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No work-related term is bandied around more than "teamwork," but as anyone who's ever worked as part of a team knows, it takes work to make a team, and more to make teamwork work. Knowing how to recognize the most common barriers to effective teamwork can help you to make working as a team more productive and less stressful.
No Game Plan
Imagine trying to assemble a bookshelf using four different sets of directions at once, and you've discovered the most common barrier to teamwork -- different understandings and expectations. Before your team begins to work, take a moment to make certain everyone understands your team's goals, the tasks each member must complete to reach those goals, deadlines and time limits.
A baseball team needs each position player in place in order to, well, play ball. Not surprisingly, work teams also need people in key positions to tackle specific jobs, but assigning or picking positions on a work team often is overlooked or becomes a barrier to teamwork in and of itself. Once your team's goals and tasks are established, devise a strategy for assigning specific tasks to members of the group. If there's discontent about who gets what position, agree to rotate during the course of the project.
Your team comes together to discuss your project, goes separate ways as soon as the meeting ends and never checks in until the next meeting. Sound familiar? Lack of communication is one of the most common barriers to working effectively as a team. Schedule time for regular phone or Skype meetings, have an email digest that details what each member of the team has accomplished or just have lunch together for informal brainstorming -- whatever it takes to communicate.
An essential ingredient to an effective work team is respect. Respect for other team members' opinions, respect for others' contributions, respect for the quality of the end project or result. Coming together as a group to stop disrespectful behavior by any member before it gets out of hand can nip one of the most insidious barriers to teamwork in the bud. Set ground rules for what's acceptable criticism, what's unacceptable, how much each member is expected to contribute and how you will reach your goals, and you've got a good basis for a team where respect is built-in.
A writer and information professional, J.E. Cornett has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lincoln Memorial University and a Master of Science in library and information science from the University of Kentucky. A former newspaper reporter with two Kentucky Press Association awards to her credit, she has over 10 years experience writing professionally.