Teamwork: Emerging Principles

This paper, written by Salas, Burke and Cannon-Bowlers is, simply put, about defining teams and teamwork. What makes a good team, and how does a team work to maximise output quality and/or quantity?

 What is a team?

A team, according to Salas’ work in 1992, is “ a set of 2 or more individuals interacting adaptively, interdependently and dynamically towards a common and valued goal” (Salas et al, 1992) A team must then be able to “work interdependently, usually in a presence of a leader.” Secondly, they must have some sort of communication between them to exchange data. Lastly, teams are seen to have a lifespan; therefore teams must have good team interaction and must have a common goal to work towards, and be motivated by.

 There is no “I” in Teamwork

Teamwork definitions have been put forward before, but have always been falling short as they ignore the fact that Teamwork has “dynamic moment-to-moment behaviours and interactions that occur to members when working on a task.” They also forget that not all teams are created equal. Different teams have different tasks, demands and might have different working styles. After some research done by Canon-Bowlers et al, the writer of this article believes teamwork depends on 8 dimensions: adaptability, shared situational awareness, performance monitoring and feedback, leadership/team management, interpersonal relations, co-ordination, communication and decision making (Canon-Bowlers et al, 1995).

Thus, to reach a definition of Teamwork, the writers have put forward the following 7 principles of teamwork:

  1. Team work is characterised by a set of flexible and adaptive behaviours, cognitions and attitudes

In order to work a team needs to be either member specific or task specific. If a team needs to be able to adjust their strategy quickly in a high pressure environment, it would be better if they can anticipate each others actions so they can help out where there are weaknesses. If it is task specific, anticipation might not be as important that a team with people who know what their jobs are and doing it, especially if the turnover of members is high.

  1. Teamwork requires that members monitor each others’ behaviours and action and feel free to provide and accept feedback based on monitoring behaviour

Being able to give feedback without any hate or anger and receiving them would therefore make the team work better. It is noted that many teams fail because a member was too afraid to give feedback as the receiver would react in a bad way. A team must have an open atmosphere where the members are willing to learn in order to improve the work and not to take things too personally, which might cause “Social loafing”.

  1. Teamwork is characterised by members being willing and able to back fellow members up during operations

A team player must be willing to go above and beyond his jobscope to help up another member who might not be able to perform due to too much taskings. This way, the objective can still be met even though there is a man(or woman) down.

  1. Teamwork involves clear and concise communication

A lot of cock-ups happen when the team does not communicate properly. In this paper, the proper method of passing a message is like so: A tells B something. B says “Yes, I got what you wanted to tell me.” A then says “Tell me again what you understand from what I said so I can correct you if its wrong.” This way, no communication can be misunderstood as the sender ensures that the receiver comprehends what is being told to him.

  1. Teamwork requires a co-ordination of collective interdependent action

The team is as strong as a sum of the part. By working together, a team can achieve more than any single person can achieve.

  1. Teamwork requires leadership that enables the direction, planning, distribution and co-ordination of activities.

There must be a boss, who needs to make decision, and to whom everyone defers to, not because he is of a higher rank, but because everyone needs to be centered and moving together in a single direction.

  1. Teamwork is influenced by the context and the task requirements

The way a team works is always influenced by what the team has to do, and the context in which they have to do it in. A team formed to tackle a problem might be suited to it, or might have been made adhoc. Similarly, a team formed with a low budget will work differently to a team that has a large budget.

Although Teamwork is still not defined, after reading this article I believe that I have achieved a better understanding on how to build a good team according to the context of the task.

-Tefai Foxhunter


1 comment so far

  1. glassleaves on

    I find that the principles put forth in this summary and reading indeed gives a better definition of teamwork. A recurring theme that is emphasized is that teamwork is of multidimensional, dynamic and moment-to moment interactions. Therefore I absolutely agree that teams are not created equal; not only because of the mix of task specific competencies of team members, but also because of team-specific competencies (soft-skills) of individual members with the other team members. Knowledge of team-mate characteristics would be advantageous in developing this team generic. One way to do this is by using the Johari Window.

    The Johari Window model is a useful tool for improving group dynamics, communication, development and self-awareness through giving feedback. The information derived from this tool reflects both known and unknown perspectives of the self and the self in relation to others in the team. The four ‘areas’ of the Johari Window are the open self, blind self, hidden self, and unknown self. The four ‘areas’ or ‘panes’ change in size proportionately according to the type of knowledge known about a person in a given team. The aim in any team is to expand the ‘open self’ area of every individual as this is the space where good cooperation and communication occurs.

    To read up more about how to use the Johari Window, click here:

    – glassleaves

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