After reading this page, you will be able to:
- recognize expectations for members of a team;
- use strategies for managing team conflict;
- understand the importance of valuing diversity in a team.
Why Is This Important?
Your college experience will likely include many teams, and not just for sport. Being able to work well in a team is a valuable employment skill. For this reason, college courses are often designed with opportunities for students to develop their teamwork skills. Beyond being an important employment skill, working well with your peers to complete group assignments, work in lab classes, form study groups, and more can help to build relationships and sense of community throughout your time in college.
Consider teams that you have been a part of in the past. You could be thinking about an academic group that worked on an assignment, a professional team that was assigned a project, or a sports team that played to win. Was your experience with this team positive or negative? What affected that experience?
Now consider the best member of that team. Why was that person the best member? Was it the skills or knowledge they brought to the team? Their ideas? Their attitude?
Working in a group can be challenging, but knowing what you admire in a team member and doing your best to emulate those traits can be an important step to success.
Being a Team Player
Almost every posting for a job opening in a workplace lists teamwork among the required skills. This is because every employer’s business success absolutely depends on people working well in teams to get the job done. A high-functioning, cohesive, and efficient team is essential to workplace productivity.
Teamwork is a compound word, combining team and work. The word team refers to the forming of a group normally dedicated to production or problem solving. The word work refers to the tasks that the team will complete. Each member of the team has skills, talents, experience, and education. Each is expected to contribute. Work is the activity and while it may be fun or engaging, it also requires effort and commitment, as there is a schedule for production with individual and group responsibilities. Each member must fulfill their own obligations for the team to succeed, and the team, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest member.
- What strengths are there in the group?
- What experience do group members have with the material or similar assignments?
- Are there parts of the assignment that group members feel less comfortable performing?
- What resources do group members have access to that could support the workload?
- Who has time to take on more work at the beginning of the assignment? How about near the end? (At this point, don’t underestimate how long the final steps can take. For example, if a group completes a report-writing assignment, the final steps will include editing the report for consistent voice and formatting the document. These steps take a significant amount of time, so the group members that are going to work on that part should have less initial research and report writing to do.)
Discussing these questions openly should allow group members to divide the workload fairly. However, it is important to keep in mind that group members may have competing goals for the assignment or other tasks that are drawing their attention. Teams are made up of individuals. Even if the team goal is the same (for example, to complete the first part of the project by Friday), an individual team member may be prioritizing a different goal (for example, to help my child get over their cold, or get a B on my accounting quiz on Friday).
Leading a Team
Teamwork allows individuals to share their talents and energy to accomplish goals. An effective leader facilitates this teamwork process. In college, you will work in a team and at some point may be called on to lead. You may emerge in that role as the group recognizes your specific skill set in relation to the task, or you may be appointed to a position of responsibility by yourself and others. Know that leading and following are both integral aspects of effective teamwork.
As a group leader in a college setting, there are certain expectations that you must strive to meet. Your group members will expect you to arrange and facilitate group meetings, and they may turn to you to manage conflict if it happens.
It is the group leader’s responsibility to arrange group meetings. This includes formulating an agenda, determining whether the meeting will be online or in person (and finding an appropriate meeting space if it is in person), and then inviting group members to the meeting.
A meeting agenda includes a list of topics to be discussed. Note that it is always a good idea to leave time at the end for additional questions and points that group members want to discuss. Sharing the agenda before the meeting allows for group members to prepare, for the meeting to start with ease (because the first topic of discussion has already been chosen), and for group members to stay on topic during the meeting.
While meeting online can be a convenient and time-saving option, there are many advantages to meeting in person. People communicate not just with words but also with their body language — facial expressions, hand gestures, head nodding or head shaking, and posture. These subtleties of communication can be key to determining how group members really feel about an issue or question.
To facilitate an effective meeting, it is important to start promptly, follow the agenda, guide the conversation, encourage participation, take breaks, and capture and assign action items.
While social time makes people happy and relieves stress, meetings cannot only consist of social time. It is essential to keep to the agenda so that all topics are discussed during the allotted time. If your group members get off topic or social time is going on too long, use signposts to indicate where you are in your agenda. For example, “It looks like we’ve got 25 minutes left in our meeting, and we haven’t discussed who’s going to complete the final revision of the report.”
If you’re in charge of the meeting, that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for everything people say in it, nor does it mean you have to personally comment on every idea or proposal that comes up. Let the other members of the group carry the discussion as long as they’re on topic.
All group members should be heard. As a leader, it is important that you encourage participation. There are a few strategies you can use to help group members contribute, including having all group members respond to the same question, using names to ask questions directly, and taking breaks. Taking a break during a meeting gives group members a chance to prepare for the next topics on the agenda, including preparing questions they may have. This is an especially effective strategy if you have group members who are less confident with speaking English.
Conflict is an expressed struggle between interdependent parties over goals that they perceive as incompatible or resources that they perceive to be insufficient. There are some circumstances in which a moderate amount of conflict can be helpful. For example, conflict can stimulate innovation and change. However, conflict can also affect the social climate of the group and inhibit group cohesiveness. If this happens, it is helpful to know how to manage that conflict.
Strategies for Managing Team Conflict
- Emphasizing group goals and objectives. Focusing on group goals and objectives should prevent conflict. If larger goals are emphasized, group members are more likely to see the big picture and work together.
- Providing clear tasks. When steps or tasks are clearly defined, understood, and accepted, conflict should be less likely to occur. Conflict is most likely to occur when team members are unsure of what they need to do or who is responsible for each task.
- Sharing openly. Misperception of the the abilities, goals, and motivations of others often leads to conflict, so efforts to share information among group members should help eliminate conflict. As group members come to know more about one another, greater teamwork becomes possible.
- Seeking support. In some cases, it is necessary to ask for support. In college, you can reach out to the instructor who assigned the group task. If your group cannot overcome the conflict, invite your instructor to a group meeting to discuss the issue.
Decision making and problem solving can be much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. Multiple diverse perspectives can enhance both the understanding of the problem and the quality of the solution. Yet, working in diverse teams can be challenging given different identities, cultures, beliefs, and experiences.
Challenges of Diverse Teams
People may assume that communication is the key factor that can derail multicultural teams as participants may have different languages and communication styles. There are three key cultural differences that can cause destructive conflicts in a team. The first difference is direct versus indirect communication, also known as high-context vs. low-context communication. Some cultures are very direct and explicit in their communication, while others are more indirect and ask questions rather than pointing out problems. The second difference that multicultural teams may face is trouble with accents and fluency. When team members don’t speak the same language, there may be one language that dominates the group interaction — and those who don’t speak it may feel left out. The next challenge is when there are differing attitudes toward hierarchy. Some cultures are very respectful of hierarchy and will treat team members differently based on that hierarchy. Other cultures are more egalitarian and don’t observe hierarchical differences to the same degree. This may lead to clashes if some people feel that they are being disrespected and not treated according to their status.
Developing Cultural Intelligence
Cultural intelligence is a competency and a skill that enables individuals to function effectively in cross-cultural environments. It develops as people become more aware of the influence of culture and more capable of adapting their behaviour to the norms of other cultures.
Cultural intelligence is an extension of emotional intelligence. An individual must have a level of awareness and understanding of the new culture so that they can adapt to its style, pace, language, nonverbal communication, and so on in order to work together successfully with the new culture. A multicultural team can only find success if its members take the time to understand each other and ensure that everyone feels included.
What are some ways you could learn to value and work with diverse teams?
Reflect on your experiences working in teams and consider the information on this page about valuing diversity, challenges facing diverse teams, and developing cultural intelligence.
Some of the answers you could have come up with include:
- If misunderstandings happen, do not assume that your team member is being unfriendly or difficult. Realize that there may be cultural differences in the way you communicate and/or understand roles and responsibilities within the team.
- If you can identify a cultural difference, be patient with yourself and your team members as you learn to work together. Remember that developing cultural intelligence takes time.
- Always use a language that all members of the group can use and understand for all team communications.
Working in teams is common in college. Understanding how your actions can affect your team, how to be an effective team leader, and how to value diversity in a team will help you be the type of team member that others will want to work with in a group.
- Communication at Work by Jordan Smith, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/communicationatwork/chapter/11-1-teamwork/ ↵
- Business Communication for Success by University of Minnesota, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/19-5-teamwork-and-leadership/ ↵
- https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/19-5-teamwork-and-leadership/ ↵
- Problem Solving in Teams and Groups (updated at: https://opentext.ku.edu/teams/) by Cameron W. Piercy, Ph.D., licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://teams1.pressbooks.com/chapter/hofstedes-cultural-dimensions/ ↵
- https://teams1.pressbooks.com/chapter/conflict-and-negotiation/ ↵
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- Technical Writing: An Open Educational Resource by LibreTexts, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://human.libretexts.org/Courses/Harrisburg_Area_Community_College/Technical_Writing%3A_An_Open_Educational_Resource/01%3A_Chapters/1.05%3A_Team_Work_and_Cultural_Intelligence ↵