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Define Teamwork


Define Teamwork – a teamwork definition that works!

It’s one thing to define teamwork but perhaps another to define it in a way that works! So where would you start?

Define teamworkIn this article we look at some of the common understandings of teamwork, but we also do something different. We look at the idea that it’s not just your definition of teamwork that counts.

It’s how your team define teamwork that can make all the difference between a definition that works, and one that is irrelevant. That’s because when you define teamwork together, it’s more likely to become a shared definition, and one that encourages commitment.

With this in mind, the article finishes with a link to our teamwork definition tool, designed to help your team define teamwork. This is the real basis for agreeing a definition that is both relevant, and one that works.

Teamwork and Teams

So, how to define teamwork? Well the obvious place to start is with a dictionary. Typically, teamwork is defined as:

Co-operation between those who are working on a task.

Teamwork is generally understood as the willingness of a group of people to work together to achieve a common aim. 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. For example, you can see evidence of teamwork in a committee, which might not necessarily see itself as a team. In this context, teamwork might be random co-operation, effectively working together for periods of time. But not always!

To define teamwork it might also be worth clarifying what it’s not, and thinking about the distinction between teams and teamwork. In our view, a team exists 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 fundamental for teams to work effectively. 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’s needed to create an effective team.

Why is this distinction so important? Because 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, what else should we consider in order to define teamwork? One thing is to think of teamwork is as it’s often commonly understood, as both a set of behaviours and as attitude. Understanding and managing these factors will help you encourage people to work together effectively. To become a team. The key to this is realising that:

Attitudes come from what you value and are expressed in how you behave.

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 means encouraging a high regard on such things as team spirit, respecting others, and valuing their contributions. It also means fostering a sense that more can be achieved by working together than as individuals. And once these attitudes are ingrained, it’s far more likely that team members will behave accordingly.

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 how you would define teamwork. What do you value about working in a team? 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.

With real teamwork we tend to see positive attitudes and behaviours such as:

  • Trust in colleagues to deliver what they promise

  • Willingness to help when needed
  • Sharing of a common vision of the future
  • Co-operation and blending of each others’ strengths
  • Positive attitudes, providing support and encouragement
  • Active listening
  • All members pulling their weight and in the same direction
  • Giving the benefit of the doubt
  • Consensus building
  • Effective conflict resolution
  • Open communication

So define teamwork now?

Taking all of this into consideration, perhaps the best way to define teamwork is:

when a group of people work together cohesively, towards a common goal, creating a positive working atmosphere, and supporting each other to combine individual strengths to enhance team performance.

For more on our approach to the best way to define teamwork, read our article on the benefits of teamwork, providing more insights into why teamwork is important.

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!

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