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Teamworking tips

See page 178 of the book.

Teamwork skills are an essential feature of most professional jobs and a key skill that employers are looking for. It is therefore vital that you develop this skill and can demonstrate, through interviews and in assessment centres, that you are a good team player.

Learning how to be an effective team player and working well in a team can be challenging. Not only does it include learning to work alongside other people who have different skills, knowledge, and experience to you, but also dealing with a range of different personalities, outlooks, and perspectives, which can sometimes be in conflict. It therefore takes skill, understanding, and experience. The following tips are useful as you develop your teamworking skills at university and some of your initial experiences in your career.

  1. Gain experience whilst at university

University gives you many opportunities to be in groups and teams from doing assignments, joining and even running clubs and societies, or being part of sporting events. Increasingly universities are offering volunteering opportunities, which all require teamwork as well. Take advantage of these opportunities as ways of not only of broadening your experience (very useful when completing application forms and answering questions in interviews), but also to improve your self-confidence and meet new people. You will need examples to draw on in interviews.

  1. Spend time in different teams

Not only is it useful to gain experience in teams, but also to be part of different teams. Working with different groups of people and from diverse backgrounds can be useful (for instance, if there are people from different nationalities in seminar groups, learning to work with them can be beneficial, particularly if you want to have a career that involves working abroad). Being in teams which aim to achieve different things can give you a broader range of experiences and develop your skills.

  1. Develop your listening skills, and value other people's input, and try to understand where they are coming from.

One of the most critical skills for effective teamwork is active listening. This is where you really listen to the contribution someone is making and try to draw out its significance. Active listening is also about clarifying what someone is saying (often by repeating their ideas back in different words) and therefore drawing out their significance for the discussion. This is a lot harder than it seems because it is easy to become preoccupied with what we want to say, and often do not really listen to what someone else has to say.

  1. Try to find links between different people's ideas and build a consensus

A good teamworker can help find links between what might sometimes be seen as disparate ideas and try to build a consensus. This involves active listening and creative thinking.

  1. Do not be afraid of conflict but learn to manage your own and others emotions

Conflict can be an inevitable part of being in a group and even an essential part of the creative process; however we often try to avoid it. Learn to cope with conflict but make sure you find ways that it doesn't become personal.

  1. Focus on people rather than just the task

Some people are too task-focused and do not pay attention to the human dynamics that are an essential part of teamwork. As a result they can actually be less effective because understanding the individuals and overall dynamics of the group can be an essential part of the team being effective.

  1. Reflect regularly on how you personally impact and shape others

Learning how you work in a team, assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, and understanding how to use them can be an essential lifelong skill. Keep a teamwork diary and get a mentor to talk through some of the experiences that you have. In particular reflect on how you interact with others and be attentive to the impact of what you say, do, and how you behave on other people. Often this is very difficult as it requires the sort of introspection and self-awareness that we often do not have but can be essential if you want to work well in a team and get on with other people.

  1. Learn how to manage time in meetings

Time management of meetings can be a key skill, as is keeping the group focused on the task in hand. Equally it can be vital for a team to go into seemingly irrelevant areas at times as this can be where creative thinking and problem solving is achieved.

  1. Take part in mock assessment centre activities

The mock teamwork exercise can be a key, make-or-break activity in an assessment centre. They can be very challenging as everyone in that setting is going to be trying their best and wanting to give a good impression; therefore, take the opportunity to practice being in this situation with a mock assessment centre. Often your university careers centre will give you the opportunity to do this.

  1. Enjoy being part of a team

Finally make sure that you enjoy being part of a team. Teamwork can be great fun, give you lots of social opportunities, open you to new experiences, cultures, and ways of seeing things and be a creative and enjoyable experience. Make the most of the opportunities that are presented to you.

Additional real life cases

Real life case: the Chilean miners

On 5 August 2010 the tunnel to San José mine, Chile, collapsed, leaving 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground beneath around 700,000 tons of rock. Stuck for a world record of 69 days, the first 17 of which were without any outside contact, the miners had to survive in cramped, hot temperatures, which one described as 'like hell, only smaller'.

With only a tiny amount of food (they did not even have the two days' rations that the mining company were legally obliged to provide), water meant for cooling the machines, and a small amount of power, they had few resources to survive. These circumstances could easily have led to infighting as individuals struggled to survive. Instead, they developed into a highly effective team.

They faced many teamwork issues, including personal relationships (imagine being trapped in a space with no light for nearly three months with the same people) and emotional support (think of the emotions you would go through in the first 17 days when you did not know whether you would be rescued). To help them deal with the psychological challenges they arranged themselves in eleven small buddy systems of three people each, with older miners supporting the younger or the more emotionally fragile ones.

They also had practical challenges. To work together they set schedules and jobs to create a sense of order and teamwork. They ran a mini democracy, voting on the decisions that they took and how to work together. They had to collaborate over their meagre rations-agreeing to eat only when everyone had a fair share.

The Wall Street Journal (cited in Arneson Leadership Consulting, 2010) reported that Rose Marie Fritsch, a Chilean psychiatrist, told Chile's 24 Horas television newscast that a key feature was the miners' 'capacity to organize themselves, to conserve certain structures and stand tall', she said. 'It's evident that they didn't lose their organization or their survival system.' Barrionuevo (2010) reported Dr Jaime Mañalich, Chile's health minister, saying, 'They are completely organized. They have a full hierarchy. It is a matter of life and death for them.'

They were led by the foreman Luis Urzua, who has been widely credited with motivating the group. In this situation it was not his technical skills that mattered but his capacity to 'rally a team of hungry, anxious men fighting for their lives in a cramped, dark, hot space half a mile below the earth' (McGregor, 2010).

Sources: Arneson Leadership Consulting (2010), BBC (2011), Barrionuevo (2010), McGregor (2010).

What role do you think teamwork played in the miners' survival? Do you think that they could have survived without cooperation and teamwork? Why was the psychological side important to good teamwork?

The Chilean miners are an extreme case, being thrown together in that situation they had to become a team just to survive. However, we can see similar teamwork issues with people working in organizations.

Arneson Leadership Consulting (2010) Leadership and teamwork, underground.

Available at: http://arnesonleadership.wsiefusion.net/_blog/Bootstrap_Leadership_Blog/post/Leadership_and_Teamwork,_Underground/

Barrionuevo, A. (2010) Trapped Chilean miners forge refuge. New York Times. 31 August 2010. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/world/americas/01chile.html?_r=1&hp

BBC (2011) Chilean miners: 17 days buried alive (BBC 2, 16 August 2011).

McGregor, J. (2010) Luis Urzua: Chile's underground leader. The Washington Post. 12 October 2010. Available at: http://views.washingtonpost.com/leadership/post_leadership/2010/10/after-nearly-70-days-the.html

Real life case: We need to talk about Kevin

Having just scored 326 runs for his county, England cricket international Kevin Pietersen might well have expected to be able to get his place back in the England cricket team. Having scored his triple century, the undoubtedly talented batsman walked off the field declaring he was 'ready to play for England' (BBC 2015a). Yet, that evening he met with Andrew Strauss, the England Director of Cricket, and was told there would be no recall and that it was 'hard to see' any set of circumstances where he should be recalled (The Independent, 2015).

Why was this? Pietersen clearly has talent, and on this basis alone many said he should be in the team (Jenkins, 2015). Yet talent alone does not seem to be enough. Pietersen has been accused of not being a team player, of falling out with his teammates and of writing an autobiography that was highly critical of the people around him (The Independent, 2015). For Lord MacLaurin, the former Chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board, a lack of teamwork is destructive. 'If you're running a team, whether in business or in cricket, you have to have trust in all the players and quite clearly over the years, sadly, Kevin Pietersen hasn't shown trust and I don't think there's any room for anybody like that in the England side' (BBC, 2015b).

BBC 2015a. Kevin Pietersen: England hopes boosted by triple century. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/32696838 (last accessed 10 July 2015).

BBC 2015b. Lord MacLaurin: Kevin Pietersen is not a team player. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cricket/32771616 (last accessed 10 July 2015).

Jenkins, S. 2015. Talent is talent-England needs Kevin Pietersen. The Guardian, 12 May.

The Independent 2015. Andrew Strauss: No England recall for Kevin Pietersen. The Independent, 11 April.

Real life case: the teamwork behind the ice-bucket challenge

In August 2014 you may have done something very odd: taken out your mobile phone and asked a friend to record you saying you were going to donate to an ALS charity (supporting research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and, in the UK, into motor neurone disease) and then saying the names of a few friends you wanted to nominate, only to have a bucket of ice-cold water poured over you (invariably followed by you screaming at the shock of the pain). The 'Ice Bucket Challenge', as it became known, had swept through social media. Many people's Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of videos of people pouring water on their heads and nominating their friends. Soon celebrities, politicians, and business leaders such as Anne Hathaway, George W. Bush, and Bill Gates were getting into the act.

For the team behind the challenge, this was a major job. The ALS charity, which normally would receive only 10 enquiries a day, suddenly had to field over 200. In an interview for this textbook, Stephanie Dufner, then the ALS communications manager, told us they had to work 14 hours a day, and 6 hours at weekends, answering individual and media enquiries (Dufner, 2015a). The attention the Ice Bucket Challenge received meant they had to constantly update the Frequently Asked Questions, answering questions on the charity's stance on issues like animal testing and stem cell research, and clarifying miscommunication on social media. Dufner stated in an article in The Guardian that 'This required me to work with my colleagues in communications and marketing and other departments to formulate consistent messaging that answered these questions in a timely manner' (Dufner, 2015b). They had to constantly keep social media up to date. For a small organization at the centre of a worldwide media spotlight, this required them to work together and support each other at a faster pace than they had ever been used to. 'I recall a sense of camaraderie that occurred during the challenge' Dufner told us (Dufner, 2015a). They also needed excellent communication to keep one other in the loop.

Dufner, S. 2015a. Working during the Ice Bucket Challenge. Personal communication with Daniel King.

Dufner, S. 2015b. What I learned during the Ice Bucket Challenge: Be ready for anything. The Guardian, 1 July.