Effective Team-Working Skills
Our section on Working in Groups and Teams, starting with What is a Group?, defines groups and explains some of the issues and challenges of working in a group. It explains the Group Life-Cycle, and how groups can change over time.
This page builds on those, and sets out some of the specific skills that you may need when working in a group or a team.
Our page on Group Roles explains that there are a number of roles that any one person can take on in a team.
In summary these are:
Belbin’s Team Roles
Shaper – drives work forward and gets things done, has a clear idea of the desired direction of travel;
Implementer – also gets things done, looking for ways to turn talk into action and generate practical activity;
Completer-Finisher – focuses on completing tasks, and tidying up all the loose ends;
Coordinator – manage the group dynamics, often in a leadership role;
Team Worker – helps the team to work effectively by supporting personal relationships;
Resource Investigator – gathers external resources and information to help the team;
Plant – generates ideas and creative solutions, not all of them practical;
Monitor-Evaluator – good at critically assessing ideas and proposals, and at making decisions; and
Specialist – brings expert knowledge to the group, not always necessary to effective functioning.
Research shows that the most effective teams have someone who can take on each of the nine key roles. That doesn’t mean that a team has to contain nine people, as most people can take on two or even three roles at a time.
Teams that struggle to operate effectively, however, tend to lack one or more of the nine key roles.
Task vs. Process Team Roles
Belbin’s team roles can be divided into Task and Process roles.
- Task roles focus on ‘what’: the job in hand, and getting it done. The key ‘task-focused’ team roles are Shaper, Implementer, Completer-Finisher, Monitor-Evaluator, Plant and Specialist.
- Process roles focus on ‘how’, and particularly on the people involved. They include Coordinator, Resource Investigator, and Team Worker.
The most effective team-workers are those who can see what skills are available within the group, and use their own skills to fill any gaps. People tend to be either task- or process-focused, rather than a mixture.
It is perfectly possible to learn to take on the other focus, if you want to do so, and this will make you a highly effective team member.
Key Task-Focused Team Skills
The skills which are needed to take on task-focused team roles include:
Organising and Planning Skills
Being organised is essential to getting tasks done.
If you don’t know what needs to be done, and by when, it’s quite hard to make it happen by your deadline. Shapers, Implementers and Completer-Finishers are all characterised by good organising skills, and can usually be relied upon to put in place strong systems for managing projects well.
Some people are naturally more organised than others, and if this is an area in which you struggle, take a look at our pages on Organising Skills and Time Management for some ideas. For larger projects, have a look at our pages on Project Management, Project Planning and Action Planning.
Being able to make decisions is also crucial to moving things forward.
Although it may be important to take time to gather information to ensure that the decision is right, there may come a time when any decision is better than none.
Group decision-making often requires compromise, and sometimes a willingness to give up one’s own point of view in favour of the group’s shared decision.
Shapers and Monitor-Evaluators are both good decision-makers.
Shapers, however, tend to make their own decisions quickly and then may struggle to compromise.
Monitor-Evaluators tend to look for the right decision from the available evidence, and may be slow to make a decision if there is a shortage of evidence.
For more about this area, see our page on Decision-Making Skills.
Task-focused people are often adept at problem-solving, especially if the problem relates to the task.
Plants look for innovative ideas to solve the problem, and Implementers will turn ideas into practical action.
Shapers will see the ‘big picture’ and the overall plan, making sure that the solution to the problem does not result in a change of direction.
For more about good problem-solving skills, see our pages on Problem Solving.
Key Process-Focused Team Skills
Process-focused skills tend to be about people, and about building rapport within the group and making it work cohesively and effectively. Those who take on process-focused group roles tend to have very good interpersonal skills, and in particular:
Good Coordinators, Team-Workers and Resource Investigators are good at Verbal Communication, Listening, and Questioning. They work hard to ensure that the group communicates well, helping to make sure that there are no misunderstandings or unexpressed difficulties between team members.
For more about developing these skills, see our page on Improving your Communication Skills.
Ability to Build Rapport
These people are also good at developing a sense of harmony within the group. They help to build rapport with others, creating a coherent team.
Persuasion and Influencing Skills
One of the key areas of process skills is in persuading and influencing. If the group is to come to a shared decision, for example, several members may need to be persuaded of the merits of a particular course of action.
See our page on Persuasion and Influencing Skills for more on this, and for an example of a particularly adept piece of influencing in a group situation.
Managing a process is basically about facilitating it, or making it easier. Good facilitation skills are therefore vital in team-working, although they are often wrongly seen as crucial only for managing workshops.
For more about this, see our page on Facilitation Skills.
Giving and receiving feedback well is essential in any team-working situation. Being able to give clear and effective feedback to others is vital to keep the group process running effectively, and to plan. It also helps to ensure that you do not get irritated and angry with the way that others are behaving. It follows that you also need to be able to receive feedback gracefully, and then act on it calmly.
See our page on Giving and Receiving Feedback for more.
Skills in Chairing Meetings
Group work often involves meetings, whether those are committee meetings or much bigger and more formal meetings. Skilled Coordinators often have highly developed skills in chairing meetings, and use them in small and large groups alike.
For more about this, see our page on Conducting a Meeting.
Finally, you have to recognise that there may be situations when you need to deal with difficult people or situations, or even resolve a conflict.
For more about this, see our pages on Difficult Group Behaviour, Conflict Resolution and on Communication in Difficult Situations.
…it is important to remember that all team-working situations are fundamentally about working with other people.
If you have good interpersonal skills, and are open to receiving feedback and improving them as a result, then you will become, and be, a good person to work with in a team. It truly is as simple as that.