Let me start with an often-quoted acronym: TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More.

What is it?

One definition of teamwork would be the collaborative effort of a team to achieve a common goal or to complete a task in the most effective and efficient way. In other words, it is an approach to the completion of a task that one person alone would not be able to achieve.

This could involve one person directing several subordinates, deciding who should do what, towards the completion of the task.

Or it could involve a group of individuals, with no one person leading, and each person chipping in ideas on how to get over the most challenging of obstacles.

How it can be applied to a work environment

How teamwork can be applied to a work environment very often depends on the nature, size, and complexity of the work or project in question.

Some situations would see several individuals working together to achieve a single task, which for a few different reasons, one person alone would not be able to achieve.

Other situations would see several individuals assigned to specific roles in a task or project. Sometimes these roles and their descriptions are very clear and only the person assigned to a certain role can perform that role. Other times, a person would be asked to perform a role other than that to which he was, should circumstances so demand it.

And then there are other situations where companies, not individuals serve as “players” in a team, in which each player plays a specific role. I will give a situation where a new building is proposed, as an example. For the design of that building, the client would typically assign an architect to design the building and the rooms therein. A civil/structural engineer would have the task of designing the external underground works running to and from the building, and the structure of the building, necessary to hold up the building. A building services engineer would be responsible for the design of things such as drainage, plumbing, heating, ventilation, and electrical services in the building. A quantity surveyor would be responsible for cost control on the project.

Each of these players would collaborate in their own ways to ensure a successful outcome for the project. For example, the services engineer would set out the requirements for the major plant items, to both the architect and the structural engineer. And the quantity surveyor would typically obtain cost estimates, as well as drawings and specifications from all the other players on the project, to enable him to put his bill of quantities together.

Knowing one’s place

In a properly organised work environment, each person will have a specific role to play in seeing a project from start to completion. To put it another way, each person would have a clearly defined job description. For example, a secretary would be responsible for duties such as processing incoming and outgoing correspondence, answering the telephones, directing the calls as necessary and handling the company’s finances. 

Every organisation, be it big or small, would often have a hierarchy of workers, from the directors at the top of the hierarchy, with their subordinates lower down. In this setup, it will be clear to all team members, what their position is in the tree, and to whom do they report.

Union rules

Some organisations that have a structured system whereby each person knows what their role and responsibility is within the organisation, and to whom they report, will be flexible with regard to someone doing work that would normally be carried out by someone else, in exceptional circumstances. Such circumstances would include someone not being able to come in to work, as planned, with the result that someone else has to do at least some of the work that the absent person normally carries out.

In many large organisations, most notably the civil and public service bodies, the workers are members of a union. As such, the rules regarding what functions each worker carries out, within the organisation, are often strictly adhered to. And any cases of someone carrying out functions that someone else does, are very much frowned upon.

No doubt there would be question marks over whether or not this inflexible implementation of this “who does what” rule within an organisation is the most efficient, as the absence of one person for a period of time can sometimes hold up progress of at least some aspects of a project, especially if it is possible for someone else to step in and carry out the work, but can’t, or more to the point, is “forbidden” to do so.

Working on your own

There is many a situation where one might want to work alone. And often there’s no problem with that in itself. However, based on my experience in this area over the years, there is a temptation to try and do every task associated with a project oneself, based on the saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

Depending on the size and complexity of a project, trying to do everything yourself can often put excessive pressure on you, especially if there is a deadline that someone else has set, or even a time and date that you have set for yourself, by which you aim to have the project completed. This often leads to you doing things like working excessive amounts of overtime, or even refusing to take phone calls or any other interruptions, because you want to stay “in the zone” when working on a task.

As an alternative to doing everything yourself, it is often better to share the load, other people assigned specific tasks within a project. And it is about trusting that they will carry out the work in a way you are expecting it to be done.

There are situations where certain tasks are just about impossible for one person to do on one’s own, but can be done by several people. A classical example would be in a high wall in an obstacle course. This wall would be too high for one person to get over all by himself, but can be cleared by a team. In this instance, the first few people to the wall will give a leg-up to those behind them, and then when they are over the wall, they will give a hand-up to the last few to clear the wall.