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 interpersonal conflicts, set goals, evaluate colleagues' work and coordinate group projects.

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Teamwork Definition

Teamwork refers to an individual’s ability to collaborate with others to accomplish tasks. Teamwork involves a variety of competencies, especially conflict resolution, goal setting, performance management, planning, and task coordination (Oliveri et al. 2017). For writers, speakers, knowledge workers, teamwork often involves a range of collaborative practices, including co authorship, peer review, and critique.

Teamwork, along with leadership (see image below), is characterized by educators, cognitive psychologists, and learning scientists as one of two co-clusters of competencies that constitute the interpersonal domain: Teamwork/Collaboration & Leadership.

Source: National Research Council, 2012

Related Concepts: Collaboration

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships

Michael Jordan

Why is Teamwork Important?

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.

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.

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 4 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?

How to Improve Teamwork

Team Charter
Ambiguities about responsibilities can undermine productive collaborations. If you’re assigned a team project, learn how to use a Team Charter to foster transparency about defined roles, tasks, and schedules.

Works Cited

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