Teamwork – More Than Getting Along!

Successful project teams need to do it all – plan, collaborate and delivery.

I have been teaching Project Management (PM) for nearly a decade now but only recently discovered that “teamwork” for PM students can sometimes be this abstract concept. Students think they understand that the word teamwork relates to getting along with team mates, distributing work, allocating responsibilities and perhaps making collective decision – all of which is good stuff. However, only getting together to have what we might call “planning sessions” can result in people mostly working individually on their assigned tasks. There seems to be less of an understanding of how teams can do work together, dynamically sharing ideas and collaborating on the same task!

This latter form of teamwork is what every team should aspire to achieve as it can dramatically improve the quality and productivity of a team.  While this may occur naturally when teams have been working well together for some time and have developed easy communication paths that are founded on mutual trust and understanding, it is more difficult for newly formed teams. Which means that these newer teams can benefit from a more structured approach to working together. An easy way to do this is to apply the idea of brainstorming to tasks, ideally before individuals are allocated responsibility to complete them.

Brainstorming can not only ensure that all members of the team shares their knowledge and so can easily contribute to improve the quality of the output, it also ensure that everyone on the team is in agreement about what the task entails and the type of output expected. There can be no surprises if everyone has quickly gone through the process of working towards the required output.

But how is it possible to have everyone work on the same tasks, you ask? Would that not be inefficient and waste time because now everyone on the team is working sequentially on the same tasks. Does it not go against the ideal of distributing tasks that can be done in parallel?

It is always a challenge balancing individual productivity versus team cohesion – the quality of the complete work versus the it parts. Working together ensures everyone is on the same page and each person’s contribution can make improve the output. While working apart means that more can get done, that only is valuable if it is compatible with the other components and can be integrated into the whole. The trick is to do both!

Brainstorming as a team can ensure that we do not spend too much time all working on the same thing, but we nonetheless get the benefits of everyone’s contribution. Finding the balance is not easy but when it is achieved, we collect the best contributions of the entire team, and an individual team member can still be made responsible to collate, integrate and package these contributions into the require output.

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