Teamwork! Everyone wants it and works hard to achieve it. But like almost everything else, you need to know what "it" is before you reach for it.

Key Definitions

A team is a “group of competent individuals who care deeply about each other, are fiercely committed to their mission and are highly motivated to combine their energy and expertise to achieve a common objective”. (ezinearticles)

“Teamwork” itself is just what it says – the work performed by a particular group to accomplish a given task or assignment.

But it’s that group's collective mindset, how they approach each task and how they work together to accomplish it, that sets teamwork apart from work performed by a loosely knit cooperative of individual contributors. The results are be exceptional!

Do I Just Make a Leap of Faith
And Go For It?

Not just yet. You need to look at four things first in order to gauge your chances of success: your corporate culture, the people who now report to you, your boss and yourself. If any one of the four presents a major obstacle to forming and sustaining a team, you should take the time to remove, or at least minimize the impact of, the particular obstacle first. Then ease forward.

Does Your Corporate Culture Embrace Teamwork?

More and more, the workplace is organized around projects that are managed by cohesive groups and teamwork definitely is the wave of the future. But not every organization is there yet. Hierarchal cultures still assign team functions to middle managers, which they in turn split among their direct reports, who probably prefer to compete rather than collaborate. So before you make any assumptions and jump into the deep end, be sure there’s water in the pool. Verify that you are in a teamwork culture by observing the following:

  • Do you hear employees talking about the value of it in the organization?
  • Do the organization’s executives communicate the expectation that the collaboration derived from it is expected?
  • Do the organization’s executives model it with each other and the rest of the organization?
  • Is it recognized and rewarded?
  • What does your mentor advise?
  • What book titles are on your boss’s credenza?

Do the People Who Now Report to You
Think and Act Like a Team?

Historically, we’ve worked as individuals, competing with our peers to be the best. Since good teamwork requires that group's members respect each others’ viewpoints, be willing to share information, provide mutual support and present a coherent front to the world, observe the group you will now manage or lead to see if they are already there. If not, gauge the potential for them to become a good team.

  • Learn their personalties and generational differences so you can judge the balance between those who are used to being individual contributors and those who are likely to be receptive to working as part of a team.
  • Find out who the natural leaders are among team members. Who does everyone respect? Who has the most comprehensive product and/or service knowledge?
  • Identify who among your team members are the most ambitious. They are the people who would view teamwork as a career opportunity.
  • Who are the real “workhorses”? Which people are the most reliable when it comes to rolling up their sleeves and getting the nitty-gritty details of a task done well?
  • Are there any people who are obvious malcontents or trouble-makers? They will either need an attitude adjustment or you will need to find another place for them – off your team.

Does Your Boss Support Teamwork?

Have a frank discussion about this with your boss to see where s/he stands. This is the real litmus test on whether forming a dynamic team will be supported.

  • If s/he says teamwork is definitely the way to go, take the plunge.
  • If the organization is trending in a teamwork direction, gauge how far you can take a teamwork model without creating interdepartmental problems.
  • If the organization is still functioning in a hierarchal mode, suggest that your team might “beta test” a teamwork model. Your boss will be impressed at your courage since, knowing you will be under a microscope, you are still willing to take a risk to achieve great results.
  • If s/he says the organization isn’t ready for collaborative teams, you can still organize your team and create a results-oriented model for achievement. Everyone still wins! And remember, while you can’t change a corporate culture outright, the subculture of a team can apply subtle influence.

Are You Ready to Be Their Leader?

Great teamwork begins with a great leader. Depending on their personality type, team leaders sometimes have to step outside their comfort zone to be come a really great leader. Individual team members will be looking to you for direction, motivation and inspiration. They will need your approval, support and respect. In short, your people skills will have to be the best you can possibly make them and will now define who you are!

Now It’s Decision Time!

If you decide that the organization has not evolved to the point of teamwork acceptance, that you would need a whole new group of people, your boss is lukewarm to the idea, or you’re not ready to be a team leader just yet, you may decide to move forward managing those who report to you as individuals, and that’s fine.

But you can begin introducing elements of teamwork to your people so you’ll be part way there when the “stars are in proper alignment”.

Your Team Will Need You to
Motivate, Inspire and Direct Them

Let’s assume for purposes of this discussion that your organization, your boss and the people who report to you have all given you a green light and you have decided to mold a dynamic, productive team capable of accomplishing almost anything.

Every work group needs clear direction. But this group will require more - motivation and inspiration - to work as a cohesive unit and maintain high levels of commitment.

Clear Direction

Providing clear direction means ensuring that everyone understands what s/he is expected to do, the rewards for getting the job done and the penalties for not getting it done. Provide clear direction by:

  • Holding a team meeting to define teamwork and write your team charter
  • Clearly defining the outcome of each objective, goal or task
  • Identifying the role each team member will play
  • Specifying timelines
  • Defining quality expectations


Motivation is that mysterious inner force that makes people want - or not want - to do something based on how well that something meets their needs.

Whether or not they come right out and say it, every employee asks him- or herself “What’s In it For Me” (WIFM) – which of my needs will be met - each time they are asked to do something. Review Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the five positive workplace motivators.


Inspiration is a little trickier. It starts with motivation, but every team leader’s goal is to “inspire” their people to work harder, reach higher and achieve more, to go above and beyond what they are already doing - all the time without even being asked.

How can you inspire this level of performance and achievement? The answer is in six powerful words: Show Them You Care About Them!

Develop Your Team Charter

Once you've written your team charter, you'll be able to field your dream team.

As a new team leader, you will need to ensure that the critical elements get buy-in from everyone, in front of everyone, on your team.

The best way to do this? Use all your persuasive skills to convince your boss to allow you to hold a one-time, all day team meeting off-site. Start by reviewing your meeting agenda with him or her and asking for his or her input. Invite him or her to attend. (Chances are s/he will take a pass, but the invitation says you welcome his or her supportive involvement.)

If you can't go off-site, be willing to settle for someplace special on-site - like the boardroom. Leverage your relationship with the person who schedules meetings there and make it work!

Off-site or on-site, start creating a "buzz" about the meeting so everyone is looking forward to it.

The Iditarod:
A Perfect Teamwork Metaphor

I can’t think of a more perfect way to visualize teamwork than the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska.

Conditions can be harsh at times, you may need to find a detour, your sled could break; you are the “musher” – sorry ladies but that’s what the driver is called; and you have a team of dogs ready, willing and able to run their hearts out for you because they trust you.

Each dog has a different personality, different strengths and weaknesses. Your job is to harness them in the right position to maximize their potential. You place the dog that hates to have anyone pass her in the lead where she’ll pull everyone behind her faster; you place the dog with exceptional stamina next so she’ll keep pushing the lead dog, etc.

At the end of each day, you lavish praise on each one for the unique job they did, make sure they are well fed and comfortable for the night, and protected from harm. Then in the morning, you make sure no one is hurt or unable to get the job done that day, harness them together and race another day. If one of the dogs gets sick, you let her ride in the sled for the day and all the others pull a little harder to make up for it.

You reach the finish line and whether you walk away with a blue, gold or red ribbon, you’re a winner! There’s no limit to your pride in each dog, yourself and the teamwork that got you there!




Proceed to TEAM LEADER