What is teamwork? Including definition and characteristics

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In its simplest form, teamwork occurs when a group of people work together to successfully complete a task. More broadly, it also relates to the cohesiveness of a team, their ability to create a positive working atmosphere and how they recognise the strengths and skills that each team member brings. Teamwork is a crucial skill in many workplaces and is something often tested at interviews by hiring managers. In this article, we answer, 'What is teamwork?', look at the characteristics of good teamwork and provide examples of what successful teamwork looks like.

What is teamwork?

The answer to, 'What is teamwork?' as it relates to the workplace is simply when a group of people from different backgrounds work together to complete a project or task. Although, the extent to which they are able to work well together depends on many factors, such as personalities, goals and skill sets. The attitudes of the team members are also important, as a team is more effective when the individuals are able to work closely with others and be respectful of everyone else's views.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definition, Types and Tips for Improvement

Characteristics of effective teamwork

Whilst the personalities of those involved play a role in this, good leadership and management can also inspire good teamwork. There are several characteristics shared by groups with good teamwork skills. These include:

Good communication between team members

Strong communication skills are important in many workplace scenarios, and they are directly related to how well one can work in a team environment. Being able to communicate in a mature and respectful manner can help build relationships between team members. Clear and effective communication is also vital for team leaders to adequately convey to team members what their roles and responsibilities include, while also communicating deadlines and milestones effectively.

A lack of clear communication can cause confusion and disjointed teamwork, which prevents progress towards team objectives. This could involve efforts being duplicated if team members don't have a clear idea of responsibilities and tasks. For example, if a team leader issues a series of tasks without appropriately communicating how team members are to split up the tasks, some tasks may be duplicated, while others are left pending or incomplete as the project moves forward. Overall, this may lead to poor team morale and dissatisfaction.

Related: What is group communication? With definition and examples

Mutual respect for others

A respectful environment fosters goodwill and cooperation between people working together as a team. Some teams comprise people with different abilities and skill sets. A team that can understand and respect their personal differences provides the best possible environment for people to thrive and use their unique skills to benefit the team. Teams that accept people from different backgrounds and treat one another respectfully and fairly help encourage positive and open communication.

For example, a team that is predominantly made up of people from very similar backgrounds might find it strange when someone ten years younger and from a different cultural background joins the team. Taking the time to make their new team member feel welcome and included is an example of good teamwork. The new team member may be able to relax and might feel more comfortable about sharing new and innovative ideas with their new team. This may also benefit the team as a whole, as the new member can offer a different and refreshing perspective on the project.

Related: Showing Respect in the Workplace: a Step-By-Step Guide

Feeling comfortable speaking freely

In order to perform at their best, it's important that everyone in a team feels comfortable expressing their ideas. This can only happen if they know that the team treats everyone fairly and that team members can listen and compromise. People with strong teamwork skills know that their ideas may not always be the best and may be open to taking advice, guidance and solutions from other people if it means that the team moves further towards their goal. In an effective team, participants at all levels of seniority feel comfortable expressing their ideas without fear of undue criticism.

For example, a project team working to develop new advertising concepts for a corporate client may consist of people from all different marketing disciplines. Some may be graphic designers, others might specialise in copywriting, while others may be more business account focussed. All of these team members bring valuable insight, but account managers may feel uncomfortable speaking up in a meeting about creative concepts. In a team with a strong teamwork ethos, each member of the team would be happy and comfortable speaking up if they had an idea that could benefit the project.

Related: 9 workplace collaboration benefits

Cooperation and conflict resolution between team members

Conflicts and disagreements can still happen, even in the most supportive and collaborative team. When they do happen, a successful team can diffuse the tensions by addressing the problems head-on and finding a mutually agreeable solution. This might involve openly discussing problems and finding diplomatic approaches, such as a voting system, to decide between competing solutions.

For example, a team might disagree on the best time to launch a new product to their customers. A team displaying good teamwork would handle this by reasoned discussion, presenting evidence to ultimately find a diplomatic solution. This means the team members arguing on one side would gracefully accept that the majority of the team does not share their views and agree to the alternative solution without causing unnecessary delays or arguments.

Related: A comprehensive guide to four team effectiveness models

Encouraging equal participation

A good team understands the skills that each team member brings and recognises how best to utilise these skills to work towards the team's ultimate goal. This works best when all team members take responsibility for inclusion and work closely together. In the best-case scenario, the team wants to encourage and support individuals to involve themselves in the ongoing work and play to their strengths. Strong leadership is also important to inspire this in a team.

For example, a team may have some members who are confident and outspoken. These people may be comfortable speaking up in team meetings. This makes it easy for them to have their ideas and opinions heard. A proactive team leader can facilitate good teamwork by making sure that they encourage all members of the team to speak up and share their views. This helps everyone feel valued and like they are contributing to the team's goals. It also helps the team, as it supports them in finding a broader and more creative range of solutions by ensuring wide participation.

Related: What is employee participation and why is it important?

Mutual support and positive attitudes

A team that supports each other, with team members wanting each other to succeed and do well, is likely to be more successful than one in which team members are excessively competitive or passive-aggressive. Good teamwork means that personal interactions between members are free from micro-aggressions, discrimination and other unpleasant speech that might make colleagues feel uncomfortable or upset. It's important for team members to handle disagreements calmly and respectfully.

Team members also want to feel supported by their manager and colleagues if they have a dispute with someone that's on a different team. Good teamwork links back to the individuals in the team and their attitudes. Good teamwork is possible when team members have positive attitudes and proactively help others. When team members feel invested in the team and its goals, their energy and enthusiasm can inspire others and make the whole team progress towards their objectives.

Related: How to maintain a positive attitude at work

Shared values and common goals

Shared values are an important part of a team's ethos. Having common values helps a team to work together and put aside any differences as they work towards a goal they all want to achieve. The fact that they are ultimately all aiming for the same thing creates a connection that reinforces a sense of teamwork and cooperation. It helps each team member to feel they are part of something bigger and they may feel more resilient than if they were working alone.

For example, a group of charity fundraisers may face the daunting task of approaching members of the public to try and raise money for a good cause. This is not necessarily easy or pleasant, as they might be met with rudeness or dismissal from the people they approach. A team that works closely together may feel inspired by the charity's goals and may find the job more fun and enjoyable.

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