the team seems a bit too timid about frequent communication, it’s up to the team leader to model the desired communication behavior. Leaders should start each meeting with a “catch up” on accomplishments made since the last, and end with a “recap” of what was covered.

Effective Communication: “I Understand Everything”

When it comes to successful team communication, just communicating frequently isn’t enough. Team members may know everything going on within the group, but they may still be left in the dark. How? Because they don’t understand everything. Think back to your school days — it’s the difference between scoring high on a quiz that requires rote memorization, but scoring low on a problem that requires you to link those quiz concepts together.

Effective communication requires all team members to know on a high level what’s going on within the team, but also to truly comprehend what’s going on. That can get tricky when your team is composed of members:

  • From different parts of the department or company
  • With vastly different expertise
  • With different levels of comfort with processes
  • Using knowledge sets that they don’t work with often.

To achieve effective communication, each team member should be able to summarize each key point that a speaker makes, if asked. If at any point during a meeting, something is not making sense, he or she must speak up to request clarification. Ensuring your team communicates effectively takes time, but ultimately you’ll save time by cutting down on costly mistakes that arise from a lack of understanding.

Cultivating Psychological Safety for High Performance Teams

Cultivating a team that engages in effective and frequent communication as described above is far easier said than done. Why? People don’t like to admit that they don’t know or understand things — especially in a group setting. That’s where the tenant of psychological safety comes in. First described by Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor whose work had a profound influence on Google’s recent study on teams, psychological safety refers to the idea that a team provides a safe space for “interpersonal risk taking.”

That includes the risk of appearing vulnerable by exposing the gaps in your knowledge. In a psychologically safe environment, team members don’t worry about feeling embarrassed or being ridiculed for saying, “Hey, I think I missed something” — or more importantly, “Hey, I don’t understand something.” Teams that exhibit high levels of psychological safety are ones where members, and especially team leaders, ask a lot of questions, which encourages everyone in the group to speak up more without fear of judgment. For effective and frequent communication to take place, a team must cultivate a culture of psychological safety. According to Edmondson, when you combine psychological safety with accountability, a high performance team is created.

Teamwork in the workplace will truly blossom when team building activities move beyond standard communication exercises — like improving listening and feedback skills — to also focus on communication that’s frequent and effective.
About the author


Sue, an authority on training and development, has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed training solutions for Eagle’s Flight. As Chief Operating Officer, Sue’s vast senior leadership experience and facilitation has established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert for numerous Fortune 500 companies.

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