Teamwork is something both students and professionals struggle with. As much as we’d like to think working with others gets easier, the truth is that even college graduates have to work in less-than-ideal teams. For this reason, we’re giving all our readers a special Saturday blog post about what we’d like to assume Communication Studies students excel in: group work.
As students interested in advertising, we sometimes forget the teamwork skills we learn in our classes apply to our future workplace as well. An advertising agency is typically made up of six major departments: Account Service, Account Planning, Creative, Finance & Accounts, Media Buying, and Production. Communication within each department is key, but even more important is communication between the different departments. Account Service includes the account executives, account managers, and account directors – all who are responsible for communicating with the clients. If these account people do not communicate with each other or with other departments, the client will not get what they asked for. Furthermore, Account Planning must communicate with Creative so they can create an ad that lines up with the client’s wants and needs. Finance & Accounts, Media Buying, and Production are involved in the process later on, but they all need to be on the same page to create an ad their client approves.
The final product relies so heavily on teamwork that employees must know how to successfully work in groups. In order for the team to be successful, all members must understand and recognize the shared purpose they are working towards. In an advertising agency, the goal is making the client happy. In a class setting, the goal is making the professor happy. The goals really aren’t all that different. In the classroom and the office, a well-balanced team has individuals with unique skills and different opinions. When individuals bring different perspectives to the table, creativity flows and innovative ideas are developed. However, those challenges can sometimes introduce conflict in the group. When challenges arise, successful groups are able to diffuse these disputes by communicating as a team and collectively solving the problem. One thing that makes this possible is trust. Members must be able to trust each other so everyone is held responsible for his or her own work.
It is when these components are abandoned that productivity deteriorates and goals are not met. Mark D. Kent says that the average team achieves only 63% of their strategic plans due to five reasons: Lack of Commitment, Absence of Trust (which we mentioned above), Avoidance of Accountability, Fear of Conflict, and Inattention to Results. While these are all common reasons why teams dissolve, our experience has shown the Lack of Commitment and Fear of Conflict are most prevalent.
Lack of commitment is a problem for many groups. Who hasn’t been in a group that carries the weight of a slacking team member? Clarity on issues such as deadlines, member roles, and individual assessments must have ongoing attention from each group member in order to succeed in a group project. Team members should establish a code of commitment, such as a list of rules or requirements, to ensure each person is invested in the success of the team.
However, this can be hard to do if everyone is afraid to speak up. Far too often we see groups comprised of overly passive members, unwilling to voice their opinions due to fear of conflict. When individuals avoid conflict, all ideas pass through the process of logical reasoning, even the dumb ideas. Allowing the final say to belong to whoever is the loudest doesn’t mean the best ideas will be chosen. To be afraid of conflict is to silence your own self, which is detrimental to the group as a whole.
This is often defined as groupthink. Groupthink is when a group becomes so inwardly focused on the end goal that they begin to ignore alternatives and outsiders. According to Oregon State University , a group suffering from groupthink might be overestimating its invulnerability, collectively rationalizing decisions, stereotyping other groups, censoring themselves and others to maintain unanimity, and self-censoring information from the group. However, groupthink can be avoided with clear communication and acceptance between all team members. If members agree to be honest with each other, all ideas can be voiced and the best one will be found.
The dream of teamwork is to find a group of people who churn out quality work without hating each other by the end of the project. It can be hard to accept anything less than this, even though it is rare. With the tips pointed out here, hopefully we will remember that teamwork makes the dream work.