I used to know what teamwork was, but then I took an application to a recruiter...
January 18, 2012 6:52 PM   Subscribe

So what exactly is this mystical power of 'Teamwork'?

I was applying for a job at Wetherspoons last night, and all was going well until I came to the following question:

"Team work is vital in the job that you are applying for. What skill do you have that makes you a good team worker? (100 words max)."

I've never ever known what to put for these kind of questions, and they stall me all the time on applications. I always had 'teamwork' down as just being no different from individual work except that there were other people around also working on the same task, but the focus on 'show your teamwork skills!' on applications suggests there's something I'm missing. I've looked up various definitions and the consensus seems to be something like "focus on your own responsibilities but help others where you can; treat other people with respect and get along well; establish good rapport."

Okay, but is that really all it is? I'm seriously supposed to put as my answer "I am good at teamwork because I would do the task I'm given, help others with theirs, and treat them with politeness and respect"?

That's the only answer to this kind of question I can usually come up with, but I don't feel right putting it because it's so obvious. Of course you do the task and treat others nicely. It's not like anyone's going to write "When I'm in a team I stamp on people's faces until they do the task I'm supposed to be doing and I don't ever help them with theirs", is it?

Or do I need to be able to put stuff like "I'm extroverted and chatty and make friends easily"? Because, well, I don't. Most of my co-workers (I'm a bartender, a profession that apparently requires the very skills I'm asking about, go figure) can go on constantly to each other about what they've been doing, where they've been going and hundreds of other topics, or converse enthusiastically for half an hour on cars or tv or any other topic they'd care to name. I usually go for laconic answers (or jokingly long-winded ones), jokes, trivia etc. and as far as I'm aware I'm still well-liked, but constant conversing has never been something I've really done or seen the need for or worked out how to do myself. I've never thought there's anything wrong with just being quiet, as long as you're not actively being a dick towards your co-workers, and it doesn't bother me if someone doesn't want to talk to me as long as they're doing what they're supposed to - but am I wrong here? Am I supposed to be able to just instantly know what everyone wants to talk about and just blaze away the verbal guns for half an hour? (Or thinking about it, I suppose I could put "I don't get bothered by others' behaviour at all as long as they do the job," or something...)

What other stuff goes into this question? What would YOU put, Mefites?
posted by Fen to Work & Money (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Listening, interpreting, collaborating, conflict solving, leadership and management... all that shit is part of teamwork.
posted by entropone at 6:59 PM on January 18, 2012

I suspect they are, at least partially, looking for something that implies, "I will stay late or come in early and otherwise do shit work that is not my responsibility when my coworkers flake out without whining about fairness or expecting any compensation or recognition."

So, um, say that, except, you know, nicer.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:01 PM on January 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

You're a bartender. Are you the only bartender? Or are there a few of you who work together behind the bar? Are there waitstaff you also coordinate with to get drinks to tables? Is there some system you've worked out with all of them to keep the flow going, to handle people sitting at the bar and others coming up to it, to take care of drinks the waiters need while you're still making the people right in front of you happy, etc? Ta-da! That's teamwork!

Maybe your skill is being the organizer -- you work with your coworkers to figure out who does what and how you'll rotate in and out of each position. Maybe you're the one with attention to detail who sees where there's a need for something in particular; you notice when someone gets distracted by something or monopolized by an overly friendly customer, and you step in either to pick up a bit of slack or to help disentangle them from their distraction.

Your answer doesn't have to be specific to *teams*, it should be specific to your *job*. Take one of those buzzwords like listening, conflict solving, leadership, politeness and respect, whatever, and reinterpret it in the context of the job you're applying to do. You don't have to be an extrovert who is chatty, you don't even have to be well-liked. You just need to be able to say "This is the role I play in a team, and here's what that would mean for me as a bartender."
posted by olinerd at 7:13 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Teamwork means everyone is doing part of a larger job. Think sports teams, if it helps. Given two basketball players of equal ball handling skills, what would make one more attractive?
1. they position themselves well on the court. This means they are aware of the other players, so that they can both avoid getting in their way and be available to help the player out if they want to pass the ball.
2. they run well off the ball. This means that they are prepared to work even when they aren't doing the really interesting bit, or when people aren't watching them.
3. they talk well. They communicate to other players things like 'man on behind' or 'Tom's open', sharing information to make someone else more able to do their job.

Wetherspoon's equivalents:
1. "I'm good at understanding how everyone fits into the overall workflow, so I appreciate the work done by waiters and don't expect them to always be available to run x for me"
2. "I understand that we all rely on each other to do our own tasks well, like cleaning up our own areas or correctly marking stock levels"
3. "I'm good at sharing information, like pointing out a regular patron to a new bartender so that he can serve the patron better".
posted by jacalata at 7:16 PM on January 18, 2012

I'm seriously supposed to put as my answer "I am good at teamwork because I would do the task I'm given, help others with theirs, and treat them with politeness and respect"?
Yes. Unfortunately this is what you are supposed to do, exactly.

That's the only answer to this kind of question I can usually come up with, but I don't feel right putting it because it's so obvious.
In incredibly stupid, because of course everyone is going to put that, including the people who are nightmares to work with. You'd have to be a complete moron to think you could find out who is a good "team player" by a question like that, but this is just the ball you have to play to get the job.

If it was an actual interview I would say you should give some examples of specific times you were a good team player, but since it's just a form write the bullshit they want and move on.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:21 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

At work I have two modestly sup-par workers. On their own, they barely remain employed. But when these two idiots work together, they manage to produce more than any other three people. Better, faster, and in a great mood. It's sort of scary.

That is the mystical power of 'teamwork' personified. Six-quarters add up to a whole.

As for an answer, I usually write some crap about the whole being more than the some of its parts. And the willingness to sacrifice your own wants for the good of the group.

I've never had an application waved in my face when I refuse to do other people's jobs.
posted by Risingfenix at 7:23 PM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

In addition to other people's suggestions, my workplace is very big on 'knowledge transfer' as part of this. Sure, you might be specialising in something, and for the details your team will come to you - but you need to be able to teach them what you know, and document it for their reference. In return you need to be able to appreciate what they contribute and what you can learn from them, etc. Actively doing this on an ongoing basis - not just when Person A needs exact piece of Knowledge B, but when there's a quiet moment and you can tell the whole team about Knowledge B for future reference - is what really makes a team functional in the long term.
posted by belissaith at 7:28 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It means you're capable of subjugating your own preferences, regardless of the quality of the dominant plan.
posted by rhizome at 11:06 PM on January 18, 2012

I know people who work great in isolation but are terrible in a team. They love to argue, fight every decision made, divide the team, play mind games, feel superior to others etc etc etc. Take every petty pointless things and make them their hill to die on, argue them to death.

Being a good team player means that you know how to work in a team. Its a soft skill attribute, can you get along with others, accept decisions that you might not agree with but won't really affect outcomes, see the bigger picture etc. You won't cause conflict in the team unless its absolutely required. If you can work well in a team productivity soars across the team. If you can't then it goes south very quickly.

For example, I had a team member in a previous organisation who argued about a naming standard for business teams we had. He didn't want it in all caps. It was in all caps. That descended into a 3 day email flame war between team members. Then he told my manager that our billing system wasn't efficient. Next he decided to tell the network administrators that he could hack in through their firewalls easily. The DBA's he told that they were useless at creating databases. We had to work in a team with these people and he was saying things like that to them.

Stick him in a lab by himself with no email or phone and he would produce magic. Put him in a team and he would reduce it to ruin and quickly be shown the door.
posted by Admira at 12:43 AM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also I know your example question specifically asks, "what skill do you have," but I would just give examples where I worked as part of a team. An important way to not go crazy when looking for work is to not get too hung up on answering their questions literally.
posted by RobotHero at 8:23 AM on January 19, 2012

I know nothing about Wetherspoons or bartending, but I know about collaboration and teamwork and it seems like the previous answers are from the most cynical of cynics, so I will bring my optimism to the table.

One potential value of teamwork is that various points of view can get incorporated into the planning stages of a project and potential pitfalls avoided before you're ass deep in alligators. Specialists (eg marketing) collaborating can share their experiences of when other team members didn't consider their expertise (eg making an ugly product). Even if it's not about specialization, diverse people who think or learn differently can see different things...

The other value of a team can be having people share the load during peak times - waitresses mixing the occasional drink, bussers taking the occasional drink order.

I imagine what the employers really want to know is that you will help your work mates do their jobs better because you all have the same goal, not give them grief or make their work more difficult.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:29 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some things I'd write:

-No drama - I keep it professional and am always kind to my teammates
-Problem solving - I'm good at finding solutions that work for everyone, not just me
-I know how to work with waiters and kitchen staff to help the flow go smoothly, and I help my team get back on track when things get busy

You'd be surprised how many people can't answer these sorts of questions appropriately. I have seen candidates say (in interviews!) that their solutions to various hypothetical challenges would be to call HR, quit, whatever... keep it professional and realistic and you'll be fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:18 AM on January 19, 2012

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