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Even if you work fairly independently most of the time, inevitably you must also work with others. Finding ways to build teams that accomplish what needs to be done in the most efficient and accurate manner is often challenging, especially when bringing together team members with diverse sets of hard and soft skills. There are some basic techniques you can use when building, or working with, a team to help create a cohesive unit that leverages everyone’s talents and ensures that each person contributes.

Identifying Capabilities

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Einstein said that everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life thinking it is stupid. When building a team, it is key to identify the different talents, skills, and capabilities each team member brings. Identifying what each team member does well and can contribute helps ensure that work is allocated in a way that takes full advantage of the talent resources on the team. Assigning a team member work that is completely outside his or her skill set is a recipe for failure! On the other hand, leveraging all the diverse capabilities, skills, and talents on your team helps you achieve the maximum results.

When you build or join a team, take the time at the outset to ask each member what he or she brings to the team. What skills, abilities, and relationships does each team member have that can enhance the project? What does each person feel he or she does well? How can the team use all these talents and capabilities to achieve the best outcome?

Get Into Your Role

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When you are given a role on a team, it’s important to get into it! Be sure you know what is expected of you, and what you can expect of others. Even if the role is a new one or a stretch for you, it is key to step into it. This also means stepping out of others’ roles, even if they are roles you have played before. Use your communication skills to create open, honest dialogues with your other team members so that you are all on the same page. Be clear about where your role begins and ends, and be willing to assert those boundaries. Teamwork can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but it is even more so when roles are unclear. A key step in creating a team is clearly outlining what each person’s role is (and is not).

Learn the Whole Process

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Knowing your role and stepping fully into it is a vital part of effective teamwork. At the same time, it’s important not to get isolated in your own piece of the project. Learning the whole process not only ensures that you understand your own role and accountabilities, but helps you know what to expect of and from others. When you take the time to learn the whole process, it puts your work and your relationships with team members into a larger context. Knowing the whole process also means that you can help a colleague troubleshoot if problems arise, and that your colleagues can be of assistance should you need it. In the worst case scenario, having every member of the team know the whole process means that others can step in if there is a crisis or breakdown in the project. 

The best way to learn the whole process is to talk to team members who are working parts of a project different from your own. Take the time to ask questions and to listen actively to the answers. This not only demonstrates that you care about the outcome of the project, but that you are interested and invested in each of your teammates’ work and success. Learning the whole process helps to build collaborative relationships among team members, which helps to enhance communication and overall productivity.

The Power of Flow

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Psychologists define “flow” as a mental state that occurs when we are fully immersed in an activity. When we are a flow state, we are completely absorbed in what we are doing, and this produces a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment. Tapping into flow is a powerful way to increase your own productivity, and the productivity of your team. We are most likely to achieve flow when we are engaged in a task to which our skills are well matched – another reason to identify the capabilities of each person on a team. Flow also comes about more easily when we have clear goals and can focus on the process rather than the end product. Perhaps the most important key to achieving flow is to minimize interruptions when you are working. 

When we can find the flow state, time seems to pass quickly without our noticing. We are also more likely to create accurate, high quality work with fewer errors. Because we are focused totally on what we are doing, a flow state may be a key aspect of mastering a new set of skills – stretching your skill set and cultivating flow can be a great tool for professional development. 

Case Study

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Coleen often worked as a part of a team, but preferred to focus on her part of the final product only. She communicated with her team members as needed, but didn’t really understand what each of them did – it simply wasn’t important to her ability to finish her part of the project. When she joined the team for a new project, the team lead, Tasha, suggested that each person describe what he or she would do on the project. Coleen didn’t see the point. However, as each team member described their piece of the project and their role in the team, Coleen began to see how the project all came together – to get a larger picture. She had never thought before about what had to happen before her piece could be completed, nor what had to happen afterwards. Seeing the project as a cohesive whole made her understand more clearly what the overall goal was, and knowing what each of her team mates did also helped her communicate with them more clearly.