When it comes to working in a team, not everyone’s cut out for it. But the reality is, teamwork is one of the most vital competencies in most forms of employment and without it companies tend to fail.
Even if you role seems highly independent and you perform most of it remotely or alone, you’ll still need to communicate with others about what you’ve done, and understand why you’re doing it in the context of the organisation as a whole.
Because of this, interviewers will always test whether you have teamwork skills - and if you demonstrate a lack of these, or no such skills at all, you are unlikely to be successful. After all, who would want an employee who can’t get along with others or has the tendency to spoil moods?
What Do Employers Mean by Teamwork?
Generally, employers mean the ability to work amicably with fellow employees in all kinds of situations and with empathy. Teamwork in essence requires not only people skills but also a sense of maturity, which allows the individual to think above petty misunderstandings that arise.
Teamwork involves helping other members of your team to achieve a common goal quickly and effectively. This does not mean that if you are in an interview you cannot use an example of you being a leader within a team. In fact, this is highly recommended, as you can demonstrate your leadership skills, so long as you don't portray yourself as arrogant.
Teamwork ability is one of the competencies employers are most interested in.
Why Are Teamwork Skills So Highly Valued?
Largely because teamwork skills have a dual benefit: a harmonious office environment plus more effective work. Teams that gel well are far more likely to impress clients, complete projects and seal deals. A company’s reputation often rests on how competent the teams in it are perceived to be.
Types of Teamwork Skills
Teamwork involves a whole set of skills that can’t easily be put under one heading. Below we’ve covered five different skill areas that are integral to a great team player.
Team players need to be able to communicate verbally and using body language, on both emotional and intellectual levels, in a professional manner. Those who are effective at communication:
- Are able to explain their ideas
- Listen to others carefully and not always with an intent to reply
- Make efforts to express what their feelings are without sounding threatening
- Try to sense or understand how others feel, based on what they are saying or by their body language
- Ask questions whenever they want clarification or are uncertain about something
- Often reflect on events and interactions that took place and how things could have gone better (they try to learn from bad experiences)
- Avoid creating tension between others, and try to break tension rather than build on it
Team members can show support for one another in various ways: congratulating others in moments of achievement, or consoling in more trying times. It helps to look at other members of your team as collaborators rather than competitors. A huge part of support is the ability to respect one another.
Certain problem-solving skills entail a level of wisdom and experience, whereas others are based on analytical prowess. In all cases they are concerned with the capacity to assess a given situation and arrive at a positive outcome.
In the context of teamwork, problem-solving skills are valued because employees are expected to develop solutions as a team to situations that threaten to escalate into something potentially serious.
Listening and Feedback Skills
To ensure proper feedback is given in the different situations you are exposed to with fellow employees, it’s important to listen attentively. Clarifying what other team members mean, and taking interest in their problems, demonstrates that you care about them and their development.
Feedback can of course also be delivered via email; some things are better said in written form. With time and exposure to different scenarios, one picks up on which feedback mechanism would probably work best.
Conflict Management Skills
Conflict in the workplace is something all of us experience at some stage. How you deal with conflicts can potentially make or break your career.
Remember not to let your anger or frustration get the best of you. Ultimately you’re trying to reach a solution that benefits the team generally, even if it puts a few individual noses out of joint.
Example Teamwork Competency Questions
Questions will vary depending on the competency that the interviewer is asking you to demonstrate, but for questions surrounding teamwork you will always need to use the STAR technique, which requires you to give an example of a situation during either your previous employment, education or extracurricular activities, explain what tasks you were faced with and how you overcame it.
Sample questions may include:
- What is your definition of a good team player?
- Do you consider yourself a good team player? Why or why not?
- Describe a situation where you were successful in getting people to work together effectively.
- A team member is annoying you on a daily basis and this is hampering your performance at work. How would you handle this situation?
- Describe a time when you were a member of a team and witnessed a conflict within the team. What did you do? What were the results? What could you have done better?
- What are some of your hobbies or extracurricular activities?
- Tell me about a time when you have had to modify yourself (or a way you did something) to take into account someone else's views.
- Tell me about a situation when you needed to offer constructive criticism to a friend or team member?
Tips and Examples for Answering Teamwork Questions
When it comes to answering teamwork questions, try to keep your answers grounded in real situations of which you have actual experience.
Many interviewees tend to either drag on with their answers, or make their answers too short due to nerves, meaning they miss out on key points or information relating to their answer. Try to ensure that your answers are between three and five minutes long and include only the most relevant information to your ability to work successfully within a team.
Try to make sure the situation you were in when describing your answer is as unique and as relevant as possible. The best situations will include positions where you were the leader of a team and listened to the other team members, then used their information and feedback to help develop your own situation.
This will show that not only can you work in a team effectively, but also that you are willing to listen to the feedback of others to improve your own work, something which is often difficult for others.
Another useful scenario is one where you resolved conflict with another team member. Ideally this will show how you resolved the conflict professionally without letting your emotions get the better of you, and without involving HR to resolve the matter for you.
Most examples you will use in answering teamwork questions will be from your extracurricular activities. This is because sports such as football or rugby demand teamwork and vigilance. Besides this, hobbies are useful to show your interviewer that you are not solely focused on work and have other interests.
If you are going to an interview which requires teamwork, WikiJob recommends practising aptitude tests prior to it, which will help you develop other skills.
A lot of people tend to think that teamwork skills are only excelled at by extroverts. While it may be true that extroverts can more easily mix with different people and verbally express themselves, in no way does this invalidate introverts. An introvert’s ability to listen, to empathise and to reflect also form an essential part of a team’s overall development and ability to thrive.
Teamwork skills can be mastered by all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, albeit some take longer than others. Teamwork skills are lifelong skills that need to be fine-tuned, improved and developed with experience.
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