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Define Teamwork

Define Teamwork – a teamwork definition that works!

If you were asked to define teamwork what would you say and where would you start?

Define teamworkIn this article we will look at some of the common understandings of teamwork, but we will also stress that teamwork is something perhaps best defined for yourself with your team and in your organisation.

That’s because when you define teamwork for yourself it’s more likely to become a shared definition and one that fits your context and to which you are all committed.

With this in mind the article finishes with a link to our teamwork definition tool designed specifically for you to use with your team and in your organisation to define teamwork.

You may want to read our article on the Benefits of Teamwork to gain more insight on Why is Teamwork Important?


Teamwork and Teams

A good place to start is with a dictionary. 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”. This means someone has the interests of the team at heart, working for the good of the team.

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But teamwork is not exclusive to teams. You can have good teamwork in a committee which is not necessarily a team. In this context, teamwork might be random co-operation, effectively working together for periods or time, but not always!

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 the pursuit of a common direction or cause, in order to produce meaningful results for the team members and the organisation. 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 it’s not enough just to call a group of people a team. Only when the skills and strengths of individual team members are joined with shared goals, and a focus on collective performance, will you start to see the benefits of a team at work.

Why does this matter? Well language can sometimes be confusing. Teamwork is perhaps more helpfully understood as only part of what is needed in order to have an effective team.

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

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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 behaviours.

It’s 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 behaviours 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 behaviours 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.


What next – words are not enough.

To define teamwork then, this article is a good place to start (although we have deliberately kept a broad and hopefully rich sense of what teamwork is).

But it’s also important to build a shared understanding of what teamwork means in your specific context.  That is, what it means to your team and more widely, to your organisation.

To do this though, words are often not enough. Building teamwork is also about what you do, starting with that shared understanding of teamwork, and agreeing together what you value.

That’s exactly what our ”teamwork definition“ tool is designed to do. You’ll find this tool, plus a wealth of other resources, in our colossal Team Building Bundle.

Containing 240 pages and 50 tools, these are the 8 key guides we recommend to help you do more than define teamwork, build it!

Where to go from here:


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