Understanding The Teamwork Definition In Relationships

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

John Maxwell once said, "The truth is that teamwork is at the heart of great achievement." You can learn a lot from playing sports that can also carry through to the rest of your life. You may not initially see how playing on a team can apply to other relationships, but there are many parallels, including working with those you may not see eye-to-eye with, practicing conflict resolution, and engaging in healthy communication. Keep reading to learn more about the definition of teamwork and how it may help you create reciprocal, fulfilling, and long-lasting relationships. 

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The teamwork definition

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, teamwork is a noun that refers to "work done by a group acting together so that each one does a part that contributes to the efficiency of the whole." 

Let's explore this definition in more detail, including how it can relate to relationships. 

You can’t do it all on your own

A healthy relationship between two people requires that each person does their part. This is a lesson that most people learn in any team sport. No matter how skilled a quarterback is, they cannot win the game alone. The quarterback needs people to block for them, catch the ball they throw, and play defense when the other team is on offense. There's not one position on a team that is more important than another. Some positions get more attention in the public eye than others, but it is the work of each person in their individual position that allows a team to be successful. Even the best player, if alone, couldn't accomplish nearly as much without their team.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi defines teamwork as "individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes the team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." A relationship operates in much the same way; it involves two people working together and committed to seeing the relationship succeed.

You may have watched a sports game in the past and noticed that one player, in particular, is giving it their all. They do everything they can to win the game and rarely make errors. However, because their teammates are not doing their part, the team still loses. In relationships, both people are responsible for doing what they can to help maintain the connection. One-sided relationships in which only one of the partners is pulling their weight are often bound to be unsuccessful. 

There is no “I” in Team

If you have ever played sports before, you've likely heard the phrase, "There is no 'I' in 'team.'" This fits perfectly with the teamwork definition, and it can also apply to relationships. When one teammate is selfish, it often hurts the entire team. When one person in a relationship is selfish, it can hurt the entire relationship. 

If you want to improve the relationship that you are in, it can be important to consider the other person's wants and needs as much as your own. Practicing selflessness and understanding the art of compromise can also be crucial. 


When there is a ball hog on a basketball team, the rest of the team can quickly grow frustrated with this individual. They might suspect this teammate doesn't value what the other players bring to the team, leading to bitter feelings and often a divide in the team. The ball hog is often surprised by this because they believe the work they are doing is for the good of the team. Instead of seeing how they are undermining the value of the other players, they focus more on what they're offering to the team. Often, the ball hog believes that the only way to win is if they carry the team on their back. However, this belief means that they're not placing any trust in the other teammates. Trust can be crucial in any team or relationship

When an individual makes a relationship all about them or thinks they're the only one working on it, it can damage the relationship. There might be the letter "I" in the word relationship, but it's difficult for a relationship to function successfully when focused on just one person.

Great teams anticipate the coming moves

If you have ever seen a good basketball or football team playing, you may have noticed something about their teamwork: the players are so connected and on the same page that they can anticipate their teammates' moves. Think about when a quarterback throws the football to a receiver. The quarterback must throw the ball before the receiver is in the position to catch the ball. If they waited until the receiver stood there waiting to catch it, the defense would likely be all over them. However, when the receiver knows where to run, and the quarterback can anticipate and trust that they will be there, the quarterback can throw the ball beforehand.

It works the same way in basketball. If you have ever watched a professional basketball game, you have probably watched the guard toss the ball up by the basket in anticipation of the center being able to jump and catch it for an alley-oop. If the teammates could not anticipate the plays being set up by their team, then this would not be possible.

When you apply this teamwork definition to a relationship, you may be able to move to a new stage in your relationship. Knowing the other person so well that you can anticipate their needs can increase the connection you two have. This may not be something that happens immediately in a relationship but rather something that takes time to build.

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Teams can trust each other

Trust can be key to successful teams and relationships alike. To be able to anticipate what is going to happen during a play or a relationship, it can be crucial to be able to trust the other person. A quarterback is unlikely to throw the ball in advance to a receiver if they do not trust that the receiver knows the route and will be there to catch it. 

Likewise, it can be challenging for a relationship to progress without trust. Many people struggle with this, especially if they have been hurt in past relationships. Trust is not something that's often given freely but rather something that is earned. This can be true both in relationships and on teams. When people do not trust each other, getting them to work together to accomplish something can be very difficult. In a relationship, if you don't think you can trust the other person, you'll likely find it difficult to get to a deeper level of intimacy with them.

Earning trust is something that typically happens over time. On a sports team, for example, it can build during practices. Players practice running plays together to build confidence in themselves and each other's abilities. In relationships, a practice could be comparable to the quality time a couple spends together and how they work together to repair conflict. Individuals who prove themselves time and time again by showing up, not giving up, and sticking to their word—even during difficult times—can build the trust their partner has in them. 

Teamwork involves work

Being part of a team involves work. A team must work together to learn plays, build endurance, and win games. A successful team supports each other, and teammates are there for one other after the wins and the losses. Teammates usually know when another teammate needs to be picked up and encouraged and when they may need a moment to be left alone to process. At the end of the day, great teammates are usually there for each other.

In a healthy, successful relationship, two people work hard to get to know each other and last through the tough times together. They know each other and can anticipate what the other person needs. They know when that person needs to be comforted and when they need to be left alone, and they can trust the other to do their part. Whether they had a good or bad day, they know that their partner is still there for them and that they're still there for their partner.  

That is what teamwork looks like. While you can start working together as a team at any moment you choose, real teamwork can take time to build.

Teams need coaches – explore online couples counseling

Few teams lack coaches because games can be hard to win without one. Teams often rely on a person from the outside looking in who can see things from a different perspective and build a strategy to help them succeed. In relationships, this person could be a therapist. If you're seeking to strengthen your relationship or work through troubles within it, therapists like those at BetterHelp are available anytime. They can point out what's working, what may be lacking, and how to move forward together as a stronger unit. If you're looking for couples therapy specifically, BetterHelp's sister site Regain may be useful.

Platforms like BetterHelp and Regain can be reached anytime, anywhere – you just need an internet connection to get started. The convenience of online therapy can make it easier for couples to fit therapy into their schedules since they can attend from home at a time that works for both of them. 

The efficacy of online couples counseling

Despite being over 70% effective, just 19% of intact couples actually utilize couples counseling, and only 36% of divorced couples sought it out before divorcing. 

Research has demonstrated the efficacy of online couples counseling, with one study finding evidence that couples therapy delivered through videoconferencing was "a viable alternative to face-to-face interventions, especially for those couples who may not have avail to the treatment they require." Both the online and face-to-face groups experienced an increase in the therapeutic alliance over time, and results showed improvements in relationship satisfaction, mental health, and all other outcome scores.

Continue reading to find reviews of some of our board-certified therapists from people seeking help in their relationships.

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Teamwork can be an important aspect of relationships, drawing a couple together instead of making them out to be enemies. Partnerships built on teamwork tend to involve higher levels of trust, cooperation, and endurance during challenging times. Teams aren't always naturally built, nor are they necessarily successful right away. If you are in a relationship that you believe could benefit from more teamwork, consider working with a licensed couples counselor online. Online counseling can be a convenient way for couples with even the busiest schedules to get the help they need.
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