How to Excel at Teamwork

Group work

Paul Joseph / UBC Communications & Marketing

At university, we see ourselves working in groups in various activities: from lab work, to in-class discussions, and sometimes, even forming groups at job interviews to land our dream positions. However, since every individual possesses such a unique personality, not every team functions similarly, and sometimes, working in a team setting might seem a bit tricky to us.

My name is Phuong and I am currently a Chapman Learning Commons Assistant majoring in Finance. As our Winter Term II just started, I would like to provide you with a few tips and tricks that I have learned from what I have experienced at school and at the workplace, which I believe, will help you to work confidently and contribute ideas effectively while working in a team setting:


1. Strategic Discussion as a Strong Start:

Prior to start working on a class/ work project with your team, I highly recommend you to set up a casual meeting over coffee/ food, etc., to learn about your teammates, their backgrounds, personalities and working styles. Having a good understanding of your teammates and the way that they approach a problem is extremely important, as it will give you guidance into managing any potential conflict that may arise over the course of your teamwork experience.


2. Setting Clear Expectations:

As a part of your strategic discussion, I believe that it is crucial for you and your team to set a clear set of expectations on working styles and outcome of the work. The clearer these expectations are set and communicated among the team, the more all teammates will be motivated to hold themselves to the highest standard and work together towards a common outcome. 

Strategic discussion is also a good opportunity for us to discuss what our strengths and weaknesses are, what roles they normally play in a team, and what are the preferred roles in this project. This is a very important component of the conversation, considering how our skills, personalities and strengths often complement each other, therefore, this discussion will help us to better delegate tasks among our group members to build a cohesive team.


3. Importance of Collaboration:

Sometimes, your teammate and you might face small conflicts when working together. This might arise due to various reasons, from differences in personalities, to different motivations and expectations. And this is totally normal, given how we are different in many ways. Last term, while encountering difficulty while working with my teammates while preparing for a group project. A close friend of mine reminded me of the Conflict Management matrix, which we have learnt about in one of our introductory Commerce courses. I found this a very helpful framework to assess different conflict management styles based on the degree of assertion and cooperation:

Assertiveness vs cooperativeness in group work

Image courtesy of Psychometrics Canada LTD.

The conflict-handling and management matrix was developed by K.W. Thomas and R.H. Kilmann in 1974, identifying different conflict management styles based on the dimensions of assertiveness and cooperativeness. This matrix suggests that while there are different approaches to conflict management, including competing, avoiding, collaborating, accommodating & compromise, achieving collaboration will help you to achieve a high level of cooperation and assertiveness. It helps us to utilize our time and find a solution that can be accepted by all members of the team. 


4. Utilize Emotional Intelligence:

This past year, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence in a team setting and how it enhanced the bond between team members. During last term, I was assigned a group of 3 people, to prepare for a case competition, and due to the different expectations and personalities, we encountered difficulty working as a team for the first few weeks, and did not see much progress being made. During this time, we came across an article on Live Bold and Bloom, where we learned about the direct linkage between emotional intelligence and measurable results. By leveraging the power of emotional intelligence, our team managed to utilize our emotional understanding to solve problems, make better decisions, progress significantly during our next practices, and most importantly, create a strong bond between us. So what is the formal definition of emotional intelligence, and why is it so important in a collaborative work environment? 

According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence helps us to maintain a supportive work environment, while helping us handle people’s feelings. When working in a team, utilizing our emotional intelligence will help us identify small tactics that will help us to avoid conflicts, while addressing the needs of the entire team. One tactic that we used in our team was to spend time outside of our case preparation periods to go grab food together, to understand each other’s personalities, to strengthen our bonds, and learning how to improve cooperation in the case room.  

I hope that this blog post has identified a few approaches to improve your experience working in team settings. For more tips and tricks on improving your academic experience, check out Chapman Learning Commons’ Student Toolkits about working in groups here 

Or check out our tips for Communicating Effectively 


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