The Graduate Coach pick of the Top 5 TED Talks on Building Teamwork Skills

Oct 20, 2016

Want to build your teamwork skills? Then watch these top 5 Ted Talks on becoming a better team player.

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable us to interact harmoniously with other people. One type of soft skill prized by employers is teamwork skills. This is because the ability to work in a team fosters collaboration, and collaboration enables team members to produce far more than they could by working alone.

So how can you build your teamwork skills? Find inspiration from our ‘Top 5 TED Talks on Building Teamwork Skills’.

  1. Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team – what makes teams tick

In this fascinating lecture, Tom Wujec explains the ‘Marshmallow Challenge’. In this challenge – usually carried out in groups of four people – the following items are used to try to build a tower: 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string and a marshmallow sweet to perch on the top of the structure. Frustratingly, it is the marshmallow being placed on the top of the tower that usually causes it to collapse.

Why does Wujec carry out this experiment? To find out how different groups of people problem-solve and interact together. Time and again, he discovers that those people who are prepared to create prototypes and try out different ideas are the ones who succeed. Those who want there to be only one correct way of building the tower usually don’t do so well.

Interestingly, if the groups are offered a large sum of money for building the highest tower, their performance goes down. It seems that skills and knowledge are more important in the context of a team than the promise of a reward.

  1. Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation – how to get teams to work

Similarly to Wujec, Dan Pink likes to carry out an experiment. His experiment is called the ‘Candle Problem’.  Two groups try to solve the problem of attaching a candle to a wall with tacks and matches so that the candle won’t drip wax.

One group is told that they are being timed to discover what the average time is for solving the problem. The other group is told that they will be given a monetary reward for doing really well. As Wujec also found, the group that is offered money is always slower than the group that is being timed.

This has big implications for people working as part of a professional team, as it shows us that monetary rewards are not always an incentive for doing a good job. This is backed up by social-science research too.  Studies in psychology are now showing us that we are driven instead by the desire to be in control of our own lives, the desire to improve our skills, and the need to develop a sense of purpose.

  1. Susan Cain: The power of introverts – every team member is important

In Susan Cain’s lecture, she makes the point that teams are made up of different personalities – extroverts and introverts. In this talk, she points out the strengths and qualities of the introverts in our teams.

In today’s society, so much emphasis is placed on being confident and out-going, but Cain explains that introverts have so much to offer. They have unique qualities – namely, they tend to be more creative than extroverts. This is because they spend time pondering and being lost in their own thoughts, so they can come up with inspirational and breakthrough approaches and innovations through this process of quiet thinking.

So teams should make the most of all the personalities they have in the group, and introverts should not be made to feel ashamed of being quieter.

  1. Clay Shirky: Institutions vs collaboration – making room for teams to thrive

In the past, being productive has meant being part of an institution made up of power relationships. Institutions tend to require goal-setting, a system based on management, complex structures, and the enforcement of goals.

However, Clay Shirky points out that if we build our infrastructure on collaboration rather than on the old model of institution, we are promoting an ethos of inclusivity, decentralisation and openness.

Teams that are motivated by openness and collaboration are built on trust and have deeply held values. Therefore, people feel more content and fulfilled when working as part of these teams.

  1. Howard Rheingold: the new power of collaboration fuels teamwork skills

Howard Rheingold agrees with Shirky. He believes that we are moving away from a competitive, ‘survival of the fittest’ approach in business, towards an approach that is based on trust and collaboration.  The importance of competition decreases slightly when we are driven by cooperation, collective action and interdependency.

Rheingold points out that human beings have evolved to work as part of a group and this is natural for us. He believes that many of the world’s problems could be solved if we learned to collaborate more.

Teams that are governed by an ethos of collaboration can benefit from each other’s skills and experience. They can truly work as a team. This is an empowering message for anyone engaged in teamwork.

Inspired? Then view these talks on

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