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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

5 Essential Skills for Teamwork in the Workplace

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success."

These are the wise words of Edward Everett Hal, but the problem is that teamwork can sometimes feel like a game of Twister—awkward, uncomfortable, and a little bit sweaty. Group projects in school often devolve into chaos, and office dynamics can turn collaborative efforts into a battle of egos.

Luckily, effective teamwork in the workplace isn't some mystical, impossible unicorn. It's a set of learnable skills that can transform a collection of individuals into a high-performing unit.

That’s something I have always appreciated about the Navy: you are forced to work very, very closely with people you don’t know much, and maybe you don’t like some. You learn the incredible outcome of a good crew who has learned synergetic work beyond personal differences.

So, with this post, I want to share what I have learned from my experience on the ships and as a leadership coach, highlighting the 5 most crucial teamwork skills.

Four diverse people sitting on the grass and smiling at the camera, each wearing a t-shirt with a different letter to collectively spell out the word "TEAM". They are engaging in a team-building activity outdoors, demonstrating unity and collaboration.
Teamwork is a set of learnable skills that can transform a collection of individuals into a high-performing unit.

1. Psychological Safety: The Foundation of Trust

Imagine a tightrope walker attempting their act blindfolded. That's essentially what working in a team without psychological safety feels like. Psychological safety isn't about group hugs and kumbaya moments. It's about creating an environment where team members feel safe to take risks, share ideas without fear of ridicule, and admit mistakes without repercussions.

Why it Matters: Psychological safety fosters open communication, allowing diverse perspectives to surface and leading to better decision-making. It also encourages innovation, as team members are likelier to experiment and learn from failures.

How to Cultivate It: Leaders set the tone. Actively listen to concerns, encourage open dialogue, and celebrate honest mistakes as learning opportunities. Team members can also contribute by practicing empathy, avoiding personal attacks during disagreements, and focusing on solutions rather than blame.

2. Active Listening: Beyond Hearing

We've all been there – nodding along while our minds wander elsewhere. Genuine active listening means paying close attention, clarifying understanding, and demonstrating genuine interest in what others have to say by rephrasing the core concept that the interlocutor has expressed and asking open-ended questions.

Why it Matters: Active listening fosters trust, builds rapport, and ensures everyone feels heard and valued. It also minimizes misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page, preventing wasted effort and rework.

How to Master It: Make eye contact, ask clarifying open-ended questions, summarize key points to ensure understanding, and avoid interrupting. Pay attention to nonverbal cues – silence doesn't always mean agreement.

3. Constructive Conflict Management: Embrace the Spark

As I often repeat in my coaching sessions, conflict isn't inherently wrong. In the workplace, like in every moment of our lives, healthy debate can spark creativity and lead to better solutions. The key lies in managing conflict constructively, focusing on addressing issues rather than attacking personalities.

Why it Matters: Unresolved conflict breeds resentment, hinders communication, and paralyzes progress. Constructive conflict, however, allows for diverse viewpoints to be heard, leading to more well-rounded solutions.

How to Navigate It: Focus on the problem, not the person. Use "I" statements to express concerns, avoid personal attacks, and actively listen to the other side's perspective. Work together to identify solutions that address everyone's concerns.

4. Delegation: Empowering Expertise

Micromanagement is the teamwork equivalent of training wheels, stifling progress and ultimately hindering it. Effective delegation empowers team members to leverage their strengths and take ownership of tasks.

Why it Matters: Delegation frees leaders' time to focus on strategic initiatives while fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership among team members, thus increasing engagement and motivation.

How to Do It Right: Delegate tasks that match individual strengths and skill sets. Provide clear instructions and expectations and allow enough autonomy for independent work. Be open to a course of action different from your chosen one. Offer support and guidance, but avoid micromanaging.

5. Shared Accountability: United We Stand

I have never tolerated having a boss who repeats, “I have done this,” or “If I hadn’t said or done that… we wouldn’t have achieved the goal.” Those sentences are teamwork killers. Individual accountability is essential, but a team's sum is greater than its parts. Shared accountability recognizes that success hinges on collective effort, and the prizes and awards are shared.

Why it Matters: Shared accountability fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to the team's goals. It motivates individuals to go the extra mile, knowing their peers rely on them.

How to Cultivate It: Set clear team goals and establish individual performance metrics contributing to achieving those objectives. Celebrate team successes and acknowledge the collective effort that led to them. When challenges arise, address them as a team, focusing on solutions rather than assigning blame. And remember: tasks can be delegated, not responsibilities!


Why Teamwork in the Workplace is Important

I've seen firsthand the transformative power of these skills as a coach and Navy officer.

At its core, teamwork is an art form, a delicate dance of personalities, talents, and aspirations, all moving in harmony toward a shared vision. There is beauty in differences and strength in unity.

The skills we've discussed are a way to chart the path to synergy in the workplace that might be fraught with challenges, but the view from the summit is unparalleled.

Yet, the most intriguing aspect of teamwork is its infinite capacity for growth and learning. Every interaction, project, conflict, and resolution adds a layer of depth and mutual understanding, opening the door to new possibilities.

The next move is on you: are you willing to access these new possibilities?

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