Teamwork – it’s essential. In your academic and professional career, you will inevitably work in teams. Therefore, the earlier you learn to master the art of teamwork, the more beneficial it will be.
Growing up, “team work” was a foreign concept to me. In high school, “team projects” meant that I would do the project and cover up for my peers. I loved having control of the projects and my peers loved getting grades effortlessly. Win, win situation, right? Sadly, it wasn’t as glorious as it seemed.
University hit hard. When I had to code the visual interface for a map similar to Google Maps, I knew that I could not accomplish that alone. I needed to work with my team because of two main reasons:
- The project itself was too large for one person to realistically finish by the given deadline
- Each team member had different skills (e.g., coding, report writing, presenting) needed to complete the project as a whole
However, after all those years of avoiding teamwork, I had no idea how to work with others. I went through many hardships trying to coordinate the team, evenly distribute the workload, and meet internal deadlines. Our marks for that course reflected our inability to work together. However, through that process, I learned many valuable lessons about becoming a good team player! In order to help you avoid the common mistakes people make when working in teams, here are some tips that I learned that may help steer your team towards success.
Understand the Structure of a Successful Team
Teams work best when the workload is evenly distributed in a manner that utilizes everyone’s unique strengths, skills, and specializations. Get to know your team members and their strengths and weaknesses. Determine what skills the project demands and explore what each team member can contribute.
Set Rules and Routine
You could have known your teammates since the second grade, or you could have met them 10 minutes ago – regardless, setting rules and establishing a routine is essential to creating discipline within a team. Here are some examples of rules and routines you should establish:
- Enforce mutual respect among team members (attentive listening, positive criticism, mindful communication, etc.).
- Set communication strategies by determining how and when everyone can be contacted.
- Set boundaries by clearly defining how much time (per week) each team member is willing to commit to the project.
- Define the structure, frequency, and purpose of team meetings:
- How often will the team hold meetings?
- Where will they be held?
- What types of meetings will be held (status update, productivity, team-building, etc.)?
- Set internal deadlines and define the consequences of not meeting the deadlines.
- Set guidelines for punctuality, meeting attendance, and workload accountability.
- How early should the team be notified if someone will be late to a meeting OR cannot attend a meeting?
- How early should the team be notified if someone cannot meet the internal deadline?
- In the event of having an unproductive team member, tentatively determine how the team will handle the setback. What consequences, if any, will that person face?
- Create a reward system for sticking to internal deadlines.
- Create a progress monitoring system (such as weekly status update meeting) to ensure that all the team members are on-track, coordinated and productive. This helps the team spot if someone is slacking, giving time to take the necessary actions.
Everyone has different expectations of what they hope to achieve through the project, so it’s important to clearly define one set of team expectations to unify what everyone is aiming for. In an academic setting, make sure everyone knows what minimum grade to aim for. Some compromise might be necessary, but it will be worth it. For example, if someone is aiming for a 60% and someone else is aiming for a 90%, this difference in expectations will become clear in the individual member’s quality of work; this results in an incohesive final project and frustration among the team members. However, if everyone decides to aim for a 75+%, the final product will be a lot easier to achieve.
If you define those rules, routines, and expectations when the team is created, and diligently work to adhere to them, it will help you avoid a lot of potential conflicts. Happy team-working!