Winners of Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work Awards demonstrate how teamwork helps to improve communications and efficiency among staff
The link between staff who work closely in a team and a happy, productive workplace has been recognised for decades.
Team-building events are often extra-curricular, taking place outside the office, and are usually a mix of work-oriented and purely social activities. Their purpose is to simultaneously break down barriers between individuals and departments and foster an esprit de corps among employees.
However, despite its benefits, an ethos of teamwork has to be balanced against goals and responsibilities for each employee. Teamworking events and policies need careful planning and budgeting.
At property services group Telereal, winner of the Best Places to Work Award in the business services category, the principle of teamwork is one of six core corporate values.
"We have a structured regional events programme - for example, recently we have had wine tasting at Vinopolis and a trip to Segaworld. We also have an IT football team that challenges business teams and occasionally wins," said Adam Burstow, IS manager at Telereal.
The ethos of teamwork extends to Telereal's contract IT staff. "We treat everyone the same, whether they are contract or permanent," said Burstow.
With a ratio of roughly 50:50 permanent to contract IT staff, that equality of treatment and attitude is very important, he added. "Our contract staff make a terrific contribution."
The teamwork between permanent and contract staff is so seamless that many business staff are unaware who is contract staff and who is permanent.
Communication between different departments is encouraged through formal and informal measures. "All my senior managers sit in the same area, rather than in their own teams. I also sit with my senior management team, and so am in constant communication with them," said Burstow.
"We all have a mutual understanding of our roles and responsibilities, and how we each align to those. I set objectives and identify the different roles needed to achieve them in a variety of ways, such as delivering, managing and supporting [each objective]."
However, although an emphasis on teamwork brings a host of benefits - from helping to bond colleagues to working collaboratively - it is important that it should not become an excuse for staff to shirk their individual obligations and targets.
"Teamworking has to fit within the context of individual responsibility and ownership [of tasks]," said Burstow. "It is important that the individual retains clear ownership of their objectives and the business benefits they are responsible for delivering."
In addition, the IT staff have clearly defined targets but are encouraged to work outside their usual role when necessary to help colleagues.
"We are flexible in how we support each other," said Burstow. "We each have our own jobs, but sometimes it is a question of 'whoever is there'. Because we are a team, people will pick that up and support each other."
Teamworking activities and social networking, for the IT department and throughout the company are common. The teamwork ethos is also boosted by the challenging nature of the work at Telereal, said Burstow.
"The increasing complexity of work and speed of change means that there is no place for the classic stereotype of the computer techie working in a darkened room. Everyone in my team has to communicate and be a proactive part of our team in IT and across the business as a whole. I cannot think of anyone who is not constantly expected to be able to do that."
Burstow stressed that teamwork needs to be nurtured by an organisation. "I think teamwork needs a lot of attention to help it flourish," he said. "But however many mechanisms you have in place to create and support teamwork, you can still be taken by surprise: unanticipated issues come up, or someone doesn't know something you thought they did."
Teamwork also has to adapt to changing IT and business circumstances.
"We constantly try new things in respect of teamwork," said Burstow. "Most recently we set up the Telereal Change Programme. It runs across the whole business, but I am the programme director for it."
One of the programme's benefits has been to provide a structure to help the IT department plan and track the progress of its projects.
"Within IT we will sit down and run through key projects together, and we have set up all our projects on our corporate portal so everyone in both IT and business can see the status on individual projects," said Burstow. "This aids our communication on projects."
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Tips for successful teamworking
- A culture of teamworking reduces excessive competitiveness between staff in the same department, which can harm overall productivity
- Teamworking does not arise spontaneously among staff. It requires an investment of time, attention and budget to create, maintain, harvest and monitor
- Teamwork is not an end in itself, and is justified only when it contributes to overall, long-term productivity
- Teamworking can help knowledge transfer between staff
- Not all teams work well together. Managers must ensure that the right mix of personalities engage, otherwise friction can develop in the team, which can be destructive.