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5 ways to work well in a team

Work well in a team

“Today’s jobs require teamwork,” says Doug Dribben, JD, a retired U.S. Army major and judge advocate general who teaches general studies courses at the University of Phoenix Maryland Campus. But it can sometimes be a challenge to work well in a group, he acknowledges.

Here are five common teamwork problems and how to solve them:


Problem: High performers are overworked.

Solution: “Top performers can avoid getting piled upon by helping cross-train their peers,” says Dribben, who’s now a civilian attorney for the Army. While teams certainly should benefit from their most talented members, he stresses that team leaders should ensure that all members of the group work at their peak performance levels.

If you’re overburdened, speak up. So advises Amy Eggert, MBA, a private teamwork facilitator who helps companies develop high-performing teams and who teaches in the human resource program at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Campus. She suggests asking your supervisor to prioritize your assignments.

Low performers

Problem: “When somebody isn’t performing well on a team, it’s either because they don’t feel valued or they don’t know how to contribute,” Dribben says, noting it’s rare that low performers are simply lazy. Those who are, he says, usually “pick up and leave.”

Solution: It’s up to the team to motivate low performers, and effective team leaders inspire others by example, Dribben says. He emphasizes that positive peer pressure can help boost an entire team’s performance, especially if senior members mentor and train less experienced peers.

Dribben recommends the book “Small Unit Leadership,” by Dandridge Malone, which teaches this concept. “I mentored West Point cadets with this book,” he says, “but it can apply to everyone.”

Eggert suggests that team leaders encourage low performers. “Perhaps that quiet member has the next great idea,” she points out.

People who dislike teams

Problem: Some people prefer to work alone, which can make teamwork difficult or impossible, Dribben says.

Solution: Show how teamwork benefits everyone involved, Dribben suggests, stressing that he overcame his own resistance after a bad experience in graduate school when he encountered firsthand the accomplishments of a project management team. “I was amazed by the results,” Dribben says. “They were so much better than I could have done alone, and after that, I was hooked.”


Problem: Whether it’s a personality clash or a disagreement, if team members don’t get along, work can come to a standstill.

Solution: “At the outset, decide on team guidelines [about] how your team will handle conflict,” Eggert advises, noting that everyone can write a charter together on dispute resolution. Then, she says, the group needs to stick to the agreement.

Dribben recommends socializing and doing team-building activities on the job and outside of work to improve interpersonal relationships. “Courtesy is a given, but respect is earned,” he says. Team-building activities can help build mutual respect among colleagues.


Sudden departures

Problem: When team members leave, there’s no transition plan, and work is unfinished.

Solution: “When I was in combat situations, we had to prepare for the possibility of anyone — including me — getting knocked out, and still complete our mission,” Dribben says, noting that cross-training and contingency planning apply to any type of team.

Cohesive teams can elevate the performance of everyone involved, Dribben believes. “Teamwork is like a marriage,” he says. “You have to work at it constantly.”