We often think the most dreadful hurdle of finishing school and facing the real world is having to get things done completely on our own. It's easy to see what perpetrates this work force myth. Being the solitary genius is always deemed impressive in and outside of class. James Bond and Batman have always been cool and the only truly terrible Batman film has him sharing the title with Robin.
The reality is that learning to function as part of a team is a vital skill, one we often overlook. Fresh graduates all over the world are realizing companies recruit on the basis of interpersonal skill, not just technical qualification alone. In fact with other qualifications approximately equal, a candidate's capacity for team work can decide who makes the cut. MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, recently reported that if James Bond applied to their organization as a spy, he would "probably not be successful," citing the importance of teamwork and how "heroes working alone rarely achieve much."
Whether you're an international spy or an Econ major, you need to learn how to play well with others. It's essential for the job-seekers of today. Some schools and colleges have started encouraging teamwork in the form of group projects, presentations and even allowing students to collaborate on homework problems as long as due credit is given, but that still doesn't guarantee graduates will come out as team players.
So what can the average college student do to add this skill to their arsenal? Firstly…
Know why teamwork is important
So, what's the motivation behind learning how to function in a team? Nearly nothing today is built on solo effort. Your professional field will likely require working on a component of a project which requires cooperation from many different directions. You'll have to build on other's work, interact with several employees and have a number of mutual dependencies. A failure to develop this skill can thus leave you fundamentally challenged with many aspects of your prospective career, possibly dampening your chances of getting hired or promoted, so it's about time you…
Stop groaning about your team
Too often we think teamwork is a way to slack off while someone else does the work, or if you're on the other side, a hassle of putting up with others' negative attitudes. That perspective needs to change. Planned well, teamwork bring complementary strengths to the task at hand, which requires…
Assess your teammates
Find out what your teammates are good at or are at least willing to pick up on the job, and then delegate tasks accordingly amongst yourselves. While assigning tasks, set clear, measurable goals and timeframes by which these might be accomplished. Make sure everyone understands what part of the work they are responsible for, how they will know that their work is done, and by when they need to be done. However, it's easy to forget…
Be a leader, but don't get cocky
Nothing ruins the quality of teamwork faster than an antagonistic environment. Let everyone on the team voice their opinions and concerns, whether or not you agree with them or think they are good points. This often becomes much easier to do with a subtle shift in your perspective. Maybe you feel you could get all this, and even more, done on your own. This is when you might want to remind yourself that the goal is not just to get things done, it is to get things done as a team and learn to function as one unit. And while you're at it,
Keep a paper trail
One crucial thing to ensure smooth workflow is to always maintain documentation. At the end of each meeting, note down all major decisions and a list of all actions that need to be taken, and circulate to all members of the team. Keep written record of all decisions and the reasons behind them. In a tight spot, being able to look up the history of the project can be a lifesaver. And then there are those situations that seem unresolvable, but those can be avoided as long as you
Steer clear of miscommunication
Lastly, the biggest source of frustration and failure when working with others is the feeling of being let down. To avoid this, clarify all expectations up front, especially expectations about how much time each team member will be devoting to the project. Mention any other major time commitments you are likely to have. If there are specific times when you will be otherwise occupied, either arrange to not be committed to something during those times or switch with someone else.
These ideas are by no means exhaustive, and as the saying goes, no plan survives contact with the actual execution. However, one cannot emphasize enough what a big skill it is to be able to work with others and get the most out of each team member. Even the most efficient individual cannot hope to match the levels of productivity that a cohesive team can reach. It is hard work, but work well worth the rewards. So the next time you get to work with others on a group project, keep these things in mind and try to make the most of the experience!