Group work / Teamwork

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Teamwork: how to succeed

Definition of Teamwork: the activity of working well together as a team

Problems in teamwork arise when team are not really acting as a team. Putting people together in a group and telling them they are a team is not magically going to deliver the results.

What are the advantages of working as a team?
  • Achieving better results than individuals working alone
  • Generating more ideas than individuals
  • Helping each other to grow in skills and confidence
  • Demonstrating commitment not only to the task but also to each other
  • Motivating each member of the team
  • Learning from each other
Team or group?

Groups of people working together are often called “teams”. However, there is a difference.  A group of people working together have individual goals and objectives, perhaps a feelings of not participating in collective work and mutual trust is limited. On the contrary, a team has common goals, members who trust each other, feelings are expressed openly and conflicts are worked through. For a team, the objectives are common to all members, so people are united by a common purpose.

How to work successfully in teamwork / group work?

Successful teamwork in a group work project can be a very stimulating and satisfying learning experience, but all too often tensions arise in a group due to the differing expectations. Ways to organize group work successfully include:

  1. At the beginning of the project agree together on who is responsible for which part of the project.
  2. Set weekly deadlines for task completion. As a group, check what has been completed what has not been completed and why not.
  3. Take decisions democratically, after discussion with all group members. However, once a decision has been agreed on, stick to it. Do not allow group members to waste time by going back on previously agreed decisions.
  4. If you are unable to resolve issues within your group, do not hesitate to contact your faculty member.

See 8 Characteristics of High-Performing Teams (and How to Build One) for further information about successful group work (4 minute read).

Tuckman’s model: the different stages of group development

For a quick explanation in video:

Who was Tuckman? Bruce Tuckman was a psychologist who published an article in 1965, he described the path that teams follow on their way to high performance:

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–399.

What are the key stages in Tuckman’s model?

Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

Forming stage: At this stage most team members are polite and positive, some are anxious as they haven’t fully understood what the team will do. And others are simply just excited about the task.

In the Forming stage, the team will look to a group leader for direction and guidance, establish specific objectives and tasks, identify roles and responsibilities of team members, expectations, guidelines, etc.

The role of the leader at this stage is to provide the structure and task direction, also to create an atmosphere of confidence and optimism with the active involvement of each team member, and to establish communication from leader to team members.

Storming stage: At this stage, people start pushing for boundaries, also conflict and different working style (or not working style!) will create tension or friction between team members. The roles and responsibilities must be established at this stage or individuals might begin to feel overwhelmed by their workload or frustrated by the lack of progress. The team needs to clarify and understand the team’s purpose and reestablish roles and rules, deal with some team members who don’t comply to the rules established, and receive feedback for your project guideline.

The role of the leader at this stage is to actively involve team members to begin consulting one another, offer support, and get team members to assume more task responsibility, shared leadership emerges at this stage.

Norming stage: At this stage people start to resolve their differences, know one another strength and respect leadership. New ways of doing and being together is created, as the team develop cohesion. Team members will feel more comfortable for asking feedback and helping the others, as they will share a stronger commitment to the team’s goals.

The role of the leader is to promotes team interaction, and ask for contribution from all team members, encouraging others in making decisions, and to continue to build strong relationships.

Performing stage: At this stage, the team is performing to its full potential, achieving goals is possible if the team perform without conflict. Hard work and structured processes are likely to achieve goals efficiently. The team is flexible and adapt to meet the needs of other team members. This is a highly productive stage.

The role of the leader is to observes, inquires and fulfill the team needs, share new information, offer positive reinforcement and support and create collaborative efforts among team members.

Conflict(s) in teamwork

Conflicts are part of life, this is true in friendship, family and certainly business. Some people believe that conflicts are not supposed to happen at work and are considered taboo in many situations. In many cultures work is done to avoid conflict. However, in teamwork productive conflict may produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. A team engaged in productive conflict will emerge from heated debates with no residual feelings, but with a readiness to take on the next issue.

Avoiding conflict to avoid hurting team member feelings could encourage dangerous tension. Teams who don’t openly debate and disagree about important ideas, often turn to personal attacks, which is nastier and more harmful than any arguments over issues.

How to manage conflict in a team
  1. Act quickly as soon as you can see or hear a potential problem.
  2. Be clear and direct, stating what you have observed and what are the possible consequences for the team performance.
  3. Establish ground rules – e.g., the speaker is allowed to continue uninterrupted, each has to listen to the other, comments to be about behaviour not personality, no blaming of the other, voices to stay under control.
  4. Each to state why the situation has arisen from their perspective.
  5. Each to explore what they could have done differently. (Imagine how the situation would have been without conflict)
  6. What can they do differently in the future to prevent a recurrence?
  7. If they suspect the friction is building, what can they do to bring it back?
  8. Each has to agree to the last two points.

Retrieved from: Yemm, G. (2012). The Financial Times essential guide to leading your team : how to set goals, measure performance and reward talent, p. 136. Pearson. (Book available from Bulle Library physical collection – 658.402 YEM)

Finally, if the actions above do not improve the situation, seek help from outside the team. Make sure you inform your faculty of a negative situation or harmful conflict.