Teamwork: Reciprocal helping relationships


“The essence of teamwork is the development and maintenance of reciprocal helping relationships among all the members”*

In my third post on the topic of helping, I consider teamwork as a helping relationship (see here for my first and second posts). Below are  some notes/quotes/ideas on teamwork from Chapter 7 of Schein’s book ““Helping: How to offer, give and receive help”.

Teamwork as perpetual reciprocal helping (title of Chapter 7)

Early on in his book, Schein refers to teamwork as ‘perpetual reciprocal helping’ and the phrase stuck with me because it offered an interesting perspective on this word and concept. Traditional definitions of teamwork, such as the one found at Merriam-Webster online, go something like this: “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.” Unlike this definition, Schein’s emphasizes trust and exchange, which I believe are important.

About subordination, Schein notes that teams work best when the higher status person exhibits some humility, and “acknowledges that others are crucial to good outcomes”. Thus, for effective team functioning, the higher status team member should create space for other members to develop identities and roles that feel equitable within the context of that group.  One way of doing this is by taking on the process consultant role and helping members figure out responses to the following issues:

  1. Who am I to be? What is my role in this group?
  2. How much control/influence will I have in this group?
  3. Will my goals/need be met in this group?
  4. What will be the level of intimacy in this group? (p.109)

He rightly notes that members should not strive for equal status and rank within the group. Rather, teammates should strive to be comfortable with the status that corresponds with their role.  The goal is mutual acceptance because that is essential to the development of the trust, which is needed to sustain group performance. “Effective teams do not have to be love-ins, but members must know each other well enough as fellow team members to be able to trust them to play their roles in the accomplishment of the group’s task.” (Schein, 2009, p.111).

The previous quote resonated with me because I used to think that even workload distribution was an essential feature of good teamwork. However, as I think back to my experiences of teamwork and collaboration, clarity of role expectations has been a much more important factor. Effective teamwork happens when people understand, agree upon, and stick to, their roles.  

Clearly, good teamwork needs more than clarity around role expectation; however, this is a piece I plan to pay more attention to  in future collaborations.

*(Schein, 2009, p.107)

Reference: Schein, E. (2009). Helping: How to offer, give and receive help.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Photo credit: “Teamwork” by Kim S. Creative Commons Licensed.