Nathan Leonard Maxwell IV
E302 Professional World of Work
The Essence of Teamwork
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their hard work. For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up. But how will it be with just the one who falls when there is not another to raise him up?” – Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10
As the scriptural text quoted above implies, teamwork can accomplish what the individual cannot do on his or her own. Teamwork is defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.” (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993) In today’s society, with so much emphasis on pride and personal achievement, the concept of teamwork seems to be old-fashioned or basic. Clashes of personality, different perspectives and cultures prescribe one to develop a natural inclination toward individual work and an unhealthy reluctance towards team work. Nevertheless, teamwork, if managed properly, can be a source in which complexity is simplified, a problem meets a solution and great things are accomplished. So with the focus on teamwork, what are the present challenges to teamwork? What are some good approaches towards building a successful team? Finally, what are the personal and collective benefits of teamwork?
The Challenges to Teamwork
When asked the question, “What are some challenges to teamwork?” most people would respond with common answers such as: conflicts of personalities, stress, job dissatisfaction, unethical behavior, miscommunication or lack of communication. However, with advancements in technology and a never before experienced contact between the western and eastern hemispheres of the world, there are new challenges that are being encountered now and will continue to be dealt with in the future. The challenges that must be met by today’s project teams are: Virtual Project Teaming, Cross-functional teams, Globalization, Diversity and Time to Market Pressure. Most of the common contributing factors to teamwork failure such as personality conflict, miscommunication or stress are the consequences experienced if the previously mentioned challenges are not met.
The greater proportion of the work of virtual project teams is carried out online. These sorts of teams exploit reliable and consistent communications in order to work together and overcome some of the frictions of time and geography. Simply put, there is nothing wrong with using great technology such as e-mail, videoconferencing or teleconferencing. However there is a problem when such methods frequently become a substitute for face-to-face communications. Face to face meetings allow for immediate feedback in regards to decision-making and a greater familiarity with other team members. The problems associated with virtual project teaming are limited familiarity with other members, different time zones, inability to resolve conflicts effectively and as always the possibility of technical difficulties with the equipment.
Cross-functional teams consist of team members of multiple disciplines, skills and talents. A great amount of projects have parameters that extend above engineering and reach into areas such as marketing, sales, public relations and so forth. Therefore, it is important that team members with different qualifications work in harmony with each other if a project is to be successful. Nevertheless, problems arise when vital team members are not available and no one has any knowledge of their portion of the project. Problems also arise when one team member has little respect for the discipline of another.
The by-product of the globalization movement of large corporations and organizations is a growth in diversity. Project teams must develop products and provide services for a mass market. Therefore, project teams now and in the future will include different people, cultures, creeds and different approaches to conducting business. There is greater opportunity for creativity with diverse teams. However, there is also a greater risk for conflict because of different perspectives and the lack of diversity awareness.
Time to market pressure is the result of increasing global competition and a concern for product quality and availability. Such pressure encourages project teams to develop products and services of the highest quality doing so within a short amount of time. Stress, burnout and conflict can easily be experienced when project teams are not able to adapt to the demands of the customer or upper management.
My Co-Op Experience with ZF Sachs Automotive of America
In my co-op experience with ZF Sachs Automotive of America, I had the opportunity to experience each of the aforementioned challenges to teamwork firsthand. I worked with an engineering team that developed products for global and diverse companies like Ford, Toyota and Daimler Chrysler. Therefore, our team was a diverse one consisting of American, Mexican and German Engineers. We also met as a cross-functional team with technicians and sales managers. There were also situations in which team meetings with customers had to be held by teleconference or videoconference around eight or nine o’clock at night because of different time zones. Conflicts always seemed to arise between Engineers who worked in Troy, MI and Engineers who worked in Mexico because lack of familiarity with each other and different manufacturing processes. In one case, the manufacturing facilities in Mexico had tested parts using a different set of parameters than those used at the Troy facility. When the same parts finally arrived at the Troy facility, the parts tested out of design specifications although they had passed the test(s) in Mexico. This difference went unnoticed until it was time to deliver the parts to the customer. Due to time to market pressure and little room for error we almost lost the customer’s business. From that point onward there was an increase in face-to-face meetings between the US and the Mexican Engineers. These meetings allowed us to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts and establish familiarity with each other.
Suggestions for Successful Teamwork
What are some helpful suggestions for successful teamwork? An effective and important contribution to teamwork success is familiarity. In other words, team members should get to know each other and become familiar with whose personality will complement or conflict with another team member’s personality or whose knowledge and skills will expand the capabilities and knowledge of other members of the team. Team member roles should also be established from the first meeting and can be rotated so that every member experiences all function of the team. There should be a common goal of the team and all team members should feel accountable if that goal is not reached. Clear and effective communication is very essential because it shortens the risk of reworking the product, miscommunication, negative conflicts and project failure. Face to face meetings allow for opportunities to communicate effectively and become familiar the other team members. Understanding and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all members of the team allows a project manager to assign tasks properly and empower people to make decisions thus eliminating the need for micromanagement. As team diversity continues to manifest itself and corporations embrace the globalization movement, project managers should encourage more creativity, contributions and cooperation from team members of varied backgrounds. The cornerstone of any relationship of two or more people is trust. Trusting relationships developed within the team will navigate the way through the problems associated with the challenges of Time to Market Pressure, Virtual Project Teaming, Cross-Functional Teams, Globalization and Diversity.
Benefits of Teamwork
Many projects within the workplace or at school are too large or complex for one individual to complete alone. Imagine someone trying to build the Sydney Amphitheater all by themselves. Teamwork creates more than one solution to a problem because of varied backgrounds, talents and perspectives. A team can share ideas and put together a final solution consisting of the very best individual ideas. An individual’s communication, critical thinking, evaluation, conflict resolution and academic skills are improved through positive teamwork activities. As a result of good teamwork, social connections are formed between team members that may extend beyond the workplace or classroom and thus improve team morale and camaraderie. An individual’s communication, critical thinking, evaluation, conflict resolution and academic skills are improved.
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