Research into insect and animal activities shows the impressive degrees to which species are capable of exhibiting team work in order to carry out their required tasks. New studies in New in Nature explain how a group’s activities constitutes actual team work.

Teamwork generally means different things to different people. For some a team is a work group who share a purpose. For others it is a group working on a common goal, or with a shared deadline. Many will suggest that teams do a form of co-operative work.

Author Ken Thompson describes the 4 kinds of task -
Individual tasks, Group tasks, Partitioned tasks, Team tasks - that individuals perform. He explains the way they contribute to a team’s performance:

  1. Individual tasks are the responsibility of a single person. In a hive setting for example, laying eggs is reserved for the queen. Called solo-work, it’s an important part of organisational behaviour and often the best way to quickly get things done.
  2. Group tasks require several team members to complete the same activity at the same time. For example, ant colonies conduct territorial battles with other groups. There may be concurrency but no division of labour. Individuals will do the same thing at the same time. Called crowd-work, its place in organisational teams is in settings like meetings, brainstorming sessions and social gatherings. Note that crowd-work can also be an indication of poor role definition and misuse of resources. A meeting where everyone plays the same role at the same time, for example, generally does not produce great results.
  3. Partitioned tasks are split into two or more subtasks that can be organised sequentially. In example, a bee collects and stores nectar - so sub-task A is "Collect the nectar" and sub-task B is "Store the nectar". This is called group-work. A lot of organisational tasks are achieved through group-work. It lends itself superbly to communication like email, forums, chats and shared document areas.
  4. Team tasks require many individuals to do different things, concurrently. Individuals must do different things at the same time – so there is both division of labour and concurrency. This is real teamwork and it requires complex co-ordination. In biological terms, "team tasks" are used extensively for critical activities such as responding to a threat or exploiting an opportunity.
So what blend of work is your team using? Assess the kinds of tasks it's performing. Does it come together to work apart? A team needs to use each form of collaboration, in the right context.

Solo-work is a valid and useful in specific situations but it does not promote team-building, trust, etc.. Group-work lends itself to modern communication but a group remains that… and not a team. Crowd-work may only point to poor role definition.

“team-work” is relatively rare in organisational settings. It is used in critical times for responding to a threat or exploiting an opportunity. Teams need to learn how to use it effectively on a daily basis, in complex problem solving situations and where real creativity is required.

Real teamwork is a quantum that builds on the energy of every member.