The Key to Teamwork is Communication

You know that old saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in team?” To make sure your team works best, all parties must be committed to regular and clear communication.

My first exposure to teamwork was in the sixth grade. We agreed on exactly one thing: the teacher was crazy for making us work together. I concluded teamwork was a way for loud people to be loud and get credit, while the quiet people, like myself, quietly got it done. I was not a fan.

We all had areas of expertise, we all had grandiose visions, and we all had constraints of actual available resources that brought our grandiose visions back to reality.

Fast forward many years later to the successful conclusion of a long project at work. As we were happily celebrating its completion in the office kitchen, I realized that it had actually been teamwork, we just hadn’t called it that. We were just all doing our jobs, albeit in different departments.

The reason that worked so well was because we communicated well with each other. We all had areas of expertise, we all had grandiose visions, and we all had constraints of actual available resources that brought our grandiose visions back to reality. But through our discussions and negotiations, we were able to make it happen.

The key to that project’s success—and our satisfaction with it—was our commitment to communicating clearly with each other. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from the team projects that I remember fondly and those, like the one from sixth grade, that I’d rather forget.

Ask questions. And follow up questions. Clarifying a fact, timeline, ability, goal, or anything else is worth the time spent before the critical time comes. Take the time to do it.

Answer questions fully and honestly. It’s a two-way street. If you’re the one with an answer, share it with the whole group. If there is no answer, be sure to share that, too.

Listen with intention. Updates, reports of unexpected news, developing concerns—who knows what can come up. Being a good team member means you’re listening to what others are saying before you comment or ask follow-up questions.

Explain what you mean. You’ve got a vision? Fantastic! If you want other people to see it as well, you have to explain it. You may have an incredible team, but chances are none of them are mind readers.

Be respectful. This wasn’t the case for my sixth grade project, but since college, my teams have all involved adults. You may still need to explain a vision, an opinion, a technical answer, a perspective informed by institutional knowledge, but keep it respectful. People start to tune out when someone is condescending or patronizing.

Don’t play the blame game. When something goes wrong—and at some point it will—what you say and do will show whether or not you’re good on a team. If you focus on how it’s not your fault, the problem will just intensify. You’re in it together, and everyone needs their energy and focus to solve the problem at hand.

Share the kudos. And when something goes right and is noticed—and at some point that will probably happen too—what you say and do also shows whether or not you’re good on a team. If you focus on how it’s all thanks to your brilliance, you’ve actually got a problem. Again, you’ve been in it together, and everyone needs to see their hard work acknowledged.

At associations, we’re on teams within staff, but we also may be on teams with our leadership, members, consultants, and vendors. Attention to the communication skills listed above is particularly important when you’re working with people outside your regular staff since you don’t necessarily see them on a daily basis. They can be in a drastically different work environment, with different assumptions.

And while my sixth grade adventure in teamwork left a lot to be desired, the opposite is true for many of my more recent endeavors, including this guest blog week on that I worked on along with great colleagues from ASAE’s Communications Section Council and ASAE staff.

The rest of this week you’ll also hear from communication pros Michael Cummings, Sheri Singer, Jill Straniero, and Sherron Washington. I hope you enjoy the posts. Please  share comments with the bloggers and register to join many of us at ASAE’s 2015 Marketing, Membership, & Communication Conference, June 1-2, in Washington, DC.


Amy Goldenberg

By Amy Goldenberg

Amy Goldenberg is the managing editor of Anthropology News at the American Anthropological Association in Arlington, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Communications Section Council. MORE

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