Having collaborative skills and the ability to perform well on a team are critical in today’s workplace. In fact, many job descriptions today list “being a team player” as a prerequisite — it is key for success and advancement in many positions. Many companies today have zero tolerance for those who aren’t team players (I have numerous clients who have been told to either improve in this area or face termination). So, what does it mean to be a team player? Here are some Dos and Don’ts that I coach clients to develop:
- Be collaborative. Be generous — share information and resources (think the Golden Rule). Foster collaboration by being genuinely helpful to your team members. Offering a resource or suggestion for a team member in a bind is practicing good career karma. In contrast, personal vendettas and ego-based agendas are generally bad for business, your team and your career (and by the way, no one is fooled; these agendas are typically far more visible and transparent to others than most realize).
- Set realistic expectations, then deliver on your commitments. If you agree to take on an action step, do everything in your power to deliver results. Trust and credibility (which are huge to your career success) hinge on delivering what you say you will. It is far better to simply say no than to suggest you will and do not.
- Build and nurture your team relationships. Share stories and find out who your colleagues are, where they have been and what motivates them. Relationship-building is key to being seen as a “team player.”
- Identify your impact. How are you perceived by your colleagues? If you don’t know, ask. It can be an enlightening growth opportunity to find out (360 multirater review processes can help). Are you known for being supportive or hypercritical? Well-intentioned or arrogant? Raising smart points or mean-spirited? You can’t afford not to know.
- Be a truth teller. Speak up and contribute. Share your ideas and suggestions — your team needs your unique brain and perspective to succeed. If you have an interpersonal challenge with a teammate, search for opportunities to understand why this has happened and what you might do to improve the relationship. Bad feelings left unaddressed tend to grow exponentially — and can lead to isolation and highly dysfunctional team behaviors (which won’t help you in your quest to be a team player). Instead of avoiding the conflict, see if there is a half-step toward the middle you can take.
- Learn to be an active listener (vs. the one who sucks up all the air time). That includes being curious, intentional and focused on understanding others. We have two ears and one mouth. In most situations it’s appropriate to use them proportionately.
- Be known as the “appreciative” one (and the one who gives credit to others) on your team. Find ways to say thank you and share credit.
- Be your team’s clarity-seeking missile. If you aren’t clear about the team’s objective, member responsibilities or roles, others are likely confused, too. Express your concerns to the group and/or leader. Confusion and ambiguity on a team is a recipe for frustration and failure. Help your team develop a system to measure the team’s success.
- Be open to influence. Those who insist on having their way aren’t seen as team players. Be flexible and consider the input of your teammates. Try it on and hear them out before you categorically dismiss it for your “better” plan.
- Make excuses or blame others. Admitting mistakes can help build trust (no one expects you to be perfect). Individuals who are constantly blaming everyone else and never take responsibility for their actions (or inactions) will never build the trust required to be an effective team member.
- Shoot the bad-news messenger or the one who challenges you or others to be accountable. Teams need to know the truth no matter how hard it may be to hear. Killing the messenger undermines truth, trust and accountability.
- Be the constant naysayer, complainer, blamer or the toxic wet blanket. Attitude is everything. A bad apple can poison, or at the very least contaminate, the team. Be willing to get your hands dirty and pitch in when times get tough (remember your career karma). Team players don’t chant, “It’s not my job.” What goes around comes around. Create a reservoir of good will with your teammates. Be enthusiastic, energetic, appreciative and willing to chip in when necessary.