Building and Maintaining Effective Teams

Whether working as a technical writer marketing director, accountant, Human Resources managers, or even researcher in a lab, chances are great that coworkers will have to work together.  Often times this collective work will be with a designated team or group. A team has been defined as “a collection of individuals independent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and are seen by others as an intact social entity embedded in one or more social systems, and who manage their relationships over organizational boundaries” (Hackman 1987 from Cohen, Bailey 1997).

In simpler terms, a team is group of people who may work on separate tasks that come together as a greater finished product.  Many times team members are from different departments or fields or expertise, contribute various strengths and ideas, and have different work styles.  Working as a team brings fantastic results, but working as a cohesive, well-communicating team takes time and effort.

Quick tips for effective teamwork

  • Pick teammates who are hard workers, determined to do a great job, and who all have different skills to bring to the project. Focus on people who want to get the job done as effectively as possible. (Sonia Kapidia, 2012)
  • Know your field. The more familiar you are with your actual job and responsibilities, the more efficient communication and task sharing will be. (Leonard, Graham, Bonacum, 2013, par. 2)
  • Check in with your teammates in all stages of the project.  Even a simple conference call will help everyone compare progress, make suggestions, and make plans for the future.  (Leonard, Graham, Bonacum, 2013, par. 3)
  • Remember that team contribution takes many forms.  Teamwork includes taking notes/minutes at meetings, brainstorming outside of meetings, reserving the meeting space, arranging for any materials, handouts, and technology to be ready before hand, and even picking up coffee and snacks to make the meeting for enjoyable. (Parker, 2008, ch. 2, pg. 27)
  • Talk to each other.  Ask questions for clarification, voice your opinions, and make sure everyone is on the same page before moving on.  Be wary of ignoring or belittling others’ ideas. Each team member should feel comfortable making their voice heard. (Murray,2006, par. 5)
  • In order to truly unite as a group toward a common goal, problems must be sorted out promptly so that teammates are focused and calm. (Murray, 2006, 7)
  • Conflicts may make for a better product.  When handled maturely, debates or disagreements can build a stronger, better communicating team and avoid tension or resentment later on. (Hackman, 2011, Misperception #1)
  • Separate the idea from the person.  Don’t let personal issues with other team members lower the quality of your work, or make you think less of their ideas. (Sonia Kapidia, 2012)

Importance of Teamwork

In 2011 the United Kingdom National Health Service conducted staff survey about teamwork. They asked participants:

  1. Do you work in a team?
  2. Does your team have clear objectives?
  3. Do you work closely together to meet those objectives?
  4. Do you meet regularly to review your performance and how it can be improved?

About 40% responded ‘yes’ to all questions and were categorized as members of a “Real Team”.  The data showed that staff working in a real team led to “fewer injuries, errors, violent assaults, cases of harassment, bullying, and abuse….having more real teams is associated with lower patient mortality [in a hospital workplace]”.  (West 2012 p. 14)

Working with your Team

In order to achieve success as a team, one must know exactly how to work as a cohesive unit. According to a recent study discussed in the paper “The Human Factor: The Critical Importance of Effective Teamwork and Communication in Providing Safe Care,” researchers found that, “70% of commercial flight accidents stemmed from communication failures among crew members” (Leonard, Graham, Bonacum 2013). Not all team work will involve protecting the lives of customers, of course, but the sentiment remains the same:  by communicating with one another, team members will ensure success.

This statistic prompted airline companies to arrange “a three day training program in human factors; learning about the human factors experience in aviation, and the application of standard tools and behaviors to improve safety and ensure effective communication”. Learning more about specific scenarios allowed the team to grow into a strong unit and target specific opportunities for improvement.  The more you know about your field, co-workers, and assignments the more you can effectively communicate and get the job done. (Leonard, Graham, Bonacum, 2013)

When Team Work Doesn’t Work

Here are signs to look for in your team that signal that your team may not be performing at its best.  As soon as any of these signs are recognized, they should be addressed and conditions improved as soon as possible.

  • One person overtakes the group by forcing ideas, not listening to others, or making plans without consulting the group
  • The group splits into smaller groups outside of the meeting space to vent about others, the project, or tasks at hand
  • Members don’t show up, have excuses for not having work completed, or show signs of boredom/disinterest during meetings
  • Team has rarely or never evaluated its process or effectiveness
  • Lots of excitement, but little productivity.  Team members bounce around ideas, make plans, and create excitement, but no one takes the initiative to put plans into action.  Ideas are worthless unless something is done with them!

As Glenn Parker stresses in his book Team Players and Team Work, the most important aspect of team work is communication.  Any of the problems above can be easily solved by simply bringing well spoken awareness to the issue.  After that, it’s a matter of openly discussing as a team why and where things went wrong, and the best way to fix it. (Parker, 2008, ch. 2, pg. 13-68)

If you would like to learn more about teamwork, please visit:

Creating a High Performance Team

Work Cited

Hackman, J. (2011, June 7).  Six Common Misperceptions about Teamwork. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Kapadia, S. (2012, June 20). Surround Yourself with Great People–Building the Team. Forbes. Retrieved from

Leonard, M., Graham, S., Bonacum, D. (2004). The Human Factor: the critical importance of effective teamwork and communication in providing safe care. BMJ Quality and Safety. Retrieved from

Murray, D. (2006). Characteristics of Effective Teams. Retrieved from

Parker, G. (2008). Team Players and Teamwork. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

West, M. (1994). Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research. West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Adopted by Sean Freeman and Maya Althouse