Good teamwork does not happen on its own

Poor teamwork impacts the working environment, the quality of the work delivered and the bottom line

Many workplaces need to strengthen their internal working environment. If we do not make it a conscious discipline to practise cooperation, it will have consequences for the working environment, the quality of the work delivered – and ultimately the bottom line.


November 2015


Most managers are aware that employees at all levels are the company’s most precious resource – yet also the most complex. Every day, when we come to work, we bring many things with us which have no relevance to the work we are about to do. Yet they will influence the quality of the work and the contribution we offer the greater whole.

Any encounter with another human being, whether it is in a private or a professional context, brings everything that we are and everything that we have to offer into play. Our values, attitudes, emotions and experiences affect the relationship at various, often unconscious, levels. This is a challenge, often a major challenge. When working with leadership and developing teams, the art is to cultivate the conditions in order to bring out the best skills. When we succeed in making employees work together towards common goals and in a common spirit, a lot of energy is generated, which in turn makes it possible to achieve great results.

2+2 must add up to more than 4

In our daily work, we meet numerous dysfunctional groups and teams which do not achieve this level of synergy. Occasionally, a group will actually achieve a negative synergy, accomplishing less than would have been possible individually. The expectation that people will automatically and naturally cooperate is mistaken. When a team is formed, the first emotion that occurs among its members is typically fear. Fear of failing in the group. Only when this fear has been mitigated by concrete plans for the purpose of the collaboration and a better understanding of each other, the team members begin to look for opportunities. We can only experience positive recognition from people who truly see us and form an opinion about who we are. The experience that another person is interested in who we are stimulates us and gives us energy. Mutual recognition makes people whose purpose it is to succeed in workplace relationships rise to the pinnacle, regardless of the concrete assignment.

We simply have to practise collaboration as a discipline within a specific framework in order to exploit the team’s full potential and ensure that we utilise all the team members’ competences most optimally.

The task is not difficult. It does not require a special psychological insight or great empathic abilities in order for each member of the group to contribute to making the collaboration creative and constructive. But it does require a clear understanding and recognition of the importance. Using simple tools and a few days of work, one can easily identify how a group of people can work constructively together. Instead of feeling intimidated or scared by what we do not understand about each other, we can learn to utilise our differences in order to strengthen the group’s overall performance. And when we succeed in making each other better, the feeling of 2+2 adding up to more than 4 arises.

Instead of feeling intimidated or scared by what we do not understand about each other, we can learn to utilise our differences in order to strengthen the group’s overall performance.

A simple method

We regularly meet the concept of ”high performance team” and have met many groups who consider themselves as such. However, it is our belief that less than 10 percent of the teams we know can actually call themselves high performance. It is simply not widely used in Danish companies.

To us, a number of very specific conditions must be met if a group of people working together are to consider themselves a high performance team. A high performance team always has a burning platform on which they work, the members improve their performance, even when they are ahead, they only operate with a plan A, all members take on leadership, and they have a sense of mutual responsibility that goes far beyond the professional relationship.

We don’t have to be a high performance team, however, in order for our joint effort to be successful. Our definition of a strong team is simple: We are a strong team when we make each other better. Fundamentally, we must have a common task, a mission, a purpose. If we do not feel that there is a common task, we can not mobilise the team or ourselves. The task must be concrete: defined, resolved and completed. We have often witnessed teams that have been unsure about the task they were expected to perform.

The answer to the question ”why are you a team?” has often been ”to fulfil the strategic goals of the company”. If this is the answer, it is a clear sign that the task has not been defined clearly. The task has to be much closer to the individual. Of course, it must be connected to the overall strategic goals, but the team members must be able to relate to it at a more personal level.

An effective team collaboration begins with four simple questions. We call them minimum standards or the team’s hardware:

  • Why - The group members must have something to connect their hearts to
    We have to define a purpose, maybe a defined mission, but at least establish a sense of meaning, so that everyone knows why we do as we do.
  • What - the group must have a goal to pursue
    We must set specific and challenging goals, so that everyone knows what we need to focus on, and how we measure it.
  • How - the group must make a joint plan
    We must agree on how we solve the different tasks, so that the overall job is done right.
  • Who – every team member must know who assumes which responsibilities
    We must clarify roles and functions so that we utilise the team’s skills optimally, and so that we can be flexible and effective as a team.

Your contribution is more important than you

If we have achieved the above, we are no longer just a group, but already an effective group. If we want to increase the level of our cooperation further and advance to a team, we must focus on what we call the team’s software. Throughout the years, we have witnessed many members of teams who are silent or passive when the team is debating important issues. Such behaviour seriously limits the team’s ability to develop.

No member is more important than the other, and the team is always above the individual. Being a member of a team means that we have an obligation to contribute. But we also have an obligation to maintain physical and mental fitness in order to ensure that our contribution is valid.

Building trust - Trust is a fundamental condition for a strong relationship.

Raising the personal commitment and energy level - We can only do our best when we are rested, eat healthy, exercise and are mentally in balance.

Creating the team’s DNA - By sharing our personal stories, we create the team’s values, which makes us stronger as a team.

Identifying our mental corner flags - The framework within which we operate defines the attitudes and behaviour we wish to have in the team.

Taking mutual responsibility - We must make commitments to each other.

The team’s success is reflected on the bottom line

The reason why we believe in the importance of investing time in making people work better together is that so much energy is wasted in teams that do not function, and it has serious consequences for the internal working climate, but certainly also for the quality of the tasks completed and ultimately for the company’s bottom line.

None of us can succeed on our own, and to be part of a team can be a deciding factor for the individual’s feeling of well-being and sense of meaning. This is why our ability to work together is so important both to the development of society and to our own sense of happiness.

Most of us work with colleagues in random groups. Such a group can function very well, as long as the conditions are good, and the tasks are easy. When conditions become difficult and the tasks more demanding, as is the case in both public and private sectors these days, there is one thing which determines whether we succeed: the ability to collaborate.

We sometimes hear people say that teambuilding is a waste of time. We completely disagree. Our point is that everything begins with the individual. And if everyone has agreed to make the team work, the desired development will happen. Whether you climb mountains or build shelters matters less. It is the conscious investment in the team that makes the difference.


This article is also written by Morten Dohrmann Hansen.