strong knot of a team
5-second summary
  • Research shows that collaborative problem solving leads to better outcomes.
  • People are more likely to take calculated risks that lead to innovation if they have the support of a team behind them.
  • Working in a team encourages personal growth, increases job satisfaction, and reduces stress.

Anyone who thought the rise of remote and hybrid work would would be the downfall of teamwork has probably changed their tune by now. The truth is, teamwork is more important than ever.

“The use of teams and collaboration expectations have been consistently rising,” says Dr. Scott Tannenbaum, a researcher and president of the Group for Organizational Effectiveness. “And when I say teams, I’m talking about all types of teams, whether it’s stable work teams [or] whether it’s teams that now, in the current environment, are operating virtually.”

Teamwork is essential to a company’s success, says John J. Murphy, author of Pulling Together: 10 Rules for High-Performance Teamwork. “Each individual has unique gifts, and talents and skills. When we bring them to the table and share them for a common purpose, it can give companies a real competitive advantage.”

But here’s the real magic of teamwork: when done right, it has benefits that go far beyond boosting the company’s bottom line. (Learn about some classic models that can lead to stronger teamwork here.)

10 benefits of teamwork

1. Better problem solving

Albert Einstein gets all the credit for discovering the theory of relativity, but the truth is that he relied on conversations with friends and colleagues to refine his concept. And that’s almost always the case.

“Behind every genius is a team,” says Murphy. “When people play off each other’s skills and knowledge, they can create solutions that are practical and useful.”

Science reinforces the idea that many brains are better than one. “We found that groups of size three, four, and five outperformed the best individuals,” says Dr. Patrick Laughlin a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “[We] attribute this performance to the ability of people to work together to generate and adopt correct responses, reject erroneous responses, and effectively process information.”

TIP

Not everyone processes information in the same way. Some people like to jump into problem-solving mode immediately, while others prefer time to gather their thoughts and consider multiple options before making a contribution. Asking people to provide input asynchronously in a tool like Confluence allows everyone the space to work in a way that’s comfortable for them.

2. Increased potential for innovation

According to Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, some of the most innovative ideas happen at “the intersection” – the place where ideas from different industries and cultures collide.

“Most people think success comes from surrounding yourself with others that are like you,” says Johansson. “But true success and breakthrough innovation involves discomfort. Discomfort pushes you to grow. This is where difference of experience, opinion, and perspective come in. Diversity is a well-documented pathway to unlocking new opportunities, overcoming new challenges, and gaining new insights.”

Master these 7 essential skills to level-up your teamwork game

A recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company backs this up. It found teams made up of members from diverse backgrounds (gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) are more creative and perform better by up to 35 percent, compared to more homogeneous teams. Instead of looking at an issue from your individual vantage point, you get a 360-degree picture, which can lead to an exponential increase in ideas.

Research from Tufts University suggests that just being exposed to diversity can shift the way you think. A study on a diverse mock jury found that interacting with individuals who are different forces people to be more open minded, and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

3. Happier team members

As part of our ongoing research on teamwork, we surveyed more than 1,000 team members across a range of industries and found that when honest feedback, mutual respect, and personal openness were encouraged, team members were 80 percent more likely to report higher emotional well-being.

Having happy employees is a worthwhile goal in itself, but the company benefits, too. Research from the University of Warwick in England suggests happy employees are up to 20 percent more productive than unhappy employees. And who couldn’t benefit from a happiness boost?

4. Enhanced personal growth

There may be no “I” in team, but being part of a team can help you grow. “By sharing information and essentially cross training each other, each individual member of the team can flourish,” says Murphy. You might discover new concepts from colleagues with different experiences. You can also learn from someone else’s mistakes, which helps you sidestep future errors.

You might even learn something new about yourself, says Dr. Susan McDaniel, a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and one of the guest editors of America Psychologist’s special edition on “The Science of Teamwork.”

“We all have blind spots about our behaviors and strengths that we may be unaware of, and feedback from a team member can expose them,” she says. Recognizing these strengths and addressing the weaknesses can make you a better team member, and even a better person. “Maybe working in a team you’ll discover you could be a better listener. That’s a skill you can grow in, and then take home and use to improve your family interactions,” McDaniel points out.

5. Less burnout

A Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent of employees feel burned out at work very often or always. Another 44 percent say they sometimes feel this way. What helps? Sharing the load.

Team members can provide emotional support to each other because they often understand the demands and stress of completing work even better than managers, says Ben Wigert, lead researcher for Gallup’s workplace management practice.

Managers reading this: you’re not off the hook. The study also found that knowing your boss has your back also protects against burnout.

6. More opportunities for growth

Collaboration in the workplace isn’t unlike teamwork on the baseball diamond. When the pitcher and outfielders each excel at their individual roles, the team has a better chance of winning.

Off the playing field, that idea is more important than ever. Changes in technology and increased globalization mean that organizations are facing problems so complex that a single individual simply can’t possess all the necessary knowledge to solve them, says Wigert. When team members use their unique skills to shine in their own roles, it creates an environment based on mutual respect and cooperation that benefits the whole group, notes Murphy.

7. Boosted productivity

Getting a pat on the back from the boss can boost an employee’s motivation, but receiving kudos from a team member may be even more effective.

The TINYpulse Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report surveyed more than 200,000 employees. Participants reported that having the respect of their peers was the #1 reason they go the extra mile at work.

There’s no I in team, but there’s one in “team branding”

8. Smarter risk taking

When you work alone, you might be hesitant to put your neck on the line. When you work on a team, you know you have the support of the entire group to fall back on in case of failure. That security typically allows teams to take the kind of risks that create “Eureka!” ideas.

But here’s one place where size does matter. The most disruptive ideas often come from small teams, suggests recent research in the journal Nature, possibly because larger teams argue more, which can get in the way of coming up with those big ideas.

Wharton Business School researchers also discovered that small is the secret to success: they found that two-person teams took 36 minutes to build a Lego figure while four-person teams took 52 minutes to finish — more than 44 percent longer.

There’s no definitive ideal small team size, but consider following Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ 2 Pizza Rule: no matter how large your company gets, teams shouldn’t be larger than what two pizzas can feed.

9. Fewer mistakes

If your team has good energy – you encourage and inspire each other, and you have fun together – you’ll feel less stressed, says Murphy. “Studies show that stress makes us stupid, and leads us to make more mistakes,” says Murphy.

Of course, the converse is also true: when your team feels less frazzled, you’ll make fewer errors. That’s worth keeping in mind, especially if you’re one of the 61 percent of workers who cite work as a significant source of stress.

10. Expanded creativity

Stale solutions often come out of working in a vacuum. When people with different perspectives come together in group brainstorms, on the other hand, innovative ideas can rise to the surface – with one caveat. Research shows this can only happen when communication within the team is open and collaborative, notes Wigert. The most creative solutions can only come up when there’s a level of trust that lets team members ask ‘stupid’ questions, propose out-there ideas, and receive constructive criticism.  

The importance of teamwork (as proven by science)