How do you work in a team?

This question gets on some people's nerves. Teamwork on the job is something people do care about, particularly those in tough jobs where mutual reliance is important.

Teamwork is both a behavioral and an organizational question, and relates to the Fit of a person within a workplace culture. It sometimes relates to work relationship questions. Which means it's a very important question, and one of the more meaningful questions in places where the team element is critical to the employer.

Very important:

The answer has to make sense in terms of the job. You need to show how you work as a team member in context with the actual work and the functions of the team and the job.

Teamwork consists of these elements:

  • Team building
  • Team contributions
  • Team relationships
  • Teamwork

Team building

Team building is the creation and development of a role in a team. New team members have to be slotted in, in terms of their function in the team, the relationships with other team members, and their contribution to the team.

The other consideration in team building is the individual's personal role.

Team contributions

This is about what a person brings to a team. Some people are massive contributors to their teams, and that is a definite plus.

Team relationships

Team relationships relates strongly to the issues in another piece in this series about working relationships.

There are a few points about relationships to consider in relation to any job, and the team element is an extension of the relationship issues.


This relates to the actual function of the team member on the job, and the interaction between team members, emphasizing mutual reliance, good internal communications and again, team relationships.

You've got at least one thing going for you in terms of answering this question. You'll have worked in a team before, and you'll understand what makes a team work properly.

The fundamentals of a good team are:

  • Mutual reliability
  • Cross team support across multiple roles
  • Load sharing
  • Backing each other up on the job where needed
  • Good personal relationships
  • Good leadership
  • Good communications
  • Good training on and off the job
  • Group sharing of problems
  • Good levels of contribution from team members

Just about all teamwork is about operating as a unit, not a group of individuals. The situations vary, but the team effect means that the whole team will ensure efficiency and cohesion.

Mutual reliability

Mutual reliability is about being able to count on support from other team members in dealing with the workload. People volunteer to help out, and/or advise on ways of coping with situations.

Cross team support across multiple roles

Within a team, team members will be able to help out all the other team members. They do this either by pitching in and doing what's required, or acting as facilitators for getting things done. This is based on situations as they arise, where other team members help out.

Load sharing

In just about all workplaces, load sharing means getting things moving, and not leaving other team members unsupported. This adds a lot of efficiency to any team, and it's what employers want in any team.

Backing each other up on the job where needed

This means going the extra yard to support others when the need arises. If someone is unable to do a job, or can't be available, other team members stand in, and do the job for them. This favor is then repaid, and it's an understood part of team operations.

Good personal relationships

Essential to any team, the personal relationships add depth to the working relationships.

Good leadership

Team leaders are responsible for bringing out the best in their teams, and making the team functional. Good leaders encourage inputs from team members, and healthy group dynamics.

Good communications

Absolutely essential to any organization, and particularly in teams. Teams work in close proximity, and information quality has to be good.

Good training on and off the job

Training comes in a variety of forms, and teams are greatly enhanced by upgrading through training. Group competencies are very much improved, and teams bond better through shared experiences.

Group sharing of problems

Teams can make problem solving a lot easier. If the team is working properly, several people can go to work on a problem, and the team can deal with separate parts of the problem. This is a big improvement on one individual being lumbered with the whole thing, and guarantees extra efficiency.

Good levels of contribution from team members

All individuals have special skills which they can contribute to a team. These may be ideas, ways of doing things better, observations, information, or other important contributions. Very experienced people can usually add quite a lot to any team, and everyone benefits.

Not wanting to over emphasize the negative aspects of dysfunctional teams, but if any one of these team functions doesn't work, the whole team suffers.

  • Lack of inputs from team members reduces the ability of teams to function. Lack of mutual reliance, load sharing, and the other supports means the team risks crashing because someone is overloaded.
  • Lack of training reduces capabilities.
  • Poor leadership is really bad management in another form, and can apply to any part of the team's needs at these fundamental levels.
  • Bad communication and training is an obvious failure of a team.

When answering this question

To fully answer the question, you must indicate:

  • You know what's required for a good team
  • You understand the dynamics of teamwork
  • You understand the importance of teamwork to the organization
  • You understand the efficiency a good team can achieve

Now, you can explain how you work in a team.

You can use your prior experience to show how you work. If you're one of the 98% of the workforce who does actually try and contribute to your team, you really don't have to do much more than explain how you operate.

The fundamentals are a good road map for describing your work:

  • Mutual reliability: Just show how you and your team work together, and can rely on each other for support.
  • Cross team support across multiple roles: This is about situations where you can call for support or give support, where needed, with team members on call to assist with their part of the work.
  • Load sharing: Dealing with the overloads, sharing the tasks.
  • Backing each other up on the job where needed: Same basic principle as mutual reliability, but this relates to filling in for emergencies, covering each other's commitments, etc.
  • Good personal relationships: See relationships question.
  • Good leadership: Advising, and taking guidance from, team leaders.
  • Good communications: Making sure you're communicating with other team members effectively.
  • Good training on and off the job: Participation in training, both yourself, and in your training of others.
  • Group sharing of problems: Adding your knowledge and expertise to solving team problems.
  • Good levels of contribution from team members: Contributing ideas experience and feedback.

You can use any or all of these fundamental team member roles in relation to your own job. In many industries there are specific team roles which will be familiar to the interviewers and you can use to indicate your depth of experience in the team role.


You need to show practical examples of your own work as part of a team.

The interviewers may or may not need you to explain the principles of teamwork to them. Generally they only require that to be done in managerial level jobs where it's part of the job, or at entry level as a part of verifying your level of training.

If you're not sure, ask.

Variations on team questions

Some interviewers will ask things like How do you contribute to your team?, rather than how you work in a team. The difference is subtle, but in many cases, the contributions do define your level of input into your team.

You'll find that most variants are covered by the fundamental points. Again, if you're not sure what the question requires, ask the interviewers for clarification.