Teamwork and collaboration skills

There’s a famous quote about teamwork by philosopher Aristotle that says, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. It suggests that the work produced by teams is better than if that same work was completed by individuals, and that a special quality emerges when cooperation and collaboration occur. 

Whether or not you agree, the reality is that no matter what role you’re in, at some stage you’ll need to collaborate with other people. So, we’ve pulled together some top advice on how to improve your teamwork skills and become a killer collaborator. After reading, you’ll no doubt see why, thousands of years later, Aristotle’s words still ring true today. 

Improving your teamwork skills

Why is teamwork important? Because an organisation of any size cannot operate smoothly and successfully when people work alone. Success requires departments internally and stakeholders externally to engage, debate, share skills, exchange knowledge and integrate resources to get the job done.

While teamwork skills are incredibly important in the workplace, that doesn’t mean everyone has them. Maybe you’re a natural introvert? Have you spent many years working remotely and independently? 

These are all valid reasons for why you might want to improve your teamwork skills, and here are a few ways to ensure you’re the best collaborator you can be:

  • Commit to dedication
    High performing teams are absolutely focused on the end result, committed to the result they’ve agreed to, and will find innovative solutions to achieve this. The dedication of every team member counts, so whatever your role, show that you’re committed, even in the face of change or adversity, and always be ready to assist others.
  • Be governed by goals and live by purpose
    If you’re new to working in teams, or wanting to improve your collaborative skills, remember to always keep the project goals and organisational purpose front of mind. If all your work aligns to this and you can remind your team of this throughout the duration of your work, you can be sure you’ll make valuable contributions, and help others do so too.
  • Learn to listen
    While teamwork requires a solid amount of idea and strategy generation, an important component of teamwork is also listening; knowing when the contributions of others need to be heeded. Improving your listening skills and seeing different suggestions as valuable ensure the best ideas are surfaced, tested and implemented. You’ll also assist in boosting the morale and confidence of those you’re collaborating with, making every team member feel like they’ve been truly heard and considered.
  • Combat negativity
    Improving your teamwork also requires you to know how to combat negativity. International speaker and leadership consultant Graeme Joy coined the term “idea assassins”, identifying those who are quick to list reasons why you won’t achieve your goals. Joy says the difficulty with idea assassins is that they often have something “pertinent and valuable” to say about what makes others fail. Their advice can be vital to success, but the challenge is to take this information and analyse it, without it becoming a hindrance to your work, project or team.

Diversity is key to teamwork

The best teams aren’t made up of people who look, think, act or lead in the same way. Why? Because you’d end up with a group who are likely to agree quickly on most ideas, rather than debate and challenge them to find the very best solution. When considering how to improve your teamwork skills and better understand why collaboration is important, consider that the most successful teams look for diversity in the below areas:

  • Personality
    Having a variety of personality types on your team helps being differing perspectives and ideas to projects and problems. For example, a traditional Type A personality may present the big ideas initially, while a conventional Type C personality might spend time quietly analysing and finessing the proposed ideas. Combined, you’ll likely get a team that has considered many approaches and strategies, and will likely find better solutions. 
  • Skills and experience
    It’s unlikely that an individual alone possesses the breadth of skills and experience needed to complete every task your department or organisation demands. Aspiring to have a range of skills and experiences will allow for a greater range of ideas and processes to be tested, where team members can draw on past and seemingly unrelated experience to brilliantly solve the task at hand.
  • Work styles
    Engaging different work styles to collaborate starts with acknowledging that there's often more than one right way to get the job done. Maximising benefits when working with people who have different approaches to tasks requires patience and respect, so ensure that these are always present, even if the work styles vary immensely. 
  • Roles
    While it might seem unconventional to have members of the customer service team present in a marketing strategy brainstorm session, consider this: who spends the most time with your organisation’s customers? And while it’s not standard practice to have members of IT in a sales executive meeting, asking yourself: who customises the sales software used by the team nation-wide? Where relevant and appropriate, consider including members or different departments, and of varying levels of seniority to your meetings to gather a holistic view of issues and information that you and your team may not have otherwise had access to.

Teamwork should be an exciting part of every role you undertake, whether you’re just starting out as an accountant or you’re the CEO of an IT company.

Being open to constantly improving your teamwork skills will help you not only get the best out of your collaborations, but likely open up opportunities that you never even imagined, propelling your career in truly rewarding directions.