Understanding Teamwork


“Must be a team player.”

“Must be able to work independently and in teams.”

Some version of the above appears consistently in job posts these days. So much so in fact, that I’m getting kind of numb to reading over and over again in the resumes I start with a line that reads, “Can work independently or in teams.” I shudder just writing it there myself. Oh my goodness please don’t put this on your own resume and look exactly like 95% of all the other applicants you’re up against. B O R I N G !

Like any job requirement listed by an employer, it is imperative that you understand what the employer is asking for and why the position requires that particular skill set. When you understand the, ‘why’, you’ll find you suddenly have a much better grasp of their need, and so, when you include that skill or ability on your resume, you’ll do a much better job of presenting it, rather than just looking like you used copy and paste to get it on your page. How unimaginative!

I mean just think of the people on the receiving end, going over all those resumes they received. Imagine yourself in their shoes, and objectively ask yourself whether your own resume would stand out when yours, like most of them have the exact same words in that one line; “Work well independently or in teams”.

So what does it MEAN to work a team? Depending on the job, it could mean you listen to others, cooperate, share ideas, show flexibility, cover when co-workers are off, pitch in, collaborate, cooperate, support, encourage, engage, initiate, share resources, accommodate, etc. For a job involving teamwork you have to have excellent communication skills and sound interpersonal skills. Your team might be made up of people at your same level of seniority, but your team could also include interns, junior partners, senior management, front-line workers, administrative support staff. The folks on your team will not necessarily work in the same physical location if you think about it too. Could be they work in another department in the same building, on another floor, or across the city, in another province or state, or even on another continent.

Depending on the above, your teamwork might happen when you work face-to-face, over the phone, teleconferencing, face-timing over the internet, via email or fax, maybe even working collaboratively in a team with people you’ll only ever communicate with using a keyboard. Of course, for many of you reading this, your team will be comprised of your closest co-workers; the ones you physically engage with every day.

So first off, understand what the team looks like in the job you’re applying for. And there’s something not everyone thinks of when they do envision the type of team they’ll work with. Every team has a set of values, and it’s these values that they demonstrate as they go about their work. If you don’t know what the values are a team holds in high regard, it’s going to be hit and miss when you’re in an interview and trying to demonstrate what a great fit you are. If on the other hand you’ve done some advance work finding out what the team you’ll potential join holds dear, you can align yourself with that same set of values and you’ll then talk and act in such a way that it makes it easier for the employer to see you fitting in.

On the team I’m on for example, flexibility, creativity, and collaboration are values we hold. Anyone joining our team might show up at work and suddenly find that due to the absence of a co-worker on the team, their assigned role for the day is changing. That means in turn you’d have to be or learn quickly to be, flexible, adaptable to change. All the workshops we do involve working either alone or with a co-facilitator. Hence, collaboration and accepting the ideas of others is a job requirement. Positive interpersonal skills are essential because you’re not always in agreement with how a day will pan out, and when you’re making adjustments on the fly before an audience, they will be watching to see how you both interact with each other, consult and amend everything from switching the order of your lessons, shortening or lengthening a topic, adjusting break or lunch periods etc. And when the day is done and you’re tidying up, you need to work together to make adjustments, evaluate how things are progressing and turn to preparing for the next day.

Armed with all of that, it feels so inadequate to just say on my own resume, “Work well in teams.” How badly I would be marketing my abilities!

I might however say,

  •  Collaborate and work productively in team environments where flexibility, creativity, leadership and strong interpersonal skills are highly valued

Now I’m packing a lot more into the teamwork angle. I’ve included 4 traits that fit with what I’ve read or learned the employer values. Now imagine my every bullet was enhanced and strengthened in a similar way. Or rather, imagine YOUR resume was strengthened in a similar way.

What’s important to is to prove through your accomplishments which you document on the resume that you’ve actually had these collaborative team experiences. Just making an idle claim that you work well in teams isn’t good enough; it might not be true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.