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Teamwork: 5 Factors of Effective Interaction

What is teamwork, what are the key factors for successful teamwork, and how do you motivate a team? These questions were answered by Product Manager Evgeniya Korsak exclusively for our Anywhere Club blog.

Product Manager Evgeniya Korsak

— I've been working in IT for more than 11 years. I have come a long and varied way from a tester to a product manager. In my career, I have repeatedly practiced the mechanics of teamwork, established communication processes and, of course, participated in product development.

What is teamwork

— To understand what teamwork is, we have to remember what a team is. A team (group) is any number of people trying to solve a certain problem together and achieve a common goal.

I always focus on the goal, because this helps to create a certain mindset in people, a mental model, which says that the team is, first and foremost, collaborative and effective work to achieve common goals.

Principles of teamwork

— There are many aspects to teamwork. There is a good book, Five Disfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. In it, the author uses a story to discuss why teams don't work together and what prevents them from doing so. Lencioni offers for consideration five points that help people to build effective teamwork.

Trust

— Lencioni notes that trust is a basic value in a team. We have to trust the people we work with. We need to be able to talk openly about problems, to bring up things that people are not happy with. At the same time, we expect that the people with whom we work adequately understand their responsibilities. If there is no trust in the team, then we will remain silent about issues, afraid to say something, afraid that we might be betrayed in some way. As a result, we will not be open with each other, and will be unable to have a constructive dialogue. If there is no trust, people very often avoid conflicts.

Conflict

— The second point that Lencioni highlights is conflict. Conflict can be stressful. It is human nature to try and avoid conflicts in whenever possible. Here, we are talking about constructive diplomacy, when there is a conflict of interests, positions, or opinions. When we understand that another person's opinion is just as valid as ours, we use diplomatic tools to try to make our opinions align with each other, to find points of overlap. We try to look at the situation from the other party's perspective, and to convey our point of view constructively, without making it personal.

We must be prepared that a conflict may arise in any situation. Work situations lead inevitably to misunderstandings and difficult moments that hamper effective interaction. I've seen that even within the same team, colleagues unintentionally sabotage each other: when conflicts arise in the code, they try to solve the issues with their own code, breaking someone else's code in the process. This is a fertile ground for conflicts, especially when those whose code is broken have a responsible approach to their work. When both reputation and work quality suffer, relations in the team can deteriorate very badly. In my team at that time this situation arose, there was already trust. People understood that no one intentionally wanted to harm anyone else. But there was a small degree of irresponsibility. You must accept that and admit it. The guys who broke the code acknowledged this and said they were sorry about what happened. We addressed this conflict through acknowledgement, open discussion, and working through some algorithms for the future. This is a very important moment in the training of the team. A team learns in much the same way as any human being. The learning process manifests in working agreements, algorithms regarding what we should do better, and what we should do next time.

Commitment

— Even if we work through conflicts and openly and collaboratively solve problems, there is a third challenge that Lencioni talks about: a lack of commitment or engagement. Crucial to teamwork is our willingness to contribute to a common cause. We subscribe to our workload, to our deadlines. It is important to understand that we have trust, that we are ready to deal with problems that arise along the way, deal with blockers, and that we can ask for help from external sources or from within the team. If we have that, then we are comfortable signing off on what we are committing to do.

Accountability

— Everyone on the team must understand and agree that everyone is responsible for their part of the job. There are different situations that may arise during a project: people burn out, there are problems in their personal lives, the project has become uninteresting, and so on. But if a person has signed up for a certain amount of work, and we in the team know this, we can calmly point out that if they are not doing their part, they are letting the whole team down. I usually relate this to project risk. Everything that happens to people during a project is a risks that we must be prepared to deal with. If we look at the classic triangle of project management, there are always options for dealing with these risks:

  • Either we do something about the deadlines;
  • Or we do something about the scope;
  • Or we bring in additional resources.

Result

— The most important thing is to pay attention to the overall result. Of course, people have personal motives that underly their participation in a project. Perhaps participation in such project will helps them achieve their business goals. A person may, however, be too focused on growing their career. This can happen even with someone in a managerial position: the manager wants to promote themself and promises unrealistic deadlines while the team is working on the best possible way to solve a joint problem. Accordingly, the timing should be optimal, and the scope should also be optimal. It is important to recognize that each team has its own capacity. At some point, we must also acknowledge that nature has a timeline for everything, and we cannot cheat the laws of nature. The process of creating a project is complicated and uncertain. We all try to inject as much certainty into it as possible. Unfortunately, however, it is impossible to think everything through in advance.

The rules of teamwork

— I would add a couple rules for productive teamwork:

  • It is very important to set up the necessary information flows in the team so that everyone knows who to turn to, when, and on what issues. There are people who like to direct all responsibility to themselves, because it adds to their importance. Such people often burn out. I, on the other hand, like to give more autonomy to the team. My work as a manager lies in a different area. I am engaged in thinking through and finding the best solutions to problems, preventing blockers, and developing the team. To create and support a team's desire to act in a manner consistent with the team’s goals, you must give team members all of the necessary information. Everyone on the team should know why we're doing something, what we want to achieve, and what business goals it serves. Many people don't provide sufficient information to the team, and the lack of information greatly affects people's motivation. The more involved and informed people are, the more motivated they are. When people understand that they are part of the big picture, and that they can exercise control over their decisions, then each person feels like a full participant in the whole process.
  • In addition to informing the team, it's important to give people autonomy to independently choose with whom they work and on what tasks, if possible. We provide everyone with a common goal, and then each person decides within their competence how to achieve this goal. Autonomy is, by the way, one of the ways to motivate.
  • How to motivate a team

    — There is a good book on motivation, called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. In it, the author described three things that motivate people on a team:

    • Purpose;
    • Autonomy; and
    • Mastery (the opportunity to grow, to apply one's knowledge and skills).

    Pink wrote that for a very long time the carrot and stick system of motivation prevailed. If we do a good job, then the carrot is applied: bonuses, financial incentives, etc. But this system has been shown not to be the most effective for motivating a team. There was an experiment to test motivation for work, dividing test subjects into three groups: one group was paid before any work was done; the second group was not given a financial incentive, but steps were taken to motivate them; and the third group was paid at the end, after the work was completed. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who were paid before performing any work were the least effective. They were already given everything they were going to get, and there was no other motivation. That's based on how our brain works. We strive for dopamine, for getting new rewards. Bonuses can be good, of course, and can work well if there is already a calibrated superstructure in place, tying the bonuses to levels of achievement.

    Goals that allow a person to independently determine the ways to achieve them also have a place. For example, perhaps we need to increase income, and the employee is free to do anything they want to achieve that goal. A bonus will be provided if they do. This combines autonomy, freedom of action, and incentives — and can be very effective as a result.

    I always prefer to motivate the team by setting goals. But there are different kinds of goals. There are specific goals: go there, do this and that — which are similar to a task. And there are more global goals, which establish a certain context for the team. Team members need to have a clear understanding of why we are gathered and what global goals we are seeking to achieve.

    By setting team goals and explaining them, introducing context and keeping the team highly informed, you can achieve team members’ individual goals as well. People work, understandably, for financial security. Beyond that, there are other motivations for choosing a particular field of activity, reasons why someone works on a particular project, in a particular domain. For example, if we are talking about a medical project, perhaps the person likes helping other people, understanding aspects of health, learning about wellbeing. If we're talking about gamdev, people probably enjoy playing computer games if that's their role within the team.

    — The intrinsic motivation of team members is achieved by linking team goals to the personal motivations and goals of the team members. This motivation is one of the most reliable types — arguably the strongest and purest. As a result, achieving intrinsic motivation is very good for the team members and the team as a whole.

    Tell us what motivates you in your work, in the Discord Channel of the Anywhere Club.

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