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7 Tips To Improve Teamwork Skills

‘Team’ is a scary word in schools, universities and workplaces. And I can see why. You may remember the last time when your control slipped away, or you’re perhaps imagining the time you fell to sleep in a meeting. If you don’t master the 7 tips below; I won’t lie, those things are likely to happen; they’re a natural result. That’s why you”re going to apply the tips below and get back in a position to ensure your teams succeed at more than simply letting you catch up on sleep.

Tip 1: Split the work evenly, clearly and minimise overlap. The major advantage of a team is the sheer workload that it can cope with yet this is wasted when the team is sat together around a laptop and a meeting table. It’s great to have a variety of input but this benefit is constantly overplayed at the expense of output. When I walk around my Universities” Business School, its a common sight to see 5 MBA students sitting round one computer. One student will be typing; another talking and 3 people sat there doing absolutely nothing.

Only by letting team members work on their own chunk of work will you truly be able to harness the productivity bonus of working in a team. Having sole responsibility over their section will also give a boost to their motivation (& ego). Slight imbalances in workload will be forgiven but vast differences can cause tensions so speak up as a team member if you feel you have been given too much work or someone else has. This may be difficult in a work situation so call attention to the difference in workload indirectly. One way of doing this is to ask another team member “Ok, so what are you doing again?” in an innocent and genuinely curious tone. After you’ve listened to their reply, get some paper and clarify with everyone else what you’ve got to do, clearly itemising each piece of your task. If there is a big enough imbalance then someone should notice, but the fact you hadn’t complained means you’re still seen as a team player.

Zazzle Poster

Tip 2: Always meet at the same place at the same time. A regular nightmare of teaming is arranging constant meetings; a logistical impossibility that usually the Chair or team leader has to cope with. However one method distributes this issue among the team, and this is tip 2.

This technique is ideal if you’re at university where students have roughly the same timetables each week. It can be used to completely eradicate the issue of arranging to meet up; and yet I constantly see students fail to take advantage of this. As a result they spend a lot of their time texting and emailing team mates to arrange their next meeting time. Shame. You may need to arrange extra meetings when tight deadlines are involved but the consistent meetings could be seen as the backbone. As well as ensuring there’s regular communication between the group members; regular meetings totally shift the responsibility from the chairperson to the individual team members which makes your job (as leader) easier.

Tip 3: Make everyone feel important

You can read this crucial tip here: The Key To Getting What You Want: Making Others Feel Important

Tip 4: Never blatantly oppose someone’s ideas (Indirectly call attention to it by ‘stumbling’ upon a bad consequence). The joy of mixing lots of ideas together in a team is that from time to time you’ll disagree with a member’s contribution. Your instant reaction could be to challenge them; “Are you sure that’s right?” which may sound nicer than “You’re wrong” but has the same negative consequences.

Even if you refrain from verbally responding its likely your face will screw up or you’ll give some other indication that you disagree, so simply go along with whatever they say; be enthusiastic about it. You need to see how to change their opinion from their point of view, so for the time being; adopt their point of view. If their suggestion was bad enough then it would rehsult in a negative consequence. What you must do is talk through the idea enthusiastically until you ‘hit’ upon this negative consequence, seem disappointed at this bad point that seemed to come out of nowhere, and then instead of denouncing your opponents idea, you can then talk as if YOUR opinion was wrong, and then it’d be far easier for them to just admit their mistake and continue, so have let them save face. They are more likely to concede to someone on their side who they think wants to support their idea, rather than someone who is opposed to them.

Imagine a group is discussing an annual fair and are deciding the date:

John: I think we should do June 22nd; it worked well last year and it means we can hire the bouncy castle at an off-peak rate.

Paul: Nah, I don’t think that’s going to work as there is a big football match on that day and it’ll be the weekend after the primary school fair, it’d be overkill.

John would at this point naturally try to defend his point of view as this has become a debate.

Now imagine if Paul used the 4th principle:

John: I think we should do June 22nd; it worked well last year and it means we can hire the bouncy castle at an off-peak rate.

Paul: Yeah! Good idea! Why fix something which isn’t broke! I’ll have to call the football team to get them more involved this year, they were so popular last time. Oh no. June 22nd is the football final; if we choose then, they won’t be able to make it, *sigh, and we’ll loose half our attendance. Damn, I’ll try and think of a different date.

John: Argh crap, I didn’t think of that either. Thanks.

The example above displayed a heavy handed but successful use of this technique – it’s best applied so that the other person spots the mistake before you ‘do’. In the above case; Paul could’ve just talked about the football team and the final until John himself remembered it was on the 22nd. Remember John isn’t stupid, he’d realise that Paul was right; but people don’t like to be wrong andwill defend themselves automatically if challenged, and so over time this can lead to problems you don’ need. In apposing someone”s ideas, there”s also the chance they may get aggressive. Side step around pride; use tip 4.

Tip 5: Learn names. You may laugh at this point; “Well of course I know everyone”s name in the teams I work with”. Consider yourself the exception. The rest of us have all been in a situation where we”ve felt there”s too many people to learn, or where one member has a heavy accent and a foreign name. From now on, I never want you to have to use that last excuse.

We’ve all been there: You ask for their name once; and have no idea what you hear in return. You say ”Pardon?” and can barely make out more than the first time; and at which which point you feel too embarassed to continue, and just pretend as though you understood. Shameful isn’t it? If you”re an important member of the team; you’ve just effectively cut off one of your great resources. You’ll now casually avoid starting conversation with this person, and indirectly push them out of the group as they become less involved with decision making. As soon as you learn someones name; they’ll be suddenly ”opened up” as a source of help and you will feel as though you’ve gained an extra team member. On the other hand as long as you don’t know the name, you’re restricting your team’s performance. Not to mention making the poor soul feel left out.

So from now on when you’re in that situation. Don’t stop at the second attempt; say “I’m sorry I haven”t heard that name before, can you spell it?”. Afterwards, look at what you’ve written again and make sure you remember it.

Here”s a short story from Potential Within that further explains the importance of learning names:

During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. ‘Absolutely,’ the professor said. ‘In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’ I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy. ~ Joann C. Jones”

Tip 6: Praise like a teacher would (whenever you can). A key concept in management that is recognised nationwide is that a dog will behave well for treats, but would simply resent the whip. Do you give treats or use the whip? Or both?

Let me define what I mean by using the whip. I”m talking about embarassing, critisising (even if it’s quite ‘constructive’), humiliating, condemning and undermining someone. It reads like a terrible list of words yet you’ll find you do a couple of them in some minor shape or form. This is acceptable, but you do you want to be just acceptable? Wouldn”t you prefer to be brilliant and inspire brilliant work from your team mates and earn some respect from them?

Its so easy to criticise and you may not realise how often to do it. But you can count on one thing, the target of the criticism will remember. Fortunately the same applies to compliments. One small compliment has the opportunity for a real turn-around in someone behaviour, yet you may not even realise you’ve given it. Learn to pay effective compliments, compliment everything someone does well, even if just subtley.

All teachers; from Nursery right the way through to College are all trained in the art of giving praise at every opportunity. This is an ability you will have to learn on your own, but those who master it are rewarded with optimistic team mates with a ‘can do’ attitude. And remember; “If you think you can, you can“.

The Practise of Leadership blog highlights an important article in Business Week magazine that agrees that praise can encourage potential. There’s no excuse for neglecting it.

The Tips so far:

Tip 1: Split the work evenly and clearly and minimise overlap.

Tip 2: Meet consistently at the same place at the same time.

Tip 3: Make everyone feel important.

Tip 4: Never blatantly oppose someone’s ideas

Tip 5: Learn names

Tip 6: Praise like a teacher would (whenever you can)

Now finally: the most important advice you could receive about how to work well in teams:

Tip 7: Lead the team – ANYONE CAN DO IT! This is such an big principle that it has been given it”s own post: Learn To Lead: How to make others do what you say

Succeed at Life! Article written by Simon Oates. Copyright 2008-2010

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