Teamwork Questions

The teamwork job interview questions have become part of the framework of all interviews, largely because they do address important issues in the workplace.

All workplace relationships are important. Teams, despite years of buzzword status, and however insipid they've been made to sound, are the best working relationships by far. If you've ever had the privilege to work in a really good, functional, team, it's like working on another planet.

The reason for the emphasis on teamwork is that it covers a whole range of subjects in one concept. Teams are the practical working unit of any organization, directly or indirectly.

The teamwork job interview questions are purely functional questions. They're intended to show how much you know and understand about teamwork, team structures, and team relationships. This can be a bit difficult for natural loners, shy people, and new starters, because it's really not their strong subject. The fact is some people really aren't natural team players. They have to learn, and the team questions can catch them out.

In any interview, the best answers show clearly that you:

  • Understand the importance of the working relationships
  • Know how to work in a team environment
  • Are an active contributor to your team
  • Know enough about the subject to give a good, relevant example of your teamwork

Understand the importance of the working relationships

Sounds simple, but it isn't. This isn't entirely about personal relationships, it's also about the actual work relationships in your own team.

In the standard team environment, you have:

A manager
A supervisor
Senior staff
Junior staff

The main reason any team works at all is because of the working relationships. All teams have some sort of structure, and the responsibilities are based on who does what. However, teams work up and down, and down and up. There's a strong element of mutual reliance.

So here's a team:

Alan is the manager
Barry is the supervisor
Carol and Dan are the senior staff
Eddie, Fred, and Georgina are the staff
Harry's the junior

It's a very tired old analogy, but it works because people understand it: A team is exactly like a sports team.

Alan, obviously, is the team captain, and Barry the vice captain who acts in Alan's role when required. Carol and Dan are experienced experts, they advise the others.

The other perspective is that the three staff do most of the routine work, and Harry is learning. They ask Carol and Dan about the more complicated work. Carol and Dan advise Barry as supervisor regarding work situations. Barry advises Alan of any problems, situations, and of course also does the routine reports, as well as the supervisory role, and filling in for staff when he can.

The staff fill in for each other, and occasionally Carol and Dan, who in turn fill in for Barry. They can support each other in any work situation, and often do each other favors, standing in for anyone who really has to be somewhere else.

Harry, who turns out to be pretty bright, is being trained by everybody in various aspects of their jobs.

Know how to work in a team environment

This is a perfectly normal team, it works well, and it's also what your interviewers need to see.

It's quite clear who does what, what the structure of the team is, and how they interrelate, and that the team has a good working relationship in terms of covering gaps. They can rely on each other, and there's a strong element of trust in the way the group works together.

Are you an active contributor to your team?

OK, say you're Dan or Carol. You're the senior staff, you're trusted with the difficult jobs, you can even fill in for the supervisor. If you're asked to give an example of how your team works, you're going to have to include all the others, including the manager. You also need to show a clear case of your contribution to this team. That narrows it down a bit, for most people, but expressing it properly is important.

Know enough about the subject to give a good, relevant example of your teamwork.

Your example, obviously, is going to be something that affected the whole team, and where you made some sort of actual contribution.

Your example should preferably be beyond your ordinary work. Even when working yourself hard, you get more acknowledgement of exceptional work than for just slaving away as usual.

Your example, ideally, should include some input from you to the team and management about how to do something:

  • We received a lot of extra work as a result of a new contract
  • There were a lot of new procedures involved and we didn't know the client
  • This was as well as our own normal workload, which was also heavy at the time
  • We had to create a work routine to deal with it
  • I suggested a pro forma, where the whole process could be on one spreadsheet page, and we had an audit trail for each part of the contract
  • The supervisor checked out my idea, and between us we came up with the spreadsheet,
  • The other staff liked it, because all they had to do was a couple of simple entries. Harry picked it up immediately, and according to Barry it actually helped his training, because he could see how things worked.
  • The manager liked it, said it saved him a lot of work, and the client appreciated the simplicity of the pro forma

You'll find that most people have in fact had an experience where their team had to cooperate and come up with ideas to deal with a new situation.

It's just that they don't seem to remember these things about teamwork at job interviews.

As you can see, this is a very simple, clear, answer. Everybody was involved, there was a role for you as the interviewee to contribute, and a happy ending.

As with any teamwork interview question, storytelling is the best response. The structure of the answer does matter, because you're not just talking about yourself at this point, you're talking about other people as well.

Meaning, don't allow the interviewers to get lost, when you're describing your team and your examples. They need to be able to see the situation, the people, the issues, and the teamwork, clearly.

  1. Describe your team, your position, and your role. You may find yourself repeating information you've given in previous questions, but that doesn't hurt. As long as the interviewers know what you're talking about, and can understand your answer as giving them what they asked for, no harm done.
  2. For your example, pick an event where everybody was involved. Your own role and actions must be clearly expressed. The interviewers are looking for your contribution in a team environment. You are, literally, proving your ability to handle work relationships and situations effectively and productively.
  3. Explain, carefully, a situation where you were able to provide some strong examples of giving input into your team. The interviewers need to get a good grip on your actual work in this situation, your team's response and how the team operated in that situation, and how the team functioned in this example.

Complex answers

The example above was pretty straightforward, but that's not always the case.

As you will have noticed, there's a fairly good chance of having a great, complex, example of your teamwork. Sometimes the only people who can understand are other professionals, so you might have an interview panel who won't need much explanation, but not always.

This can get tricky. It depends on the nature of your audience how you keep your answer clear to the panel.

If you don't have professionals or people you're sure will understand, play safe. You don't actually have to descend to baby talk, but you do need to make sure your listeners get from A to B.

You won't find explaining team structure difficult, but some situations can be.

If you're not sure of your audience, say, This was a complicated situation, so I'll need to explain the problems, and how we dealt with them. I hope this isn't too much detail. I need to make sure I'm not losing anybody in complexity.

Then describe your team, your work, and your role. This allows the interviewers to set a scene, before you introduce any complexity.

You've mentally prepared them for complexity, so they'll be listening a bit more closely, even after a day of asking teamwork job interview questions.

That's civilized, allows them to ask questions, and shows you're at least trying to keep things clear. That will be appreciated by the non-professionals, and the pros will know why you need to explain.

Describe the situation step by step:

  • This is the team, and what it does.
  • This is the situation, and why it's important.
  • We handled this as a team, and I contributed.
  • My contribution achieved.
  • Result and feedback

Above all else, do not have any loose ends in your story. It's surprisingly easy, when talking about a group of other people, to leave someone out.

It's even easier to leave out the rest of a team, when talking about your own work, at an interview.

Your answer must be in context with your role as a team member, meaning don't leave holes in the story where the team disappears into the background. That doesn't look good, because it looks like you're a one man band.

The answer has to be team-based. In the simpler example above, you can see that everybody else was mentioned. Easy enough to do, because in any team environment, that's what happens. It's useful to show how your contribution was handled by the team, too, because it clarifies the practical teamwork.

Remember it's about teamwork, and you'll be fine.