While being a superstar has its appeal (fame, fortune, first-class), there’s not a whole lot of room in the corporate world, or even in our personal lives, for a one-man or woman show. Learning to shine as part of a team, rather than trying to be the star hovering above it (or avoiding it altogether) will do a lot more for your career and sense of well-being in the long run.
Of course, as with most things, being a strong team player is a lot easier said than done. It takes learning and practice. But, whether your team is a small group working on a single project, a department working on achieving yearly goals, or an entire company trying to move to the next level, here are six basic strategies you can start using today to be the kind of teammate everyone wants on their side.
1 – Be Approachable
If you tend to do a lot of sighing, eye-rolling, or exploding when someone asks for your help or your input, it’s a pretty strong indicator that you’re not at the top of the “Best Team Players” list. Everyone needs help now and then—including you. So, no matter how unimportant the request may seem to you, remember that it is important to the person asking and you should treat them and their request with respect. Make an effort to follow the golden rule of treating others the way you would you like to be treated.
2 – Be Responsive
Don’t ignore people’s requests in the hope that they’ll go away. None of us work in a vacuum. The truth is, most of the work that goes on inside a company is much more interconnected than we all think. Too often we focus only on our piece of the goal and feel we don’t have time for someone else’s project. Remember, we are all busy. You certainly shouldn’t need to (or be expected to) drop what you’re working on to help someone else at that minute, but you should offer a reasonable date or time by which you will have an answer, an alternative or be available to work with the person. And stick to your deadline.
3 – Improve Your Communication Skills
This means both talking and listening. Be sure people understand what you’re trying to say. If you’re not certain, ask – but be sure to do it in a way that is positive and not insulting. Saying, “I’m not sure if I was being clear in the way I presented that, could you tell me what your understanding is?” will likely get you more respect and long-term cooperation than using an attacking style such as, “You look confused. Are you not getting this?”
As for the listening side, aside from the obvious making a conscious effort to really “hear” what’s being said rather than planning your response to what’s being said, be sure to ask people for input, and really absorb what they’re telling you. And look directly at the person speaking so you convey the message that what they’re saying is important. If you often enter situations thinking you already have most of the answers, you’re not only being a poor team player, but you are also severely limiting your chances to learn and grow.
4 – Establish and Maintain Trust
Avoid gossiping and back-stabbing behavior. Nothing sabotages the efforts and effectiveness of a team like distrust and anger. By making an effort to build positive relationships through open and honest communication, you are likely to be more productive as well as get more enjoyment out of your work.
5 – Share What You Know
The point of working as a team is to combine the knowledge, expertise, and efforts of a variety of people. The interaction of everyone’s thoughts and ideas creates a whole new realm of possibilities that wouldn’t exist on the individual level. If you tend to hold back your ideas because you want sole credit or want to be seen as the only expert, you are doing yourself and the team a disservice. Sharing information empowers you and those around you by elevating everyone’s level of knowledge and making the team and the organization as a whole that much stronger.
6 – Put the Team First
When you find yourself thinking, “What’s in it for me?” stop and reframe the question, asking “What’s in it for the team?” or “What could we do differently that would benefit the group as a whole?” It’s important to understand that no team member is “better” or more important than the rest. Each person brings value to the table. If you learn to appreciate the individual contributions of each team member and can step back to see how they fit into the team’s bigger overall picture, everyone will be working together more effectively and building a more productive team.