Teamwork – Why Winning Teams Have It And How To Get It

Teamwork is not just a classroom exercise; it's a critical competency that consistently ranks among the top attributes sought by employers across various fields. Teamwork (aka Group Work) empowers individuals to achieve tasks they couldn't complete as well alone. Learn about the elements of teamwork so you can lead teams, overcome conflicts, set goals, evaluate colleagues' work and coordinate group projects.

What is Teamwork?

Teamwork refers to collaboratives effort between individuals—whether in pairs or in larger groups—aimed at achieving a common objective or completing a shared task. Valued both in the classroom and the workplace, effective teamwork extends beyond simple cooperation and is often greater than the sum of its parts.

One of the fundamental strengths of teamwork is its ability to tap into the unique competencies and knowledge of each team member. This collaborative synergy often results in more innovative solutions and higher-quality work than could be achieved individually.

The skill set required for impactful teamwork is multi-faceted, involving a broad spectrum of interpersonal competencies such as collaboration, leadership, and open-mindedness. Emotional and cultural intelligence have always been pivotal; they help navigate diverse perspectives and work styles, contributing to a harmonious work environment. Technological literacy has also grown increasingly critical with the rise of collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Workspace.

Other essential but often overlooked elements include resilience and stress management. Teams will inevitably face challenges, and the capacity to bounce back is often a determining factor in the overall success of a collaborative endeavor.

Whether you’re a student engaging in group projects or a young professional, mastering these various aspects of teamwork can set you on a path to success. Since teamwork remains one of the most highly prized competencies by employers, becoming proficient in these areas will serve you well throughout your academic and professional career.

Related Concepts: co authorshipconflict resolutionpeer review, and critique.

The DNA Of Teamwork: What Does Research Tell Us About The Essential Elements Of Successful Teams

The National Research Council (2012), a consortium of leading U.Sl scientists, depicts teamwork as an interpersonal competency that involves a cluster of competencies, including

  1. Communication: The exchange of ideas, perspectives, and feedback among team members that lays the foundation for all team activities.
  2. Collaboration: The shared contribution of knowledge, skills, and resources towards achieving a common objective.
  3. Cooperation: Working together in a supportive manner to execute tasks and achieve shared goals.
  4. Coordination: The act of aligning and synchronizing the various activities and tasks within a team to ensure efficient execution.
  5. Empathy/Perspective Taking: The ability to understand and respect the viewpoints of other team members, fostering a more cohesive work environment.
  6. Trust: The essential foundation upon which the effectiveness of a team is built, involving the belief in the reliability and integrity of team members.
  7. Service Orientation: The commitment to assist and support other team members, fostering a cooperative and inclusive team culture.
  8. Conflict Resolution: The skill to handle and resolve disagreements constructively within the team.
  9. Negotiation: The ability to find a middle ground through dialogue, helping to resolve conflicts and achieve common objectives.

In turn, ETS (Educational Testing Services) defines teamwork as a cluster of competencies involving

  1. Team Cohesion: The degree to which team members stick together and remain united in pursuing common goals.
  2. Team Empowerment: The process of equipping team members with the tools, resources, and confidence to execute tasks efficiently.
  3. Team Learning: The collective process of acquiring and applying new knowledge or skills that benefits the team as a whole.
  4. Self-Management and Self-Leadership: The ability of team members to independently regulate their actions and behaviors for the benefit of the team, as well as stepping up to guide others when needed.
  5. Open-mindedness and Adaptability: The willingness to consider different perspectives and adjust one’s approach to meet the team’s changing needs and circumstances. (Oliveri et al. 2017)

How to Improve Teamwork

Ready to turn your group project or workplace team from ‘meh’ to magnificent? Leveling up your teamwork skills isn’t just about making your classroom or office life easier—it’s about mastering one of the most sought-after competencies in today’s job market. Whether you’re a student collaborating on a research paper or a professional working on a big project, here’s your go-to action list to supercharge your teamwork skills and achieve more than you ever thought possible.

  1. Effective Communication: Hold regular meetings to discuss project updates and use collaborative platforms like Slack or Teams to encourage open dialogue and transparency.
  2. Active Collaboration and Cooperation: Proactively contribute your skills and knowledge to the team, while respecting the diversity of skills and perspectives present.
  3. Team Cohesion: Make an effort to understand and appreciate the roles, interests, and strengths of each team member to foster unity.
  4. Efficient Coordination and Self-Management: Clearly define and distribute tasks, ensuring everyone understands their responsibilities and how their individual efforts contribute to team success.
  5. Team Empowerment: Take the time to challenge and motivate team members, encouraging them to tackle additional tasks and leverage their unique strengths.
  6. Empathy and Trust Building: Establish a culture where all perspectives are respected and understood, prioritizing honesty and reliability in all interactions.
  7. Conflict Resolution and Negotiation: Equip yourself and your teammates with the skills needed to address disagreements constructively and find compromises.
  8. Leadership Skills and Team Learning: Foster an environment where leadership and continuous learning are shared experiences within the team.
  9. Shared Responsibility: Take ownership of your tasks while encouraging others to do the same, ensuring that everyone is held accountable.
  10. Goal Setting, Performance Management and Self-Leadership: Implement SMART goals to guide your team’s efforts and regularly assess your progress. Encourage team members to exhibit self-leadership behaviors.
  11. Planning and Task Coordination: Develop a detailed plan that specifies roles and tasks for each member, while making sure that these tasks are effectively coordinated.
  12. Assertive Communication and Self-Presentation: Advocate for a team culture where every voice is heard, using assertive but respectful communication and strategic self-presentation.
  13. Social Influence: Use negotiation, persuasion, and role modeling to positively influence the behavior and attitudes of your teammates.
  14. Open-mindedness, Adaptability, and Flexibility: Welcome diverse ideas and show adaptability when changes occur, being willing to make compromises for the good of the team.


Why is Teamwork Important?

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships

Michael Jordan

The concept of teamwork is often met with a mix of enthusiasm and dread, especially among students who have experienced the unequal distribution of labor in group projects. While the challenges are real, it’s crucial to recognize that teamwork is not merely an academic exercise or a source of frustration. In fact, in scientific research and professional settings, teamwork is considered a form of basic literacy.

Teams can be powerful. Small teams have changed the world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, for instance, created Apple (now Alphabet) working out of Steve Jobs’ garage. Teams enable people with different aims and competencies to collaborate with one another to achieve tasks that individuals alone might find impossible to do. Teams of people with different skill sets collaborate with one another to achieve shared goals.

After critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork has been ranked #2 or #3 s the most sought after competency by employers in the U.S. over the past five years (NACE 2022). According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2022, teamwork competencies are the third most important attribute employers look for in candidates (after critical thinking and communication competencies).

What factors affect teamwork?

Our past experiences influence how we experience teamwork and co-authorship. Our past efforts at co-authorship, conflict resolution, and critique & feedback invariably affect our success and failures when we join new team settings. We bring with us baggage from previous collaborations. We hold attitudes and histories that influence how we experience teamwork. Having a Growth Mindset and being intellectually open are key to listening to others. Metacognitive skills enable us to identify our blindspots and better identify team members who can excel in competencies we are a bit weaker in.

Growth Mindset
Intellectual Openness

In the context of Writing Studies, interpersonal competencies such as a writer’s past experience with co-authorship, conflict resolution, and critique & feedback can play an in important role in how well teams function.

Conflict Resolution
Critique & Feedback

Peer Review
Collaboration Tools

What are the four most important factors needed for effective teamwork?

Teams can develop Synergy. This happens when the efforts of two people can equal the outcomes you’d expect from 3 or more people (i.e., 1 + 1 = 3) . In other words, a team is said to have synergy when the outcome of the group far exceeds what the individual group members could have achieved on their own.

There is no single recipe for synergy. The eventual productivity of groups is really difficult to predict. The homogeneity of a group, the level of expertise in the group, the gender of the group–these sorts of variables are never exactly correlated with success. The interpersonal dynamics of people on a team can create unexpected results. Even one really destructive person can overwhelm a team’s potential.

However, teamwork is not exactly the equivalent to a moonwalk. Based on anecdote and research, the following competencies and dispositions have been associated with productive teams:

  1. Meritocracy
    1. The group leader works to ensure members feel safe expressing ideas, works to create channels of communication that facilitate the free flow of ideas
    2. Team members are sincerely open to idea they may know the best solution
    3. Decisions are based on evidence and logic rather than politics and ideology.
  2. Self Management
    1. Did members self manage? Complete tasks as agreed in a timely manner?
  3. Social Engagement
    1. Do team members engage in active listening? Do their responses to group conversations and activities reflect they are listening to team members? Do team members cite one another?
    2. Do team members contribute to others’ ideas, synthesizing others’ ideas, taking turns in conversation Team Cohesion
    3. How alike or dissimilar are team members? Do their skills complement one another? Do the people in the group share the same mental mindset about the team’s goals? Does the group culture foster diverse opinions, research methods, and information literacy strategies? Do group members respect one another?
  4. Team Engagement & Empowerment
    1. How committed are team members to the team? Do team members attend group meetings?
    2. Do team members mentor, inspire and challenge one another? Do the conversations and actions of the group reflect the values of radical transparency (see Critique).
    3. Has the knowledge and ability of team members evolved as a result of the team’s efforts?
    4. Is the whole, the totality of the group’s efforts, greater than the parts, the individual contributions of group members?
    5. How well do the outcomes of the group measure up to its goals?

For a class or work assignment, what should I do if one or more team members aren’t pulling their weight?

1. Open Communication: Start with a non-confrontational conversation with the team member(s) in question as soon as you notice the issue. It’s possible they’re facing a misunderstanding or personal problems affecting their performance.

2. Revisit Roles and Responsibilities: Make sure everyone is clear about what their tasks are. Often, people aren’t contributing simply because they don’t understand their responsibilities.

3. Alert Your Instructor or Supervisor Early: If the issue continues after you’ve attempted to resolve it internally, don’t wait until the assignment is due to inform your instructor or supervisor. They can offer guidance and, if necessary, intervene to address the problem.

4. Practice Empathy: Keep in mind that everyone is dealing with different circumstances. If a team member is facing personal issues, showing understanding and offering assistance can help.

5. Recognize That Sometimes, You’ll Need to Pick Up the Slack: In both academic and professional settings, there might be times when you have to do more than your fair share. Although this can be challenging, it’s part of working in a team. If you consistently deliver high-quality work and contribute significantly to your team’s success, your efforts will likely be recognized, benefiting your academic or professional progression.

6. Reflect and Learn: Regardless of the outcome, use this as a learning experience. Dealing with team dynamics can be challenging but can teach valuable lessons about communication, conflict resolution, and adaptability.

By dealing with these issues proactively and learning from them, you can improve your teamwork skills, which are vital in both academic and professional settings.


NACE 2022. Job Outlook 2022. National Association of Colleges and Employers. Accessed 9/3/2022.

NACE 2021. Job Outlook 2021. U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st Century. In J.W. Pellegrino and M.L. Hilton (Eds.), Committee on defining deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, Center for Education, Board on Testing and Assessment. Division of Behavioral Sciences.

Olivieri, M., Lawless, R., & Molloy, H. (2017). A literature review on collaborative problem solving for workforce readiness. GRE Board Research Report Series and ETS Research Report Series, 1-27. Doi:10.1002/ets12133

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