Being a Team Player

Image courtesy Piktochart

There’s no ‘I’ in team. Tough times don’t last, tough team do. Together Everyone Achieves More.

All of these expressions (and so, so many more) tell you what a team is, but do very little to help you build a good team, or be a valuable, contributing member of one. What does it take to be a next-level team member? What separates the good teams from the great ones? And why should you care?

1. Be a next-level team member

There are three very straightforward, deceptively simple steps to building a great team, from converting a simply good team to a great one. These are in no particular order; each is as important as the other:

Hold yourself and your team members accountable. Open and honest communication is key to ensuring that all of the goals and objectives of the team are well-thought-out, germane to the purpose of the team, and agreed upon by all members. When another team member begins to diverge from the agreed-upon objectives of the group, it is incumbent upon the other members of the group to ensure that the issue is addressed and resolved in a way that is satisfying to all involved while staying true to the goals of the overall team.

Team first attitude. Abandoning the “I” and embracing the “we” work ethic ensures that everyone is on the same page as the entire group works towards the same goal(s). Don’t be afraid to share credit, and put your ego back in your pocket – the goal is not to become a star, it is to accomplish the objectives of the team. This may mean sometimes stepping up, and sometimes stepping back. Always remember: the success of the team is your success, too.

Stop, listen and learn. It is important to remember that no single person is a subject matter expert on everything – in the words of Simon Sinek, “No one knows everything, but together we know a lot.” Keep in mind that everyone’s contributions have value, and everyone has a unique perspective on each and every problem. There is always room for improvement, always an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience. It is always best to reserve judgement until everyone has had the opportunity to express their ideas.

2. Good teams vs. great ones

There are three key characteristics that separate a good team from a great one, characteristics that identify a given group of people as a cut above the norm and ready to face any challenge:

Strategy and purpose. This goes beyond having a yearly jam session where everyone gets an opportunity to express where they believe the team is headed in the next year, and what they expect to accomplish personally. It is imperative that the team has 1) clearly defined, well-reasoned goals and 2) an agreed upon path to reach those goals.

Conflict and decision-making. There must be sufficient trust and support within the group so that each individual feels they are able to express their thoughts and feelings on a given issue. There must also be a process in place where active discussion, without fearing of degradation or reprisals, can be carried out to the benefit of all. It is important to remember that each member is an individual with a unique and informed opinion on each subject, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Right bus, right seat. In his outstanding book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins compares a company to a bus, and makes the case that who is on the bus is more important that where the bus is going. We can extend this metaphor to the team level as well – the objectives of the team, while very important (in fact, the reason for its existence), are secondary to ensure the right people are on the team, and are filling the roles that they are most qualified for.

3. Why you should care

Humans are social animals. They have a deeply held need to not only belong to a group, but to also be viewed as a successful, contributing member of the organization. The same holds true whether we’re talking about work or play – the same drive that makes someone want to root for (or play on) a winning sports is the same drive that gives us the desire to succeed at work. Teams are the ultimate expression of the social desire – it allows us a manageable situation where we feel we can make direct contributions to the success of the team, and of the company overall.

Regardless of your role on the team, just keeping these principles in mind will help you become a more valuable, more trusted, and definitely more successful contributor. The choice is up to you – are you content with being on a good team, or do you want to take your team to the next level and become a truly great team?

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

The results may surprise you.

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