NPS Fundamentals Essentials: Teamwork


Whether you are a new employee or interested in employment with the National Park Service, understanding how the organization functions is vital to your success. Are all parks the same?  How is the work divided? How are the sites managed?  What do the different divisions do?

Known as “Essentials,” these topics provide insight into how the National Park Service manages the entire system of parks and programs to accomplish its mission.  Reading through each topic gives an overview at the most basic level with opportunities to link to more in-depth, specific information.


National Park Service employment relies on possessing certain skills. They can be skills such as carpentry, electrical wiring, or other similar skills found in Facility Management. A job may require skills with budget, software or information technology. Resource Management often employs individuals with specific scientific skills. These type of skills, while necessary for certain jobs, are not the only ones that determine success.

The skill to work effectively with others on a team is a necessary and often overlooked skill. The ability to work well with others is a skill needed by all NPS employees, no matter what their job is. Developing this skill can help advance your career and is essential when working with park neighbors, partners, visitors and others.

There are many models, ideas, and resources about working in teams. No one model works with every team. The NPS encourages a team-driven workplace, but does not endorse any one model. The examples below provide ways to look at team dynamics and the roles of team members. You may find these and other resources and techniques helpful to you during your career. Successful team work can help ensure the success of the NPS mission.

Team Development

Developing effective teams creates an innovative, efficient, and productive workforce. Each member is integral to creating a cohesive team atmosphere. Such an atmosphere can empower employees and inspire them to invest more fully in their work. As employees are empowered, they can feel more valued, which can lead to increased job satisfaction. Many dynamics must be understood to foster productive teams. There are many resources on team development on the web, in books, and through other media.

three NPS employees conduct a site survey
Site Survey. NPS/Sarah Polzin.

Team Membership

You cannot always pick your team or workgroup, so it is important to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Develop strategies to help create, refine, advance, and implement new ideas. Determine effective ways to capitalize on the strengths of fellow team members. Learning different team roles may reveal how you work most effectively on a team. To successfully advance projects and other work to completion, team members need to ensure all team roles are covered. Some people may have more than one role and some roles may have more than one person. Whatever the team make-up, understanding the necessary roles, how they interact, and who best fills each roll determines the success.

The overall success of the team depends on the individual contributions of its members. Clearly defining team roles and assigning the appropriate people to those roles creates a balanced team poised for success. Recognizing each team member for his or her contributions lets them know they are valued and respected.

Sphere of Influence

Whether brand new to the National Park Service or a long-time veteran; whether a superintendent or a volunteer; everyone can be a positive influence through the use of leadership skills. Leadership responsibilities within the National Park Service fall to all employees regardless of what you do or where you work.

Everyone can have a positive effect on others and the events around him or her. This is our sphere of influence. We often influence others in committees, training, and staff meetings among other aspect of our work. Even if someone has little (or no) positional power (for example, an entry level employee being given direct oversight), that employee still has the power to influence. Recognizing this power, employees have a chance to make a difference. In their work, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard and Susan Fowler have identified the different types of power we exhibit within our spheres of influence.

Positional: You have a position that gives you power over people, resources, or money
Task: You have power associated with a particular task or job
Personal: You have power that comes from excellent communication skills and leadership skills. You have strength of character, passion, inspiration, and personal vision of the future.
Relationship: You have the power of association through friendship, family ties, loyalty, or reciprocity.
Knowledge: You have power because you are an expert; have a desired degree, certification, or special skill.

People in 1700s period costume stand around fire
Working together to hold special events at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Exhibiting leadership behaviors greatly impacts those around us. The list below defines some of the skills necessary for making that impact positive.

  • Influence through a positive attitude; by seeing the opportunity in every adversity; by understanding your chain of command’s favored ways of communication, needs, and how to address their concerns.
  • Communicate in ways others are most receptive.
  • Team Build through continually learning how teams function, through understanding how others work best, and by practicing team skills that you find helpful.
  • Respect and build trust through listening, diplomacy, and following through on your words or commitments.
  • Support Positional Leadership through prioritizing what to say and when to say it, by listening to others, and by standing by convictions – particularly in matters of safety.
  • Develop a Professional Network that represents the breadth and diversity of the NPS, that includes every level within your career path, and that provides insight from outside the agency.

Functional Leadership

Frequently associated with NPS Operational Leadership, Functional Leadership is based on the specific knowledge or expertise in a given situation. We expect functional leaders to use their knowledge or expertise to participate in the decision making process by passing pertinent information to the designated leader and team members, thereby alerting them to possible dangerous situations.

An individual does not have to be in charge to demonstrate good functional leadership skills, but needs to be assertive and provide information and feedback in an effective manner. It is situational and temporary, not a change in command. A team member with specific knowledge or expertise may assume a functional leadership role when their knowledge is critical to mission accomplishment or safety.

Issues and Challenges for the Future

While how to work with others may seem straight forward, there are always ways to improve our understanding of this challenging subject as individuals and as a society. Instructors utilize a large array of models and techniques. While the theories of social interactions, and how to improve them, may stir healthy debates, we all know that communication and working together in productive ways are important.

Researchers continue to gain better understanding and, as with all such research, this may stir healthy debates.

A set of coworkers or team members are not static, nor is a team’s dynamics. Individuals are influenced by many things over any given day, week, or year. A group’s priorities or focus may change, either through managerial direction or by team discoveries and recommendations.

Today the workplace is becoming more diverse. Although the mix of culture, gender, and generations enriches the workforce, we must adapt to changes, particularly in preferences “in ways to work,” desired forms of communication, and the evolving use and application of new technology.

Volunteers and park staff put tree debris in teh back of a cart
Volunteers and Park Staff pick up debris, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Additional Resources



Write a Review

  1. Rating:

  2. I am pleased that the link to the pseudoscientific Myers-Briggs type is crossed out. Could you remove that thoroughly debunked “tool” entirely from this otherwise good general overview?

  3. Love this saying! So true. not everyone communicates in the same way and with so many parks sharing positions and resources, communication is taking center stage.
    (Communicate in ways others are most receptive)


  4. What did you find useful about them? An excellent view of the importance of teamwork.

    What were your take-aways? The discussion about the five (this author’s position) different types of leadership. this construct ius especially good for young and new seasonal employees who’ve not experienced NPS challenges.

    Was there anything you found surprising? Not really. Well written and useful.

    What lingering questions do you have? Do we use MBTI as a departure point in career leadership trng? Though it’s important to understand how you think/lead/operate, without the “what this means to me” an MBTI assessment is a parlor trick and not useful.


  5. The photo at the top reminded me of a time when a park I was working at was hit by twister. I had never seen the community, the park and the volunteers work so well as they did at that time. Urgency, of course was a factor, it makes me wonder why it seems difficult to keep up that level of teamwork?

Arrow pointing upwards. Click this icon to go back to the top of the page.