Teamwork, diversity and trust

The challenge of teamwork is to build trust among team members who differ from each other. Team roles help us understand this diversity and manage teamwork more efficiently.

Gustave Flaubert’s wise maxim “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health, are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost” captures well what I would like to emphasize in this essay. I may paraphrase it as follows: “To have talented people who represent all possible skills, to have rich resources, and to have trust, are three requirements for good teamwork, though if trust is lacking, all is lost”. So, the entire repertoire of soft skills should be used to build and maintain trust. Trust is, therefore, in the words of Stephen M. R. Covey, “the one thing that changes everything”. Teamwork flows from trust.

Teamwork is a composite outcome of applying all our soft skills when interacting with other people who are our partners in some endeavour. Managing teamwork is all really about building interdependence among members of the team, and this means creating trust, social capital and good conditions for cooperation. This is more difficult than it sounds because people have different personalities, different life experiences, and different personal goals they want to achieve.

Team roles
In the field called organizational behavior, the researchers and managers wanted to find some sense in the rich variety of the ways in which people behave when working in teams. One of the ways of making this diversity manageable was to look for some categories of behavior that people may express. This led to the rise of the concept of “team roles”.

One of the more successful approaches was that of Meredith Belbin from England who suggested that it is enough to describe only nine team roles, or types of “personality” in the context of working in a team. The first four roles are focused on “relationships”: Team worker, Resource investigator, Coordinator, and Implementer. The subset of five roles focused on the “task” is represented by the Shaper, Plant, Monitor evaluator, Completer finisher, and Specialist. To know what team role you would play in your team you would have to fill out a special questionnaire; Wikipedia has good information about these team roles.

There are different challenges for the team members during the life cycle of a team. Shapers and Co-ordinators will be needed early on, when it is essential to formulate goals and develop plans of action. Team workers are needed next, to help with building mutual trust among team members. Finally, Specialists, Completer-Finishers and Implementers should show their contributions when the team is fully mature and working hard.

Teamwork and team roles
An ability to be a team player is a soft skill in its own right. We may, therefore, ask a simple question: is “teamwork” equally important for team members who represent different team roles? For some of the team roles the spirit of teamwork is more essential than for others, even though each team role contributes to the team product.

The role of a “Team worker” is, by definition, focused on teamwork: this is simply what people with this profile do and this focus comes to them naturally. One may say that teamworking is the soft skill “built in” into their behavioral repertoire. A

The “Coordinator” must also have strong teamworking skills since their dominant focus of attention is on – you guessed it! – coordinating. They must know how to clarify objectives and to allocate tasks and resources to all team members so that people do not interfere in each other’s work and it flows efficiently. To be a good coordinator and delegate responsibilities means that you must trust others – and this is the essence of teamwork.

The name of another team role – the “Shaper” – has been quite aptly translated into Polish as a “steam engine”. Shapers beat other team member into shape and their soft skills cannot be too soft! Their acts often leave others with hurt feelings or fractured personal egos, but the team output benefits. Shapers know how to fill the hearts of team members with enthusiasm and that “Yes, we can!” attitude.

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