Working In Teams

Career success depends on both results and relationships. Our free coaching tips can help you communicate with colleagues, resolve work conflicts, and build stronger teams.


Have you ever watched a group of kids on the playground who don’t know one another? First they smile, then they squabble, then somebody suggests a game to play. At that point, they either get involved in the game or the group breaks up.

In many ways, adults aren’t really all that different from kids. They’re just a bit more subtle (usually). Most work groups go through fairly predictable stages before they can work in a “grown up” manner. What stage is your work group in? And how can you help them grow into a productive team?

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Successful work groups need three things: (1) Shared goals that are clearly defined, (2) Effective processes for accomplishing critical tasks, and (3) Positive relationships that encourage collaborative interaction.

For some groups, everything seems to fall right into place, but others seem to struggle for months or even years. And certain combinations of people turn into truly toxic teams.

To evaluate your own group’s strengths and weaknesses, complete the assessment below. Then use the results to make your group a winning team instead of a lost cause.

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What problems have you had with project teams? Here are some common ones: vaguely defined goals, members who don’t do their share of the work, unrealistic schedules and deadlines, changing expectations from higher management, disorganized and unproductive discussions, members who are in constant conflict . . . any of that sound familiar? Many project teams fail because they don’t take some critical steps at the beginning of their task.
Here is a process that can help to get your project team off to a successful start. Depending upon your specific circumstances, the steps listed may occur in a different order.

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For a team to succeed, members need to play the appropriate role at the appropriate time. See which roles you are most likely to take and which ones are not part of your natural style. When you are on a team, try to use your strengths in a way that will help your group be productive.

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Some groups are tough to manage. When members have conflicting interests, personal agendas, or aggressive personalities, meetings can deteriorate into pointless debates or angry conflicts, thereby wasting time and harming relationships.

If your team seems to be headed down a destructive path, set some ground rules before blindly leaping into a discussion of issues. Unless your group is truly toxic, members will usually agree to a reasonable set of guidelines. Then, when things start to get out of hand, remind the wayward members of these agreements.

Ground rules should be posted in the meeting room, with copies given to all members. Although every group has specific needs, here are some guidelines that are generally useful for conflict management.

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When you ask people to describe the experience of working in teams, they often use words like “frustrating”, “disappointing”, and “waste of time”. But on the other hand, when you ask them to identify peak experiences at work, people frequently cite times when they worked with a group to accomplish a particularly challenging task. So what makes the difference? How can you tell whether a team will produce outstanding results or flame out completely? Here are a few signs that a group may be doomed to fail.

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More and more people are working with colleagues that they never see. In a recent study of U.S companies having more than 5000 employees, Brandman University surveyed 135 key managers about their use of virtual teams (, finding that 40% of the companies already use them extensively and 56% expect their use to increase.

Instead of communicating face-to-face, these widely distributed employees are collaborating computer-to-computer, creating some predictable challenges. The following tips for making virtual teams work include suggestions from Susan Gerke, adjunct professor at Brandman and author of “Working Remotely”.

The advice for employees is followed by suggestions for their managers.

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