New Leaders, 10 Gritty Questions to Define Teamwork

Leaders, what behavior do you expect among team members? This is not a trivial question especially if you are new to leadership.

How you define teamwork shapes how you will inspire, lead, and facilitate or solve team difficulties.

Beyond the expectation that all work together to produce success is often the unstated hidden set of expectations that can silently unsettle or even destroy teamwork.

If you are a new leader, it’s valuable to sit back and admit to yourself your definition of teamwork.  With clarity of your basic beliefs, you and the teams can have a better discussion to define teamwork.

New Leaders: 10 Gritty Questions to Define Teamwork

10 Gritty Questions to Better Define Teamwork

  1. Does teamwork mean blunt frankness, diplomatic honesty, or ultimate polite respect? Team members have diverse styles. One blunt team member can offend others. One ultra polite team member can confuse others and fall short. What do you value and expect of them?
  2. Does teamwork require caring for each other personally? If yes, to what extent? What if a team member has a serious illness in their family and amasses debt? Does teamwork mean that all show empathy and donate money to help out? Can a person be a good team member and not do that?

  3. What if people don’t like each other personally but pull together to achieve success? Does that meet your definition of teamwork?
  4. If one team member has a critical specialized skill or achieves more, does that entitle them to extra respect, special treatment, or more recognition from you? It happens and your view of it impacts teamwork.

  5. Do you expect the team to work out their own interpersonal difficulties? There is much debate about this today. Some say yes and others see the leader as a valuable team facilitator.
  6. What do you expect of existing team members when new members join? Would you expect them to actively welcome team members for quick integration? What if they are a bit skeptical and hold back to see what team members have to offer? Is that teamwork to you?
  7. How will your teams work with other teams? Great teamwork within a team can sometimes stifle cross teamwork. What is your view and how would you address this issue?
  8. Tight team member relationships produce one of the toughest teamwork issues – whistle blowing. What would you want a team member to do if aware of unethical behavior, bullying, or major mistakes by another team member? Is whistle blowing a duty or disloyalty to the team?
  9. Disagreements occur. What place and purpose do they have in teamwork? Do you expect high levels of harmony or do you see value in discord?
  10. How will you assess teamwork? By the interaction and end results or just end results? If you view only the end results, the team may think your expectations of their interaction as inconsistent and illogical.

When a leader asks me to improve team function, I ask the leader to paint their view for me and I speak separately with the team members. The comparison unearths the gaps and sketches a road map to high performance and success.

What is teamwork to you? I look forward to understanding your definition and working with you and your teams!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please first email for terms of use. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Related Posts:

    Insights on Handling a Self-Serving High Performing Team Member
    Team Whistle Blowing: Duty or Disloyalty?

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on customer service & experience, teamwork, and leading change. Kate turns interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

14 Responses to “New Leaders, 10 Gritty Questions to Define Teamwork”

  1. Great article, Kate, and dear to me on several levels. I’ll see if I can add some additional food for thought. As you suggest, a good place to begin is with a useful definition of “Teamwork” and of “Team building”. Here is mine:

    “Team building is an Organization Development technique for improving a work group’s performance and attitudes by clarifying group goals and clarifying members’ expectations of each other.”

    As you well know, I value never telling someone anything you could ask them instead, so asking team members and leaders probing questions is a great catalyst for improvement. Let’s add these to #therightquestions stream on Twitter, and when you get a chance, please add them in response to my recent blog on the subject (

    Also, the idea of “team building” is so often meaningless, (, in part because team members place a priority on relationships in preference to mission and, when they do, they do not ask questions like the ones you suggest. For this reason, I would add Question #11: WHY TEAMWORK? But let’s dig a little deeper…

    “Team work” often means little because it can mean so many different things in context. Most often, team building requests are about fixing or improving relationships among group members. In my work over the past 20 years, I have found that relationship issues are seldom the root cause of team problems; relationships more often are symptoms of team function rather than the primary means to improve team effectiveness. Your team does not exist because of the relationships, or to produce relationships (unless you run a wedding chapel, counseling service, or similar). The relationships exist because your team exists to produce something else – what is it? Question #12: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE – MISSION AND GOALS – OF YOUR TEAM?

    In fact, I suggest that Question #12 must be asked, deeply probed, and answered, before all others will make much of a difference at all. WHY DOES YOUR TEAM EXIST? What if it didn’t? Would anyone care? If you can walk away from your mission, the relationships don’t really matter, do they?

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Mark.
      Loads of insight in your comment.

      Many leaders believe the team relationships exist only for the end results. They shape their leadership around that.

      I have met several who believe it logically yet act as if the relationships need to be based on a deep feeling of caring. They then intermix that expectation in their dealings with teams.

      The confusion and results were not good in these cases.

      Food for thought for everyone and thanks for adding to the meal !

  2. By the way, I’ve listed 10 Keys to Top Performing Teams here:

    Maybe you could add a few observations, as well. Thanks, as always, my friend.

  3. Tim Young says:

    Hey Kate,

    Great article…thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight! I learned this some time ago: Attitude = Altitude! I propose…Question #11: Can you sacrifice individual gain for the greater good of the team?


  4. Liam says:

    Hi Kate

    Another very thoughtful article.

    I’d always judge teamwork by results – however, it is the interactions that deliver the results, and if the behaviour of team members gets in the way of delivering the results, then they have to shape up or ship out!

    Many thanks and best wishes,


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Liam.
      Results do matter yet often the dynamics of interaction as you say .. impact results.

      Leaders who hide their heads about this come up surprised and frustrated and often blame the teams. Perhaps they would do well to take stock in advance!

  5. Heather Park says:

    I do a lot of work in schools about Organisational culture and Managing Change. Most of which involves working with and understanding teams. This was very useful and focussed my own thinking again many thanks

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Heather,
      So pleased to meet a consultant colleague here on my blog. I am glad the questions are valuable to you and hope you will add any of yours to this post as well.

      Best wishes and thanks for your visit, time, and comment,

  6. Allow to clarify, because this is absolutely critical to team health and effectiveness. First, another question: is a cohesive understanding of Mission the same as a focus on results?

    Mission clarity is a priori to relationships in improving team work. Mission clarity, in fact, will solve many of the “relationship” issues. But mission clarity, as well as shared clarity on roles and group norms and processes, do not eliminate the need for attention to relationships. However, both the obstacles in relationships and their solutions will become more evident when the shared mission is identified first.

    Think of a marriage. Many times marriages fail due to “irreconcilable differences”. Too often, personalities are assumed to be root cause when more often it’s a lack of agreement on goals, roles and rules. There is a great video out there with Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson sitting on a sofa promoting their common mission – despite their relationship is largely defined by diametrically opposed views and values.

    I hope this helps to clarify a critical distinction.

  7. Great list of questions. Both the team leader and teammembers would do well to answer these questions individually and as a team. They should be able to use their answers to define their “rules of engagement” to which they can refer in times of stress.

    Thanks for posting!


  8. Guy Farmer says:

    Great post Kate, you bring up valuable teamwork issues to consider. I’m struck by how many of the issues have to do with helping people communicate well and interact positively inside and outside the team. Perhaps one of the key elements of team building is helping people build core skills that encourage them to interact well in any situation.

  9. Tina Korecky Bowness says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am becoming increasingly aware of gap assessments between what leaders and staff think. I had not considered these questions before reading your story. Thanks again…nice work.

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