Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 74 – Teamwork

Welcome to the December edition of the Registrant Resources Edition of Overload. As this is the last edition of the year, we would like to take this opportunity to let you know that the offices are closed between Tuesday 23rd December and Monday 5th January 2009. For those of you who are currently working on contract through IEA, rest assured that you will be paid as usual during the Christmas period. We will not, however, be able to make any placements during this time. Messages can be left for us on 08 9335 2533 (answering machine) if the matter is urgent, or you can send us an email and we will respond to them as soon as we return.

From everyone here at IEA, we hope that you have a safe and happy festive season, and we look forward to speaking and working with you again in the New Year.


In this issue we will look at:

• Teamwork: What have you accomplished this year?
• Working on your own: Are you really?
Teamwork: What have you accomplished this year?

Unless you plan on having a career as a hermit, or a lighthouse keeper, chances are going to be better than good that you are going to be working closely with other people. Teams vary in size and of course there will be many different sorts of teams within a single organisation. Whilst you will have your own role and duties to perform, your contribution to the organisation you work for is improved by the way in which you and your team perform together.  As the Business Council of Australia and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated in 2002.
“Virtually all employers say that the demand for ‘solo’ employees is negligible and that there was an expectation that employees work in a range of team environments both formal and informal over time.
The elements of teamwork identified by the small, medium and large enterprises are:
• working with people of different ages, gender, race, religion or political persuasion;
• working as an individual and as a member of a team;
• knowing how to define a role as part of a team;
• applying teamwork to a range of situations – e.g., futures planning, crisis problem solving;
• identifying the strengths of team members; and
• coaching, mentoring and giving feedback.

Employability Skills for the Future . Canberra: AGPS.

But what makes a good “team player” and what makes a good “team”?

• Listening – it is important to listen to other people’s opinions. When people are allowed to freely express their ideas, these initial ideas will produce other ideas.
• Discussing It is important to discuss your ideas with your teammates until you agree.
• Questioning – it is important to ask questions, interact, and discuss the objectives of the team.
• Persuading – individuals are encouraged to exchange, defend, and then to ultimately rethink their ideas.
• Respecting – it is important to treat others with respect and to support their ideas.
• Helping – it is crucial to help one’s coworkers, which is the general theme of teamwork.
• Sharing – it is important to share with the team to create an environment of teamwork.
• Participating – all members of the team are encouraged to participate in the team. (which usually consists of three or more people)
• Communicating – For a team to work effectively it is essential for team members to acquire communication skills and to use effective communication channels between one another e.g. using email, viral communication, group meetings and so on. This will enable team members of the group to work together and achieve the team’s purpose and goals.

Which is all very well I can hear you cry, but what happens when one member of the “team” really should be working as a light house keeper?

Well as managers and organisational leaders the world over know it is better to employ people who will work together rather than those who have very strong opinions, personalities and tendencies to be a) stubborn and b) politically motivated. These kinds of people have their place in the organisational structure, but true “team players?” probably not.

The trick with all things management, is to allow people to play to their strengths.

• Create the right atmosphere.  Teams cannot work in a vacuum, nor can they work in an atmosphere of dictatorship and fear of failure. 
• Have vision.  Be clear about what it is you are hoping to achieve, and convey this to the team at all times.  If the priorities change it is vital that you tell the entire team, not just a select few.
• Good teams have good leadership.  A good leader allows the team members to grow and to develop.  They lead by example, and are able to bring the team together into one cohesive unit.
• Establish common ground.  Your team should be pulling in the same direction.  Whilst team members will have different ideas and opinions it is important that everyone knows where the other people are “coming from”.
• Have the correct operational framework.  Make sure that the methods of communication fit the team and the work being done.
• Take the time to create the team.  Good teams don’t happen overnight.  Trust has to be established and relationships formed before the team can move forward as a unit.
• Be open to change and differing opinions.  After all, who is to say that the way something has always been done is the correct way of doing something.  Be willing to say I was wrong, and grow as a team.
• Talk vs Action: Make sure that you don’t spend all your time talking.  You will still need to get the work done.  If you do your job properly you will know the best people to take the project/work forward.  But make sure this responsibility is shared otherwise some people will resent and begin to undermine your efforts and others will assume the “dictatorship” approach. 
• Allow job movement and sharing of tasks.  This allows everyone a chance to grow and to develop.  It also means that people can join or leave the group without causing too many stresses or strains on the rest of the team.
• Form small teams for projects that need moving forward quickly. One of the problems with many teams is simply they are too big for the work that needs to be done, and as a consequence the focus of the team can be lost. Focus groups (small teams) focus on a single issue – with other focus groups created as and when needed to move each project through the various phases.

As you think about what you and your fellow team members have achieved this year it is important to remember the part you played and make a note of it on your CV – under significant achievements. Bear in mind it is these “things” you can use as answers to selection criteria should you decide to move onwards and sideways during the year.

But what happens when you don’t have a traditional “team” structure to call upon?

Working on your own: Are you really?

The One Person Librarian (Opal) has to be a little more creative when forming his or her own team structure, as in most cases, the librarian does not have any immediate co-workers to call upon.  However, libraries and Information Centres do not exist in a vacuum.  You will have co-workers and subject specialists to assist you especially with things like collection management and collection development. And if you are a shameless marketer of services then you will have walking ambassadors of the library and information service, clients who are regular users and knowledge of where the organisation is headed so you can plan your services accordingly. This needs to be a regular exercise and not something you think about around budget time.

As a part of the broader library and information community, it is good to remember that there is always a network of people to whom you can turn if you need assistance with a particular answer to a question.  For instance, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have numerous groups, forums and meetings that you can join or attend. 

With many thoughts