Effective Team Membership

In today’s workplace, employees are required to function well on a team as the demand for effective teamwork increases. Good teamwork is important to business success since high performing teams are more creative, productive and efficient than those teams that flounder.

However, one is not naturally a “team player.” And being a team member does not necessarily mean one will be a stellar team player. The common assumption that being a member of a team automatically turns an employee into an effective team player is a myth. Much of the frustration experienced on teams, including toxic interactions and inefficiency stem from this myth.

Effective teamwork requires building certain skills. Playing on or coaching a sports team is one way to develop these skills. However, it’s more complicated than that. Contributing well to a team requires being able to communicate ideas clearly, give and receive feedback, and be empathic.

There are seven ways team members can become effective team players:

1. Initiate.
A common complaint from employers is a lack of initiation on the part of team members. Speaking on a team is a bit like public speaking since a group is listening. This can make people nervous. But sitting back and not contributing does the organization a disservice and hurts staff career prospects. Being a team player means being willing to share thoughts, ideas and perspectives. Entering the dialogue on a team is the beginning of effective team membership.

2. Develop a collaborative mindset.
It’s important to focus on why a team exists. Team membership is a collaborative venture characterized by the question: “How can I help my team solve this problem, celebrate this success or generate new ideas?” Cooperating on a team requires commitment to others and the task at hand. If each team member is focussed on self-interests, the team will falter. At the opposite extreme, agreeing with everything and being a “yes” person is not collaborative. It is important not to confuse conformity with collaboration. Effective collaboration means being willing to engage wholeheartedly in team interactions, thinking about one’s performance on the team and working to continually improve that performance for the sake of the whole team.

3. Be professional.
Team players are on time for meetings. They respect other team members time and indicate this by refraining from tardiness. If they are delayed they phone ahead to notify the team. It is important to be prepared as well. Team players read briefing notes before hand and remain well informed. A key aspect to being a great team player is accountability. If other team members see you being true to your word they are more apt to trust and include you.

4. Keep your feedback about ideas, not people.
Effective team players offer each other feedback on their ideas or proposals. But the feedback offered is about the topic at hand and not about the person or their worth. It is sometimes difficult to disagree on a team, but the art of offering an alternate opinion without it becoming personal is worth mastering. The best way to accomplish this is to address the issue in a neutral and calm manner. To avoid embarrassing your teammate when expressing differing viewpoints, it is important to identify how your idea and their idea intersect before giving your view. Most ideas being discussed will have some kind of common thread. So, by keeping a cooperative tone and seeking ways that ideas fit together, team members can provide differing opinions without getting personal and engendering defensiveness.

5. Make connections.
Working hard to maintain team member relationships is key to being a good team player. This means seeking other team members out for their opinion, connecting your work to other team member’s projects and making an effort to get to know your team. Finding commonality with teammates and offering to help others are all part of being an effective team member.

6. Communicate.
It is important to continually work on your communication skills, both written and verbal. If you do not understand what another team member is saying or writing, obtain clarification. Be sure to listen well and ask lots of questions. Summarize what has been said and decided upon, especially when there are a lot of details. When a misunderstanding occurs or you are not sure about what other team members are thinking or feeling, ask. Many interpersonal difficulties arise when misunderstandings are allowed to fester. Also, people tend to trust others when they take the time to clarify issues or attempt to understand their points of view.

7. Give credit/appreciation.
Offering fellow team members a “thank you” for their help or recognizing their efforts publicly is essential to building esprit de corps. Ensuring that credit is taken where it is due prevents team members from feeling taken advantage of or taken for granted. When the team is effective, and productive, individual contributions to team success are worth celebrating.

A good team player is actually a leader in many ways. Which means waiting around for someone else to ” set the right example”, “make the team gel”, “turn this team around” or “keep the team on track” is not the way to go if you’re a true team player.

Humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer noted, “Example is not the main thing influencing others – it is the only thing.” So, being an effective team player means setting the example you wish to follow, one that inspires trust and dedication in your team.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at sunmail@newmangrigg.com

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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