Collaboration and teamwork require a mix of interpersonal, problem solving, and communication skills needed for a group to work together towards a common goal. You might have learned about this much-needed mix of skills while working as part of a research team or as an executive officer of a campus organization; you might also have worked with others in writing and publishing a journal article. However, these skills become even more important when you work with others on a long-term, sustained basis.
Whether you choose an academic or private sector career, you’ll need to know how to work constructively with members of a group. To help build a collaborative team environment, you’ll have to develop and practice the following:
1. Trust: Be honest; work to eliminate conflicts of interest; avoid talking behind each other’s back; trust teammates (you must trust them before they will trust you); give team members the benefit of the doubt.
2. Clarify Roles: Review team member roles frequently; clarify responsibilities when action planning; relate team member expectations to team’s overall purpose; figure out ways to help each other.
3. Communicate Openly & Effectively: Work to clear up misunderstandings quickly and accurately; seek to understand all perspectives; err on the side of over communicating; reinforce and recognize team member efforts. Learn to listen well.
4. Appreciate Diversity of Ideas: Evaluate a new idea based on its merits; remember that reasonable people can and do differ with one another; avoid remarks that draw negative attention to a person’s unique characteristics; don’t ignore the differences among team members; try to learn as much as you can from others.
5. Balance the Team’s Focus: Regularly review and evaluate the effectiveness of team meetings; design individual performance goals that emphasize both results and teamwork; praise individual effort; assign specific team members to monitor task needs and others to monitor relationship needs; hold team celebrations for achieving results.
—Adapted from Belgrad, W., Fisher, K., & Rayner, S. (1995). Tips for Teams: A Ready Reference for Solving Common Team Problems. McGraw-Hill: New York.
See an excellent summary of Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development