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Teamwork—working with other people to achieve a shared goal—is essential in just about every domain, whether on the job, at home, or on the playing field. Though there are some situations where it’s better to act alone, learning how to work together without conflict is a critical skill that can help almost anyone achieve greater success.

Why Teamwork Matters

Humans are social animals. Civilization itself is the result of the pooled effort of innumerable people over thousands of years. Examining human collaboration can help researchers, organizations, and families determine how to maximize teamwork going forward. Raising children or keeping a clean household, for example, requires cooperation and a fair division of the workload. The same applies in almost any workplace, where good teamwork is necessary for goals to be met and customers to be satisfied.

Why do humans cooperate?

Cooperation is thought to be a key component of human nature. Working together allowed our early ancestors to survive; some experts posit that it even gave us an evolutionary advantage over other species of early humans who later died out. Cooperation allows humans to solve problems that individuals, acting alone, could not solve. 

What are the benefits of good teamwork?

Effective teamwork increases efficiency because more people are sharing the load. It also boosts accountability and morale, and reduces the risk that a project will be derailed if one team member is absent or unable to contribute. It also allows team members to learn from each other and build new skills as projects progress.

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How to Improve Teamwork
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Teamwork comes naturally to humans as a whole, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy for individuals to work with others. Some people, particularly those who prefer to work on their own, may feel out of place in a group or get frustrated by common teamwork pitfalls. To maximize teamwork, it's important that all teammates share the same goals and are committed to an overall vision. Often it takes just one person not pulling their weight—or defying the group's goals—to derail the efforts of everyone else on the team.

Is it possible to teach teamwork skills?

Yes; some individuals are more inclined to teamwork than others, but those who don’t naturally excel at it can become more adept. Teaching teamwork skills usually entails improving communication, building emotional intelligence, and imparting specific strategies for collaborating successfully.

What makes a team successful?

Research has found that certain qualities are consistent predictors of a strong team. These include good communication—including ensuring that every member is given a chance to speak—and a trait known as “social sensitivity,” or members’ ability to understand each others’ thoughts and feelings and respectfully engage in disagreements.

How Communication Affects Teamwork
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Communication is essential to ensure that a team runs optimally. It can also, however, be one of the most challenging aspects of working with other people—and even when other aspects of a team are functioning smoothly, ineffective communication can derail an entire project. Some skills that improve communication, like emotional intelligence, come more naturally to some than others; fortunately, most people can learn to become better communicators with practice.

On an ideal team, every member would be encouraged to share their ideas and updates on progress—even if the news is bad—and other members would do their best to listen, evaluate without judgment, and offer a thoughtful response. On the other hand, poor communication—a boss shooting down, or shouting down, ideas from subordinates, or one employee consistently speaking over others—disrupts general cohesion and can throw an otherwise productive team off their game.

How can teams communicate more effectively?

Team members should share relevant information when they know it, rather than waiting for an ideal moment. Each member should be encouraged to ask clarifying questions when necessary. Appointing one team member as the “devil’s advocate” can help the group consider potential problems and reach a better solution.

Why is nonverbal communication important for teamwork?

Nonverbal communication—including gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice—can help or hinder a team’s productivity. An individual who rolls her eyes at others’ ideas, for instance, can be problematic for the team’s morale. Conversely, team members who excel at reading nonverbal cues can better navigate the group dynamic and help identify unspoken issues.

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