Everyone is looking to increase productivity in teams and learn how to work together effectively. It’s what we will be focusing on in this article. What does it mean to work together effectively? How can it increase productivity? Learning how to work well with others is vital. You’ll find yourself needing to work with others your entire life - whether it’s to increase productivity in the workplace, making dinner, or rock climbing - whatever challenge you are facing, these skills will definitely come in handy.
How to define working together
It’s one thing to define working together, and it’s another to define it in a way that it will work. Although the English language has some excellent definitions of working together / teamwork, the French have an even better one: esprit de corps. This phrase is roughly translated to a sense of unity and enthusiasm for a shared responsibility or interest. With this grand French definition in mind, we will then define working together as the oil that makes the team work well.
When we talk about working together, it’s usually in the context of a group of people working together towards a goal. You could argue that a team worked well when they have reached their goal. However, achieving the goal is not the sole determinant of a successful team. How this team reached their goal and what impression they left on each other is just as vital. Let’s take a look at an example:
Three organizations are helping the homeless in their respective cities and want to set up partnerships between the three countries to better share strategies and advice. After three weeks of broken discussions (and some misunderstandings due to cultural differences), the partnerships were created. However, the arduous process of setting up these partnerships eventually resulted in a weak and suspicious relationship between the three organizations.
The example above demonstrates that although the organizations managed to set up their partnerships, the fact that they couldn’t work together effectively resulted in a weak working relationship. So what, then, defines a team that is working together effectively?
As a matter of fact, there are many signs of a productive team. Here are a few that you can look out for when you next find yourself in a team:
- Good communication. The team experienced effective communication. There were little misunderstandings and if teammates don’t understand something, they sought to clarify immediately.
- Good inter-relations. The team enjoyed good relations with one another. Everyone left feeling respected and valued. Google’s research on the perfect team found that the way teammates treated each other determined whether the team was good or bad.
- Individual development. On top of successfully reaching a goal, each member had the opportunity to develop new skills and experiences.
- Support and trust. The team supported each other and helped when necessary. Everyone would be happy to work with this team again. Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson found in their research on collaborative teams that support contributed to a sense of a community in a team.
Only a team that feels great together can eventually accomplish great things! Thus, when we speak about working together effectively, we mean that the goal was reached and the team dynamics are even better than before.
Why is it important?
This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. But there are other hidden benefits of effective teamwork than just reaching your goal.
Synergy. The sum is greater than its parts. When people work together effectively, they are often able to produce something more significant than on their own. When more people are involved, a bigger pool of ideas is generated. Different points of view lead to a broader source of solutions. Together, the team can determine which one is most effective.
Self-boost. Humans are social animals. We like being around other people, especially when we feel like we belong. The same effect is seen in teams. When people feel comfortable in a team, they experience heightened confidence, they communicate more freely, and they feel important and heard.
Healthy competition. Working together in a group motivates everyone to be at the top of their game, ease tensions, and create a sense of community. Most of all, this increased competition often leads to innovation. People will try and think as creatively as possible to reach a solution.
A sense of achievement. Team members will feel a sense of accomplishment when a team happily reached their goal. This increased confidence can have spillover effects into other parts of our lives. Have a big date coming up? Your achievements with your team can help you give that extra boost of self-confidence.
Sharing expertise. Learning, learning, and more learning. Every team member brings their strengths and skills to the table. This doesn’t only help a team reach their goal, but team members can learn from each other.
As you learned above, working together can generate all sorts of benefits. Above all the benefits that we just outlined, learning how to work with others will help you over and over again throughout your lifetime. When you travel, you need to understand how to interact with people from different cultures. When you and your friends go on a trip, you want to know how to best coordinate and make the most of your trip.
These skills aren’t just useful for the workplace, online communities, or volunteer efforts. You will be able to take them with you and apply them in all areas of your life.
Do you have any personal examples of successful teamwork? Send us a tweet at @OpenSocialHQ on Twitter.
How do you work together?
Working with others, as we defined above, can be both beneficial and challenging.
Most of us know that for people to work together, each must bring their best to the table. But be warned, it’s not only about individual input. There are specific attitudes, actions, and behaviors that facilitate effective collaboration.
Since there's an overwhelming amount of tips we can provide, we decided to start by outlining two standard methods of working together: traditional and modern. We'll be diving into each strategy. Let’s go!
The traditional approach, which is still prevalent, assigns the person with the most expertise and experience as the leader of the team. For example, a development team has a lead developer, or a kitchen team has a chef! The whole group assumes that the leader can make the best decisions for allocating responsibilities within the team. Teams that adopt this approach usually end up with a hierarchical structure, in which most final decisions need to be OK-ed by the designated leader.
This approach works well because the leader assigns tasks, monitors the progress, and is eventually responsible for ensuring that the team increases productivity. However (as with all good things), there is a downside to this approach. When the team increases in size or the issues become complicated, the leader becomes a bottleneck for the team. Thus, productivity might even falter if the leader does not have the means to solve, coordinate, or provide a stamp of approval on everything. Mostly, you’re back to working at the level of an individual!
The modern approach is more about the self-management of teams. This is especially popular in agile or scrum development methods. Perhaps you’ve recently been hearing words ‘agile’ or ‘scrum’ but don’t quite understand what they mean. These methods are based on the assumption that team members can match their skills with the needs and tasks of the team. Hence, it’s a more decentralized form of decision making, compared to the traditional approach.
The advantages of the modern approach are plenty. Ideas can flow freely, and expertise can be shared (do you recognize some of these from our benefits section?). However, this method requires people to contact each other often. We now see a rise in instant messaging applications, such as Slack, being used as work tools. The downsides are that it demands more coordination and distraction, and may reduce efficiency.
So, what’s the best approach?
Let’s take a look at a good ole study.
What happened? Kudaravalli, Faraj, & Johnson (2017) studied how expertise was organized in over 70 different software development teams in the U.S. They assessed how team members ranked each others’ expertise during different phases of the projects. The researchers used this data to calculate the centralization of expertise, which is just a fancy way of saying that they looked at whether these teams sought expertise from just a few people or dispersed throughout their team.
What were the results? Surprisingly, the highest performing teams were the ones that adopted different methods according to the needs of the project. For example, they would decentralize expertise (have more team members weigh in) when they needed to identify solutions but centralized expertise (dedicated one expert) when the solution was built. In conclusion: different activities, teams, and projects require different methods.
What does this mean? So, you might read this and think: great; I can’t take away anything substantial from here. But we beg to differ. Before you begin any task with a group of people, think carefully about what your goal is and what method is best before even beginning. Does this task require creative thought? Perhaps, the modern approach would be best here. Does the task need real organizational skills? Maybe, it's best to delegate this one to your over-organized friend.
We don’t want to leave you completely empty-handed when it comes to tips and tricks, so here’s a list of things to keep in mind when working together suggested by Richard L. in The Leadership Experience, Sixth Edition.
Tips for working together and increasing productivity
- Set goals and monitor your performance. Make sure you define realistic goals and decide how you will measure the outcome and your success.
- Create effective plans for reaching those goals. Now that you know what to accomplish, you need to identify the steps you need to take to achieve the goal, dedicate tasks according to skills, and manage time wisely.
- Communicate clearly. Every team member should keep others updated on their progress. Clear and straightforward communication leads to more productivity.
- Solve problems together. The team needs to work together to solve unexpected problems. Addressing conflict before it becomes a more significant problem is also important.
- Be open. Teams need to be honest with each other. There is a willingness to listen to others and to work through stressful situations constructively.
- Respect individuality. Remember that each group is composed of different skills and personalities. Understanding what each person can bring to the table is critical to success.
Working together in a community
- If you are managing an online community, a space that brings people together on the web, the ability to work together with individuals and organizations is essential. And these relationships don’t materialize out of thin air (unfortunately).
Getting people to your platform is only a small part of the work. New community members are often unsure of what role they have or how all the roles come together. This is why we find it essential to look at how people work together effectively to create a healthy community.
When we talk about healthy communities, we are referring to people working together to address what matters most to them. We have a lot of resources in various areas that need attention when building a community:
- Establish a clear vision or mission: Setting Up Community Guidelines
- Choose a leader: How to Tackle Three Community Manager Challenges
- Understand your members: Which Members Rule Your Online Community?
- Define a plan of action: 6 Dos and Don'ts for Community Building
Are you looking to start an online community? Open Social is the perfect solution. Nonprofits and innovative companies have successfully adopted our plug-and-play online community software. We help customers like the United Nations, Greenpeace and hundreds of smaller organizations connect with their employees, volunteers, and other stakeholders. Most importantly, our software ensures that people can work together effectively!
Open Social has various functionalities (and more) that help a community to encourage its members to work together towards a goal, including:
- Groups: groups allow you to gather your team in one place for effective discussions and collaboration.
- Events: bring together like-minded members in offline events. This will help strengthen the bond between members and improve team dynamics.
- Newsfeed(s): receive personalized content from your groups and events. This way, you won’t miss any updates from other team members.
- Private messaging: reach out to other team members, away from the rest of the community. This is both efficient and builds direct relationships between members.
- Comments: provide feedback on other content. Open and honest collaboration helps a team work together well.
- And more! Check out all features here.
Try Open Social yourself and work effectively together!