The word "team" is often used rather loosely; therefore, any consideration of how to achieve success as a team and the benefits of teamwork needs to be preceded by some thought on what is meant by the terms "team" and "teamwork."
I think it is usually assumed that teams produce teamwork. This is not so. Just because a group of people are designated as a team is no guarantee that they will work together effectively as anyone who follows team sports realizes.
Having a common goal or task is sufficient reason to refer to people collectively as a team. Using this crude definition, our consideration of teamwork could be expanded to include many different groupings of people not customarily thought of as teams but whose functioning together has many of the same potential benefits and pitfalls. Everyone in a corporation, for example, is part of one big team. Within that team are departmental or divisional teams, and within those teams are people grouped around specific tasks. There are also interdepartmental teams and teams extending outside the company to include stakeholders. Each employee is part of several teams at the same time, even if these are not customarily thought of as teams. These teams interrelate, often in complex yet informal ways. For this reason, the quality of teamwork is a major determinant not only of the quality of the organization's operation but also the quality of our experience as workers.
Experience shows, however, that effective teamwork doesn't happen by itself. If the team is to be more than just a collection of individuals grouped around a common task, then a conscious and concerted effort to develop and nurture the team is needed. Teamwork is a product of teams whose members have achieved a certain level of integration of values, purpose, attitudes, and action both within and among themselves. Because teamwork requires so much effort to achieve, people will participate wholeheartedly only if they understand the benefits for themselves and the team.
So why bother? Since we were old enough to watch cartoons, we grew up with a model where the "hero" is the self-made, self-sufficient person who outperforms, outsmarts, outmaneuvers, and consequently outlives everyone else. In other words, we have grown up in a world that is based primarily on competition and dominance, not collaboration and sharing. In spite of this, most people experience a deep (probably unconscious) hunger for relationships and companionship. Executives, for example, report feeling "lonely at the top." I believe this is because being in relationships (working collaboratively) is natural for us as a species; we find it enjoyable and fulfilling.
Teamwork also offers the possibility of "sharing the load" with others - "many hands make light work." When work is shared in a way so that each member of the team can utilize his/her strengths and not have to work around areas where skills may be deficient, there is a large gain in productivity and worker morale.
The big payoff for the investment in making teams work, however, comes when the team moves past merely functioning together successfully and begins to attain the level of collaboration that produces synergy.
Sometimes, although not often, team members function so well together that their output significantly exceeds what the same individuals would have achieved working on the task noncollaboratively. This is called "synergy." The synergy bonus may appear as productivity, quality, timeliness, creativity, or some combination of these measures of achievement.
Team members often describe in ecstatic terms those rare times when the team really gels and synergy is produced. Everything begins to fall into place in an apparently effortless, seamless fashion. Team members are able to anticipate the needs and actions of their fellows, often without specific verbal communication; and their spirits soar.
Effective Teamwork Requires a Change...