The Importance of Teamwork in the Workplace

by | May 8, 2023

A dragon boat is a fascinating thing. Typically constructed of solid teak, it can be as heavy as a mature Holstein cow. Yet, in motion, it looks so light, gliding gracefully on the water — and the secret is teamwork. The importance of teamwork in dragon boat teams cannot be overstated. While having strong paddlers helps, it’s the synchronized paddling that wins races, as one out-of-sync paddler can and will slow a boat down.

If teamwork is essential in dragon boats, it is even more critical in the workplace. Risk management and other similarly complex initiatives can only succeed with teamwork.

Choosing to move ahead with a project or a program without the cooperation of your team is setting yourself up for failure. It’s inviting negativity, discord, and even sabotage. It is trying to race a 1,500-pound dragon boat with half the paddlers resting and the remainder paddling asynchronously. It’s frustrating and futile.

And like dragon boat racing, while individual strength (i.e., talent) is important in enterprises, it fades in significance against teamwork. Scott Keller got it right when he highlighted in his McKinsey article on high-performing teams that one wants an all-star team, not a team of all stars.

If you want to learn why teamwork is important, read on. What follows is a discussion of the benefits of teamwork in the workplace.

1. Better Performance on Complex Projects and Problems

Suppose leadership has decided it will implement business process re-engineering(BPR). As you probably know, BPR requires the “obliteration” (as Michael Hammer put it) of old business processes and the design of new functions from scratch.

BPR is a highly complex endeavor. It requires examining business processes in their current iteration and analyzing the principles and assumptions underpinning their design. Leadership (or the re-engineering team) must then decide whether they still hold water today, especially in light of modern technological developments and the insights afforded by big data.

The processes based on principles and assumptions that are no longer valid or applicable must be redesigned or re-engineered. This entails devising replacement processes as well as designing new workflows and creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) that will operationalize and institutionalize these. Then these new processes, workflows, and procedures must be implemented through change management.

Review the entire BPR process, and you can see many of its moving parts require team effort. Evaluating existing processes, conceiving new ones, designing new workflows, and creating new SOPs require cooperative and thoughtful input from the front line to middle management and top executives. Collaboration and cooperation become even more critical when it’s time to implement new processes, workflows, and procedures.

Any complex organizational project or program, be it BPR, enterprise risk management, business process improvements, or ERP implementation, is better with team effort. People from different levels of the organization have unique perspectives. While full company canvassing is not required (and inefficient), it is best if an organization accounts for individual points of view before implementing any changes.

A study (Laughlin et al., 2006) shows definitive evidence that groups are better at solving intellectually complex problems than individuals. This study, which compared the performance of individuals against groups of two, three, four, and five people, showed how groups outperform individuals, with the groups proposing more sophisticated solutions and requiring fewer trials to reach a solution than individuals.

Another study (Almaatouq et al., 2021) affirms the above findings, concluding that interacting groups generate high-quality solutions in complex tasks faster than high-performing individuals. Put another way, individuals are great for simple tasks, but group work is better when handling complex tasks.

2. Enhanced Organizational Innovation

If you want your organization’s processes and models to change and adapt with the times, your company to remain at the forefront of your industry or field, and your products and services to excite your clients and customers, you need a culture of innovation. To foster such a culture, you require teamwork.

Teamwork quality is essential in highly innovative tasks. Innovative tasks entail high levels of complexity, novelty, and uncertainty (Hoegl, 2008). There are a lot of unknown variables; organizations do not even know the consequences of specific actions in innovative projects.

In that context, the collaboration process (and thus the quality of teamwork) is crucial to handling ambiguity and responding to unforeseen and rapid changes. Examples of teamwork skills critical to innovation are communication, active listening, honesty, empathy, responsibility, and awareness.

Additionally, information is critical when handling tasks where so many things are unknown and cannot be predicted. Excellent team dynamics and teamwork can draw out the members’ diverse perspectives and backgrounds. This could lead to innovative, synergistic approaches no individual member could develop independently.

There is empirical evidence that teamwork leads to innovation. Fay et al. (2014) analyzed data from organizations in the U.K. manufacturing sector. Their study indicates that organizations that use teamwork generally have higher levels of organizational innovation.

3. Less Burnout and Improved Employee Well-Being

Teamwork can make employees happier and more accomplished. A study (Wang et al., 2022) conducted among a sample of 939 health workers in China affirms this.

The study’s results indicate teamwork quality is negatively correlated to worker burnout. Specifically, the study concludes that a surge in teamwork quality can reduce emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (feeling detached from one’s body or mental processes).

The above study also found that teamwork has a direct impact on outcomes. Specifically, teamwork quality is correlated to professional accomplishment.

Additionally, the fact that teamwork improves employee well-being also has ramifications that go beyond employee happiness. Happy and healthy employees perform better in the workplace and have better productivity. Therefore, teamwork has a positive influence on employee productivity.

Teamwork Makes a Difference

“Two heads are better than one” is a lesson taught in kindergarten classrooms, but it carries weight even in company boardrooms. No one can ever exaggerate the importance of teamwork in the workplace.

Indeed, group effort trumps individual effort in complex projects. The professional skills you use at work may be excellent. However, when faced with complex problems requiring sophisticated, multi-layered, and multi-disciplinary solutions, you cannot outperform a group with superb teamwork.

Teamwork is a necessary ingredient in organizational innovation. Team members must know how to communicate, listen, empathize, take responsibility, and collaborate to develop innovative solutions.

Finally, teamwork can reduce feelings of burnout and improve their well-being — and you know what they say, happy employees are productive employees.

Affility Consulting is a leading comprehensive business advisory services firm with more than 60 person-years of consulting experience. Talk to us for strategic guidance on business process re-engineering, enterprise risk management, enterprise resource planning, and other complex and innovative initiatives.