Working Together as a Team: What Does It Actually Mean?

8 min read
Mar 14, 2021
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As Michael Jordan once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Working as a team is important and it allows you to exchange ideas, create big projects, and follow through with established goals. So, how to effectively work together? 

A good team is never a coincidence. Achieving synergy requires a lot of work, both from the manager and team members. Working together as a group requires some basics, such as open communication, consensus vision, and clear group roles. Teams around the world differ by management and communication styles. That’s why it’s always good to do research and learn from the best companies out there.

Harvard Business Review did research to find out which factors can contribute to building collaborative teams. They considered more than 100 factors and isolated eight practices that correlated with success. These practices appeared to substantially help overcome the difficulties that were posed by size, working across time zones, diversity, and specialization.

In this article, I’ll refer to some of those practices, such as executive support, HR practices, and the strengths of the leader. But I will also mention some that I think are important.

Get to know each other - executive support

The inevitable step in building an effective crew is for each member to get to know each other – but not only by their names. The thing is to get to know somebody’s values, goals, strengths, and the way they work. Once you know your teammates like that, it will be easier to define how to best work together.

In their research, Harvard Business Review found that while we no longer need convincing that diversity is an asset, it is important to realize that communication may be challenging when there is little common background. That is why the most successful companies take strategic actions and allow time for new employees to get to know the people they’ll be working with.

Work out clear goals and a clear vision

When the team members know each other well, they should start working towards one goal. Are we sure that everyone sees the goal in the same way? And if so, do they know how to achieve it?

It often happens that organization members have different visions about the result, even though they know how to get there. To explain it better, let me give an example.

My friend took part in a big project. Its goal was to renew their internet browser which basically meant they had to design a new one.

The squad consisted of a researcher, graphic designer, UX designer, and programmers. Each of them knew what they were supposed to do. They were to create an innovative, nice-looking browser. What happened was that, along the way, it turned out they all understood “innovative” and “nice-looking” in a completely different way.

To come up with a common vision, they decided to bring pictures that describe their vision of the browser and put them on the table. It turned out that some of them saw it as a browser for chilled and relaxed young people, some of them found it more official.

As you can imagine, it’s hard to work toward one common goal with totally different visions, so they discussed everything and came to an agreement. After the discussion, people started to choose other people’s pictures to show how the browser can look. They reduced the number of pictures that described the browser and worked out a common vision. Since then, the work sped up and everyone knew what direction the production should be going in.

Without a clear vision like this, they would probably encounter a lot of misunderstandings in a subject so sensitive as design.

LiveChat sales & developer teams working together on a joint project
LiveChat sales & developer teams working together on a project

Form teams and define clear roles

Once the vision is set, it is crucial to form a team and structure work efficiency.

Newly formed teams are forced to invest significant time and effort into building trusting relationships. Not only is it important to define an approach toward achieving a goal but it’s also important to clearly specify roles for individual group members. Collaboration improves when the roles of individual members are clearly defined and well understood.

Once that happens, people feel that they can do a significant portion of their work independently. They can focus on what they do best and their teammates can rely on them. Individual work is as important as teamwork in the production of results.

At LiveChat, for example, we believe that "teamwork" is a value that allows us to work on the best live chat tool (you don't have to believe me, you can test it for yourself) and still enjoy what we do. We have our creative independence which makes working conjointly much more interesting.

Tackle work across different time zones

Working remotely, working from home, and especially working online across different time zones poses specific challenges to teamwork. Going global can help with the 24/7 coverage of your business, and may be a necessity in your industry - it will require more effort in organizing work and keeping up employee engagement. 

When your team is spread across the globe, you are able to attend to your customers 24/7. This will help with lead generation, as your sales team is then available at a time that’s convenient for your customers. It will also help with churn reduction. 24/7 customer support has been a huge selling point for LiveChat and the support team has averted many a crisis for our customers.

In the post-pandemic world, more and more companies have gone either hybrid or fully remote. In such cases, it is important to make sure some time zones are not favored over others. 

Donna Flynn, Director at Steelcase Workspace Future, explains how they schedule meetings so that every month each employee has one early morning, one afternoon, and one evening meeting; and they skip one that falls in the middle of the night in their timezone. It is important not to let anyone in the organization feel more remote than the others. For hybrid meetings, provisions must be made for participants joining remotely online to be equally heard. 

According to Matt Mullenweg from Automattic, the future of remote work is asynchronous. His company has been fully remote and asynchronous since its inception in 2005. Such companies rely heavily on online written communication and documentation. Clear writing is a must. 

With teams that are fully remote and asynchronous, the issue of employee engagement becomes even more salient. All work and no play will make for a dull team. Scheduling time for learning together or just chatting informally becomes especially important. Even more important is the time scheduled for hanging out together in person. 

At LiveChat, we have the WHOA week in late September, when we all travel to the LiveChat headquarters in Wrocław, Poland and do some work and a lot of being together in person. Such a week of intense interaction and engagement is an investment in trust and connection. 

Improve skills to support work efficiency - HR practices

The research by Harvard Business Review found that some teams had a collaborative culture but were not skilled in the practice of collaboration itself. They were encouraged to cooperate, they wanted to cooperate, but they didn’t know how towork conjointly in teams very well.

The study showed that a bunch of skills were crucial, such as an "appreciation of others, being able to engage in purposeful conversations, creative and productive conflict resolution, and program management.”By training employees in those areas, a company’s human resources or corporate learning department can make a huge difference in an organization’s performance.

Support a sense of community

Bill Marriott, the chairman of the Marriott corporation, runs his own blog where he discusses a range of topics, from Marriott’s efforts in becoming greener to his favorite holiday spots. His blog is very popular among employees and it supports the idea that the company is a community. 

That’s just one idea. Other companies have created big office spaces, an indoor atrium, or even a campus. Just like a small town, with retail shops, restaurants and jogging tracks - something like the Apple Campus.

LiveChat Software team collaboration in the office during presentation on project progress
LiveChat Software team collaboration in the office during presentation on project progress

It helps employees to remain on the campus throughout the day. It also improves communication among them, increases the exchange of ideas, and creates a sense of community.

Nowadays, however, more and more companies or even industries go online for virtual co-presence. Communication solutions such as Slack or Jira help with working through the challenges of the lack of physical co-presence.

The Right Team Leaders

It turns out that the most productive and innovative crews are led by people who are both task- and relationship-oriented. It’s unsurprising that a mix of these two skills is highly desired by employees.

But what’s essential is that these leaders change their style during the project.

At the beginning, when there’s time for setting up goals and clarifying responsibilities for each team member, leaders are task-oriented. At some point during the work on the project, they switch to a more relationship–oriented style. This achievement usually occurs when the team has met its goals and the initial tensions around sharing knowledge need to be worked through.

Working together as one crew

There’s a lot you can gain by working together. There are usually many people with different skills working on a project. The important thing is to create a smooth flow between these people, which will allow them to exchange their ideas and utilize each other's abilities to achieve work efficiency.

What’s crucial along the way is to not only keep clear communication and motivate each other, but also give individuals the space to develop their skills. These skills combined make for a happy and efficient team.

If you want to read more about how to get a team to work together, check out 15 of the Best Teamwork Quotes that Will Inspire Your Team to Work Together.

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