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10 Tips for Top-Quality Teamwork
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

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Working in teams is inevitable. For years now, organizational leaders have recognized the added value that comes from having employees work in formal or informal teams, but over the last two decades even greater emphasis has been placed on work teams. Several studies indicate that more than 80 percent of organizations employ multiple types of workplace teams.

Team-building and teamwork skills are essential in the workplace and highly desirable skills to possess when seeking a new job or promotion. Teams working at their potential generate more productivity and better solutions than if all the individual members had worked independently. How can you be a better team leader? How can you get your team to work more effectively as a team? How can you lead your team to success? Here are ten tips for creating better teams.

1. Foster Open Communication.
The best teams are those in which every member shares their thoughts and opinions with the group, and where decision-making is based on dialogue and not dictatorship. But open communication is not just about having an atmosphere in which people can talk freely -- it's also about team members listening to each other and valuing each other's opinions. If your team lacks open communications, bring it up at your next team meeting.

2. Build Trust.
Trust is the cornerstone of all effective teams. Without trust, there really is no team, just a collection of individuals working together. Teams need to develop to a point where every member trusts that every other member will do the work required and be an active member of the team. One of the trendy methods of trust-building is having team participate in a ropes-challenge course, where teams work together to solve problems.

3. Set Clear Goals.
A team without specific goals will not be nearly as effective as a team with goals. Goals should be specific, including a deadline for completion. But goals should not necessarily always come from the leader of the team; all goals should be discussed by the entire team, especially in situations in which deadlines will be tight.

4. Review Progress.
Once goals have been set, the team frequently goes off to complete all the tasks to achieve its goal. This scenario is perfectly fine, except that in too many instances, new information or actions can affect the goal's completion. Thus, teams benefit from conducting regular check-ins with all team members -- perhaps something as often as weekly -- to review progress and iron out any wrinkles or overcome obstacles that have arisen.

5. Encourage Cooperation, not Competition.
Despite being placed in teams with co-workers competing with you for your next promotion, you must find a way to collaborate with every member of the team. One of the worst labels in the workplace is that of "not being a team player." You have plenty of time to showcase your personal accomplishments, but without your cooperation, your team may not succeed. Collaboration is a must.

6. Focus on Professionalism.
The reality of life is that we all have certain types of personalities that clash with our own, but for teams to work, you have to put aside these petty differences and focus on the positive aspects of all team members. Remember that you are not forging lifelong friendships with your team, you simply need to work together to achieve your goals. Downplay people's negative traits and focus on their positives - just as they will yours.

7. Celebrate Differences/Diversity.
One of the best trends in society, as well as the workplace, has been a growing diversity of people -- by race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Diversity introduces new ways of thinking and leads to new ideas and better decisions. Rather than feeling uncomfortable that most of the team does not look or act like you, celebrate their individual differences and the value that each brings to the team.

8. Be Enthusiastic.
Even if you generally prefer to work by yourself, the reality is that teams in the workplace are here to stay. One way to make the best of the situation is to jump into the team experience with as much enthusiasm as possible. Enthusiasm is contagious, so not only will your enthusiasm help you feel better about being a team member, it will lead other team members to also become more enthusiastic.

9. Share the Work/Do the Work.
The best teams are those in which each member plays a vital part in work that results in superior performance; thus it is imperative that each member not only feels he or she plays a vital role, but actually does so. But, sharing the work is only part of the equation. The other part is that once the work has been assigned, each team member must be accountable to complete the tasks. Much as been written about the "free-rider" problem within teams, but with individual accountability within the team, people cannot hide from their team responsibilities.

10. Clarify Responsibilities to the Team.
One of the main causes of team members not completing their work is their simply not understanding their role on the team -- or the importance that their work will lend to the team. The key here is that each team member must totally understand his or her role on the team and responsibility to the team so the team can succeed.

Final Thoughts.
Your work life will include individual and team projects and assignments, and as you move up the organization, the importance of working well in teams -- and leading teams to success -- will gain more and more value. If you take these 10 tips to heart, your satisfaction with teamwork and your performance on the team will improve greatly.

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Dr. Randall Hansen is Founder of Quintessential Careers, as well as publisher of its electronic newsletter, QuintZine. He writes a biweekly career advice column under the name, The Career Doctor. He is also a tenured, professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. He can be reached at randall@quintcareers.com. Read more about Dr. Hansen.

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