Developing Teamwork and Collaboration Skills

By Tom Phelps posted 10-31-2017 15:25


Strategic Skills: Developing Teamwork and Collaboration

I don’t know that I have ever thought of teamwork as a skill.  As an athlete, I’ve thought of jump shots and curve balls as skills, but not teamwork.  As a Training & Development Specialist, I have considered my aptitude with such tools as Outlook, Excel, and Adobe Captivate as skills, but I wasn’t thinking of my ability to collaborate with others as a skill, per se.  I mean, I’ll do my work, you do yours, and we’ll call it good, right?

Not so fast.  

Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of working on teams with some great people and have learned a thing or two about the skills of teamwork and collaboration that I’d like to share here.  Some of it may seem trivial, but remove them from the equations of your working relationships and see what you’re left with. Put them all together, though, and you’ve got a great foundation on which to build the success of the teams of which you are a part.


When I’m not working as a Training & Development Specialist at Fish & Richardson, I enjoy spending time on the basketball court as a referee.  I have officiated over 160 games in the past year, and have learned a lot – not just about the game, but about people.  One of the things I have learned is how much players, coaches, and parents appreciate a good ref.  What is a good ref? Well, there are a number of factors in my opinion, but I think most, if not all of them can be summed up in one word: competency.  A competent ref is one who knows the rules, the mechanics of reffing, is authoritative in his calls and decisions, and deals well with people in difficult situations.  All of those attributes (and probably more) constitute competency.  

When reffing, however, I’m never alone (except for the one game for which my partner didn’t show up) – I’m always with either one or two other referees.  We divide the court and make the calls in our primary coverage areas (PCAs) and let the other(s) make the calls in theirs.  In order to be a competent ref, then, I need to know my primary coverage areas, reffing mechanics, and the rules of the game.  Take away my knowledge of any one of those factors, and you’ve got a mess (angry parents, screaming coaches, etc.).  So when I’m not on the court, I’m studying to be competent – I’m reading the rules book, watching videos, and participating in clinics (yes, there are actually referee clinics, contrary to what your Bantam hockey referees may lead you to believe).  I also like “talking shop” whenever possible – when I work with refs who are more experienced than me, I like to ask questions.  

All of these things and more serve to improve my level of competency as a referee, which leads to greater levels of teamwork with my partners. They’re able to trust me more, allow me to manage my PCA so they can manage theirs, and trust me to make the right calls at the right time. So the first step in developing teamwork begins with yourself – ensuring you’re competent and up to the task at hand.

Communication – the impartation or exchanging of information or news

Last summer, I was working with a Business Analyst, an Applications Architect, and some Desktop Support personnel here at Fish & Richardson on our upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and Office 2013 to Office 2016.  It was a big project, and I was thankful to be working with very competent partners.  My role was to help develop and publish the training for the new environment, and to communicate the availability of the training effectively to each office, as the upgrades rolled out.  

In order to work effectively with this team of which I was a part, I met with them regularly.  Fortunately, the Business Analyst, who was serving as the Project Manager, scheduled regular (weekly, sometimes bi-weekly) meetings to coordinate the project and all of the things associated with it.  We discussed the order of the offices in which the upgrades would be deployed – 11 in the U.S. and one in Europe, what kind of training we’d have, how often we’d have it, and a number of other related issues.  Email traffic increased significantly for us during that time, but there were never any surprises.  Everything we did was carefully thought out, thoroughly communicated, and then executed according to plan.  The result? No confusion or surprises for any of our end users, plenty of adequate training, and an increase of trust and teamwork between those with whom I worked on that project.  

All of that trust, however, was predicated by our thorough communication. Because of our successful communication, we were able to complete all of the deployments right on schedule with no delays.  


Allow me to take you back to the hardwood (basketball court) for a minute. I was working last winter with a referee who had a very soft whistle, which means he wasn’t very decisive when he made a call, and was even more soft spoken.  Those two characteristics made is somewhat difficult to work with him.  I rarely knew what he was calling, what he was or was not going to call, and sometimes if he knew what to call.  It was hard to work on his team – it proved to be quite frustrating at times, as I had to make calls that weren’t necessarily mine to make, and allow certain calls to stand that I just didn’t agree with.

When you’re competent and effective at communicating, collaboration is much, much easier. Teamwork becomes more of a result than an effort, and more often than not, the finished product is better, too.  

So let me leave you with this challenge today:  Do what you can to hone your craft – learn more through reading, joining a related organization and attending meetings, or take coursework that will grow your skills.  Learn to communicate – or communicate better – like maybe the way the voting joke goes: early and often. Start before issues arise, and keep the channels open until they’re resolved.

Do those things and watch your teamwork and collaboration skills improve.