Working with others requires a certain level of trust and even vulnerability. Certain methods, routines, or practices that we are accustomed to when working independently now need to conform to the team and therefore put us out of our comfort zones. In some circumstances, teams are formed and groomed over years where roles, strengths, and preferences are clearly defined. In other circumstances; a team can quickly be formed in a matter of minutes to promptly respond to a particular situation and team members must rapidly adapt. Simply put, teamwork and collaboration exist (or should exist) in environments where a certain synergy is needed to accomplish a common goal.
Collaborating with others is a balancing act. You have to hold one another accountable while respecting boundaries. You have to step up at some times but step back at others. Having a strong background working on a team is valuable to employers as collaborating with others exists in virtually any forum to a certain extent. If you are going through a behavioral interview you can count on a number of questions that are designed to assess how you work in a team environment such as:
- Tell us about a time you worked on a team and had a difficult team member.
- Give an example of a successful project that you were part of and explain your role in that project.
- Describe a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
Successful collaboration occurs when everyone is moving in the same direction, resources are properly leveraged, and communication and accountability are continual. When teams fail to work together, it isn’t solely due to performance as Zaccaro, Rittman, and Marks (2001) found, “causes of team failure may reside not only in member inability, but also in their collective failure to coordinate and synchronize their individual contributions” (p. 451). Therefore, succeeding on a team shows that you exhibit a high degree of critical thinking and situational awareness for how your work fits in with your team.
Conversely, I can safely assume we have all been in that dreaded situation; whether it is a group project where that one person isn’t pulling their weight or maybe a business presentation where an intense member is always right and neglects the thoughts of others. Demonstrating to an employer that you can work through these difficult and uncomfortable situations can endorse that you are able to effectively succeed when the outcome is impacted by factors outside of your individual performance. Additionally, you can use these questions as an opportunity to validate that you don’t allow conflict to derail the project or task.
Working with others is inevitable which is why questions related to teamwork are rooted in behavioral interviews. When prompted with a question related to teamwork; don’t settle on an answer where employers will check off their boxes and leave it at that. Having specific examples of quality teamwork you can reference communicates that you are someone that is cognizant of the complex nature and intricacies of working on a team. By nailing these questions you can then create the image of how your prior experience will transfer to ultimately fitting into the team you are interviewing for.
Zaccaro, S. J., Rittman, A. L., & Marks, M. A. (2001). Team leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 12(4), 451-483. doi:10.1016/S1048-9843(01)00093-5
Darren Hudak is the Assistant Director of Career Services & Corporate Relations for the Prescott Campus and works with the College of Aviation and School of Business students. Darren graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and has a Master’s Degree in Leadership from ERAU. This is his fourth year at ERAU and before working at ERAU he worked in student services for six years on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.