However, the importance of teamwork goes beyond fulfilling our duties to others. The old African proverb on teamwork says it best:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Teamwork helps us grow as people and accomplish more than we ever could on our own.
Without teamwork, we wouldn’t be able to build companies at all. So what, exactly, makes teamwork so important in the workplace?
Teamwork helps us in many ways. Without teamwork, many of our jobs would likely never get done. Below are just a few more reasons outlining the importance of teamwork.
Empathy can make team members more loyal, engaged, happy, creative, and willing to work together. A team working together closely can see what each member contributes.
Think about what that means: through empathy, employees on a team can hold each other accountable, lend helping hands, and speak up when someone needs a break. They are dependent on each other for success and have real, in-person interactions, so they are much more likely to put themselves in each others’ shoes.
My team uses a project management platform called Teamwork to support each other, and we’ve seen improvement in how we look out for each other. If everybody’s on the same page about where a project stands, it makes it easier to understand where somebody’s mindset is when they are doing certain tasks.
Like a football team, each member of a work team has his or her own specialty. Even if the right tackle dominates every play, it doesn’t mean that the team is going to win. It takes every player, doing his or her part and working together to win.
Companies can’t hope to compete if only half the team is pushing for the finish line. If one player is having a bad day, the rest of the team has to pitch in — which keeps those team members from owning their own roles.
This is how teams work: they make decisions that benefit the group, even if it means certain members need to make sacrifices. Group identity is what might inspire someone to go to war for their country or put in overtime hours on a group project.
When you identify as being part of a team, it triggers a shift in you goals. No longer are you thinking “What’s in it for me?” You’re thinking “What does this mean for us?” This motivates you to then pursue the goals of the group, making the company stronger.
We’ve probably all done the “trust fall” exercise. While this might be the most common team-building exercise, it’s not the only way to help a team come together. Workplace teams spend long hours together and need to trust each member to protect everyone’s livelihood.
A few ways to encourage them to build strong bonds and work better together are:
Companies can encourage their teams to build strong bonds through things like games and competitions. Games like waste basketball, ping pong, and two-minute trivia can help break up the work day and encourage the team to get to know each other on a personal level in a fun, friendly setting.
What brings people together like food? Almost nothing. Encourage employees to eat together. Maybe that means taking a slightly longer lunch break or going out on Fridays. Enjoying happy hour or appetizers after work are also smart strategies.
You don’t want your workers goofing around all of the time, of course, but the occasional watercooler conversation can actually promote productivity and teamwork.
Exchanging pictures of kids and pets during downtime, or sharing hobbies and passions helps team members to relate on a personal level. That, in turn, strengthens the bonds that make them an effective team.
Especially in industries that aren’t known for their customer service, teamwork can make a company shine.
The book “You Don’t Have to be Ruthless to Win” by Jonathan Keyser, in particular, inspired me to be more selfless. Keyser leads a fast-growing commercial real estate company that operates with the principle to selflessly serve others((Keyser: Our Culture)) on the team and around them. Because buy-in must be broad for a team to function, Keyser considers clients part of that culture as well.
Learning to serve others as a team can be challenging and complicated, but it can also be deeply rewarding. Selfless service requires people to collaborate and go the extra mile. A team’s relationships must be built on trust and mutual respect for its members to act selflessly.
Not all employees prefer to work on a team as opposed to as individual contributors, but nobody wants to work on a team that doesn’t get along. Arguments and tensions make work less fun for everyone involved.
Good team players make good co-workers, which ultimately create a good culture. We spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our own families, so it’s important to enjoy being with those that we’re around.
To make your work culture more enjoyable and productive, it’s important to encourage employees to be good team players. Team players come together to get the job done, even if it means putting in a little more time than someone else.
A few years ago, Google researchers dug into a question companies have been trying to answer for ages: What defines the perfect team?
Google discovered((The New York Times: What Google Learned From its Quest to Build the Perfect Team)) that it wasn’t about years of experience, personality alignment, or perks. It was the fact that ideal teams have psychological safety. In essence, good teams have the ability to fail, share opinions, and debate ideas without worrying about being judged or ostracized.
Psychological safety and teamwork are mutually reinforcing. Teams that work well together learn to feel safe with one another. That security can help develop more creative, effective ideas for the company as a whole.
In a Harvard Business Review interview((Harvard Business Review: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace)), Amy Edmondson — the researcher who first coined the term — explained that psychological safety is built structurally and behaviorally. The former is about constructing small teams whose members identify with each other; the latter is a matter of people asking for feedback and being vulnerable.
Work-life balance is rare at companies that do not appreciate the importance of teamwork. When team members know that their peers have their backs, they feel free to close their laptops at the end of a long day or go on vacation and utilize their PTO.
Because they feel taken care of, they’re also willing to go the extra mile when work needs to get done. If a co-worker needs time off for a vacation or other personal time, everyone else on the team can come together to pick up the slack.
Innovative companies know the importance of teamwork. Rarely, if ever, are innovations the result of a genius locked away in a laboratory by him or herself.
Keith Ayers, head of the Integro Leadership Institute, breaks innovation into four roles((Entrepreneur: Innovation Takes Teamwork)): creating, advancing, refining, and executing.
Creators are idea people. They see possibilities, even if those ideas may not work in practice. Advancers promote those ideas, ensuring they do not die on the vine. Refiners do the work of getting to the idea’s meat: They ask “what if” questions to find its best possible iteration. Executors, of course, turn the idea from a blueprint concept into an actual product. It would take a very precise person a lot of time to do all of that on their own.
Teamwork isn’t just a buzzword your boss likes to throw around. The importance of teamwork can be seen in every Fortune 500 company, but also in other aspects of life, such as successful relationships with friends and family. Without teamwork, we would likely not have safe roads to drive on, fresh food to eat, complex medical procedures, and so much more.
Teamwork is what separates companies that sputter out from those that succeed. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, use teamwork to help you go the distance.