Evaluation Teams Week: How to make teamwork “work” by David McKay

Hello, my name is David McKay and I am a senior evaluator at Kentucky University’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service. We help to improve lifelong opportunities and services for individuals with disabilities, their families, and the community. Our evaluation team works on a variety of projects, the number of which has grown over the years we’ve worked together. I want to share some lessons I’ve learned on the advantages and challenges of a team approach.

Lessons Learned: Highlighting Advantages

  • The biggest advantage is that work products are much better as a result of working in teams. Working collaboratively, we create higher quality analysis and better applications of that analysis to client needs.
  • Another advantage is a team’s diverse points of view. We all bring different complementary strengths. We’re able to see a more accurate picture because sometimes we bump heads and we listen to one another.
  • Teamwork makes everyone better. Team members step up their game because no one wants to let the team down or hold the team back. And we set the bar collectively because we all bring our own strengths.
  • Working in teams fosters creativity and nurtures new ideas. Working together, someone will have one idea, someone else will have another idea, and that will feed into another. Pretty soon we’re moving in a really fun way. All of our different directions weave together in a way that works.

Lessons Learned: Addressing Challenges

  • In general, teams move at a slower pace than individuals. The tradeoff for a better product is worth the time once you understand and accept that reality.
  • We need more thoughtful and reflective hiring practices. You can’t just hire for skills, you have to hire people who will complement the team. However, this can be a delicate balance between hiring people who “fit” and hiring people who bring valuable, diverse styles and perspectives. Cultivate a team with different areas of expertise, backgrounds, experiences and points of view. You can do this by casting a wide net into places talent and ideas may be hiding (such as nonprofit networks, the sciences, corporate spaces, etc.) and carefully on-boarding people so that they get acclimated early.
  • Make sure that roles, responsibilities and tasks are delineated clearly. Sometimes if tasks aren’t clearly assigned, productivity slows down and it can be difficult to assess the performance of individuals or the team.

Cool Tricks

  • Empathy and trust are a must, which can be hard for some people.
  • The team must understand the vision behind the work. The team must understand what it is trying to accomplish. A wonderful team with no vision will just spin in circles.

Hot Tips

  • Be flexible.
  • Share calendars. Write everything down. Set deadlines.
  • Establish and communicate your culture early.
  • Build trust early and consistently.
  • Establish a culture of gratitude.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Evaluation Teams Week. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Evaluation Teams Week: How to make teamwork “work” by David McKay”

  1. Chelsey Abrahamson

    Dear Mr. McKay,

    My name is Chelsey Abrahamson and I am a Grade 1 teacher in Creighton, Saskatchewan. I am currently enrolled in the online Professional Master’s Program at Queen’s University. I discovered your article, “Evaluation Teams Week: How to make teamwork “work”” during my Program Inquiry and Evaluation course. I wanted to thank you for your article and let you know how much I connected with this piece.

    Before I became a teacher the thought of team work or collaboration made me feel ill. Group work always seemed to end in one person doing most of the assignment or random bits of information being forced together minutes before the deadline. However, after surviving my first few years of teaching, I now see that teamwork is much more than the group projects we did in high school.

    At Creighton Community School, I am fortunate to have a team of elementary teachers who always seem to be there for one another. This is where your topic of trust really resonated with me. I trust them to be honest about the problem at hand and be equally invested in achieving our goal. When a problem arises, we work together, share ideas and provide one another with different viewpoints and thoughts. These are usually solutions that I may not have been able to come up with on my own. “We bump heads and we listen to one another” sums up our approach perfectly.

    When teamwork is running smoothly it is usually because everyone is doing their part. You mention one advantage to teamwork is everyone doing their best not to let the rest of their team down. For this to be true, I believe that all team members must be equally invested in the program and share the same vision. I worry this is not always the case in teamwork. How do you ensure everyone is on task, motivated, and working towards the same gaol? This is where I may need to remind myself of the trust factor.

    Teamwork and collaboration allow us to gain new information and ideas from one another and build on those thoughts together. When a team works together on an idea, with a shared vision, they give meaning to the saying “two heads are better than one”. As you mentioned in your article, groups of people are able to produce stronger products than an individual. Unique personalities, creative style, and thought process allow us to think of an idea in a way we wouldn’t be able to on our own.

    With today’s technology, many groups are able to collaborate online from great distances. The team’s collaboration may be in the form of email, Skype, or messenger. Finding the perfect teammate may mean working with someone on the other side of the world. Does your advice for teamwork success change slightly for these conditions? Will the success of the team be affected by this separation?

    Thank you again for sharing your experience and advice in teamwork through such an inspiring article.

    Chelsey Abrahamson

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