The 12 Pillars of Great Teamwork


Just as Hubble penetrates space to clarify the mysterious "Pillars of Creation" (pictured), experience can penetrate the mists of industry buzzwords to explore in simple terms some observable "Pillars of Teamwork"?

Working with great teams in corporate, SME, government, NGO, defence and sporting environments since 1988, we feel that the "12 Pillars" below represent the common traits that we find in the best of teams.

Balanced Team Roles

An effective team will have a careful blend of behaviours, talents and personalities. It is important to remember that good leadership and understanding within a team is critical to enable the right role contributions to be made at the right time. A balanced team will have thinking, social, and action-oriented roles.

Openly Deal With Conflict

In an effective team, people feel that they can state their own views, differences of opinions, interests and problems without fear of ridicule. Conflict is also present and valued in an effective team (as long as it's professional and well handled). The team will openly work through an issue that causes conflict and use the results to help achieve objectives. Conflict helps to clear the air and move on, to avoid complacency and laziness and can often be the source of new ideas! It takes time and care to develop a culture with genuine openness and an ability to handle conflict well.

Genuine Support and Trust

This is the skeleton on which an effective team is built. Support is not just trite back pats and sympathy, but actual strengthening through meaningful and well-timed assistance. With trust, people can talk freely about their fears and problems- knowing that they will receive support from team members and the help they need to become more effective. People are open about their strengths and weaknesses so that the strengths of one person can be tapped to offset the weaknesses of another (and often vica-versa).

Cooperation through Understanding

People put the team’s success before their own. Individuals trust and respect the abilities of others and are not suspicious of their motives. It takes time and a lot of understanding for people to genuinely cooperate whilst being able to minimise the cognitive biases, clashes and emotional responses that can naturally arise from having different operating styles and personalities in close proximity. Depth of understanding to genuinely identify strengths and weaknesses within the team enables better cooperation.

Good Procedures

Sound and proven working methods and effective decision-making processes help to achieve ongoing results. Good procedures help ideas to be captured and worked through without being lost and also ensure optimum usage of human and material resources for any given challenge. Plan well, brief well, execute well and then de-brief. This helps to minimise biases and accurately measure team progress.

Appropriate Leadership

The best teams have leaders whose leadership style can vary according to the situation, needs of the individual team members and to suit what stage of development the team may be in. In fact the role of leader in an open and supportive team, can often change from person to person as dictated by the the situation. This requires a great working understanding of team roles, a genuine tolerance of other members and the ability to control egos so that leadership culture is embraced without threatening any formal status.

Regular Review

Good teams understand not only the team’s culture, but they also look at the way that their own team works, how it arrives at decisions, deals with conflicts etc. (especially when under pressure). They then use this information to develop new methods or plans and then implement them effectively. Reviews are best when teams are willing to go beyond personality and superficial causes to the actual root causes and behavioural realities with a view to improving their operating methods. Review the "how we do things" not just the "what we do".

Individual Development

Members of high performing teams feel good! They have opportunities to attempt new and challenging situations and to develop within the framework of the team. They know they have the support of those around them. They are motivated to be successful and are not intimidated by the individual wins or strengths of others within the team.

Good Inter-Group Relations

The successful team can often appear threatening to less successful groups. This can cause isolation and hostility. The effective team works at its relations with other teams and liaises with them to ensure that help for others will be given when needed and to minimise or avoid tribal conflict.

Clarity of Aims and Objectives

An effective team knows the goal it is working toward. Having clear objectives and agreed goals is more than knowing what results you want. The goals of the individual must be reconciled with those of the team for effective teamwork to occur. Begin with the end in mind (as Mr Covey would say) to scope not only where you want to go, but also what are the milestones necessary to get there.

Good Communications

Internal communication flows best when not "cookie cutter" in nature, but rather is tailored to suit the operating style and culture of the receivers. This comes with enhanced mutual understanding. Team members are aware not just of developments within their own team but also of how this fits into the larger picture of the organisation. When people understand why things are being done, they avoid duplication of effort. Rumour is replaced by fact when teams engage internally and externally in regular and quality communications.

Celebrate and acknowledge success

In the same open spirit that errors are identified and reviewed for improvements to occur, success stories also need to be identified and celebrated. This helps to ensure that “what we do well” is equally addressed in tandem with areas for improvement and sustained.

Visit our Learning and Development Pages to see how we can bring the "Pillars of Teamwork" to life.

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