Teams are an integral part of many organisations and working in teams is on the rise. Successful teamwork relies upon collaboration between all team members, creating an environment where they are all willing to contribute and participate in order to promote and nurture a positive and effective team environment.

A recent study, comprising a literature review, considers a range of attributes necessary for successful teamwork. The aspects pertaining to team commitment are listed below:

  1. Commitment to team success and shared goals: Team members are committed to the success of the team and their shared goals for the project. The team’s success is of the utmost importance.
  2. Interdependence: Team members create an environment where, together, they can contribute far more than as individuals. It is not just about individual impact; it is also about how each team member positively impacts the group. Individuals encourage their fellow team members to achieve, contribute and learn.
  3. Interpersonal skills: The ability to discuss issues openly with team members, to be honest, trustworthy and supportive, and to show respect and commitment to the team and to its individuals. Fostering a caring work environment is important, including the ability to work effectively with other team members and supporting individuals to achieve the team’s goals.

Teams of final year multimedia students completing a project-based module at an Australian University were compared using these attributes. There were 82 students (20 teams) completing this module. The project required the teams to develop skills and expertise in managing the design and development of client websites. The aim was to have students experience project management issues that occur when dealing with “real” clients in “real” projects and was heavily focused on teamwork and problem-solving.

Two of the 20 teams were selected for investigation. One team was highly successful in developing a quality product and collaborated in a highly successful manner. The other team experienced severe team problems, which caused it to become dysfunctional and had to be split. Each person was required to keep a journal of their experiences throughout the project.

Successful Team

This team of students was highly successful in developing a quality product, as well as being highly collaborative. Their journal entries continually reflected positive comments about other team members and at no stage during the semester was there a request or requirement to transfer marks from one team member to another. Team meetings were always friendly, and at no stage were team issues discussed as being problematic. The team always focused on the project’s goal and how the process of development could be improved. An analysis of the data collected from this team indicated that they showed the attributes needed for successful teamwork. In almost all of their responses in interviews, focus group meetings and questionnaires, it was evident that this team was committed to:

  1. Commitment to team success and shared goals: The team was highly focused on delivering a quality product and was not pre-occupied by personal issues that might have interrupted this objective. They facilitated and nurtured positive, cooperative-working relationships based upon the focus of developing a quality final product that would impress their client, tutor, peers and end-users. The whole team was strongly motivated to outperform other teams and shared a strong common goal of wanting to develop a product that would support their chances of gaining employment at the end of the course. The team members were focused on the team’s goal and no one person put their personal goals ahead of the team’s ultimate goal.
  2. Interdependence: The team members felt that they had a responsibility towards the other members of the team and that the success of the project was based upon each team member’s contribution. Team members were always happy to help peers when they were experiencing difficulties. The team would proactively brainstorm problems individual team members were having and offer assistance if needed.
  3. Interpersonal skills: The team recognised that team members had different personalities and experienced problems at different stages. They showed consideration for each other, and respected and supported others in difficult times.

Unsuccessful Team

The other team of students experienced severe team problems, which caused it to become dysfunctional and had to be split. At the first peer assessment session, marks were transferred between team members as it was perceived that some team members were not contributing. This indicates that team members had their own interests ahead of the team’s. Even though it was agreed at this meeting to transfer marks and suggestions were made about how to improve the situation, resentment amongst team members escalated. This was clearly evident from the comments being made through the confidential online journal entries each week. At one of the team meetings, a serious disagreement occurred in which one of the team members verbally berated another. After this, reconciliation was impossible. After this altercation, team members felt they could no longer work together, so, even though they would experience a heavier workload, they unanimously agreed to split and form two separate teams. Comparing responses from this team against the key attributes needed for successful teams, it was evident that this team was not congruent with these criteria:

  1. Commitment to team success and shared goals: One team member was highly motivated to achieve a high-quality product, though two others were content with merely just gaining a pass – they were happy to put in minimal effort. This mismatch of commitment levels caused many problems and frustration for team members early in the project.
  2. Interdependence: Two team members were highly competitive in this team that negated the development of a collaborative team environment. They were highly focused on their own tasks and were not interested in helping others who may have been having problems. If others were not performing, the attitude was that peer assessment should be applied rather than trying to support and help the individual. There was no consideration regarding how each team member positively impacted the group.
  3. Interpersonal skills: The team showed little consideration for each other and gave almost no support for others in difficult times. Team members seemed unaware and very surprised that they had upset other team members with their comments. They seemed not to have detected that they were hurting others’ feelings with their comments and the approaches taken to solve team problems.

This case study demonstrates how important and pervasive shared commitment in a team is, and how a negative result can occur when it is not consistently demonstrated.

A team is geared towards success when team members understand the team’s purpose, share the same goals, are all committed to succeed, have the belief that one cannot succeed unless the other members of the group succeed and that, together, the group can deliver more than the individuals in the team. 

Reference:

Tarricone, P. & Luca, J. (2002) Successful teamwork: A case study, in Quality Conversations, Proceedings of the 25th HERDSA Annual Conference, Perth, Western Australia, 7-10 July 2012, pp 640.

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