Teaching Team Work

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If you work with others you are part of a team. But where did you learn about being a teammate? Nobody is born with the knowledge about functioning on a team. Everyone’s first experience as a teammate is the family. You had a boss or bosses (parents) and maybe some co-workers (siblings). School is usually the next place we experience team dynamics. Possibly you played team sports and gained experience there. Ultimately you became employed and brought all your previous experience as a team player to the workplace.

Hopefully you had a good experience in your first job and learned how excellent teams function. Or you had a poor experience and learned how dysfunctional teams struggle. The point of this walk through childhood and early adulthood is that teamwork is a learned behavior. Our experiences shape how we operate as a teammate.

Experienced team members have the opportunity to teach new teammates how to improve their performance. Once a new hire has entered the workplace there are three primary sources to learn more about teams.

1. Teammates. Looking back at families and school, think about how much your siblings and friends influenced you. Peer to peer relationships are powerful in communicating the whys and hows of any organization. If you want your team to grow skills, make sure existing team members are grounded properly. This requires a significant amount of listening on leadership’s part. If the managers don’t know what the team thinks and feels about the workplace, they have no idea what messages are being given to the new team member. To insure these messages are positive management must have created a positive environment. If the existing team is unhappy, don’t expect the new teammates to blossom.

2. Leaders / Managers. While the leaders don’t control the opinions of the team, they are responsible for the conditions wherein the opinions are formed. Study after study reveals the powerful impact of the relationship between manager and employee. Employees who believe their manager cares about them and listens to them will remain at that company longer, are more productive and are generally more positive about their work environment. Working conditions, hours and pay are consistently found to be less impactful to employee happiness than the relationship with their manager. Therefore if you want new teammates to learn team work, look to their immediate supervisor.

3. Professional team development consultants. Sometimes despite management’s best efforts teams don’t excel. In many instances a professional consultant can observe the workplace, talk to mangers and employees and provide feedback as to the causes of the dysfunction. A qualified consultant will prescribe potential solutions. This will most often be some type of team building activity. The key to the success of any intervention is the goal. When a company hires a consultant, an analysis should precede the solution. When you visit a doctor, he/she doesn’t treat you until a diagnosis is completed. In the same manner a “prescription” of team building should be directed at a specific need.

But what if your team is functioning well? Most of us still get an annual physical with our doctor even if we believe we are in good health. You take your car in to the shop for regular maintenance, even if there aren’t any noticeable problems. Your team needs the same care. Regular team building events can not only help alleviate problems, but when conducted by a professional team development consultant, uncover issues that might need further attention.

Teaching team work to new teammates happens with or without managerial involvement. If the company is being well managed, the workforce is happy and a profit is being made, leadership doesn’t necessarily need to intervene. However, in most cases leaders and managers must play a direct part in integrating new employees. At times when this is being attempted realization surfaces that professional intervention is needed.

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