“There is no 'I' in team, but there is 'I' in cookies.” photo by jason lee

Be a team player

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a team. - African Proverb

If you asked any person, “Hey, are you a team player?”, I bet 99% of people will emphatically say “yes”. It’s standard to work in a team and unless you are a renaissance wo(man), you need the help of others.

Though it’s standard to work in a team, I don’t believe everyone understands that being in a team is not the same as playing with and contributing to the team. Here are a few things I keep in mind in any team or project that I am a part of.

Check your Ego

Everyone in a team will have an opinion and perspective on how things should be done. Healthy discussion and debate is essential in flushing out problems and coming up with solutions. Being open to everyone’s feedback and actively listening greatly enhances a team’s communication and circle of trust.

Check your ego and know that you don’t know everything. There are multiple ways to get things done.

Vent up

In any team there are problems and challenges. It’s completely normal to be frustrated, feel pressure, and at times get pissed off. Often times, it feels good to to release that pressure by offloading on a fellow co-worker, but I’ve found that it isn’t a good idea. It creates a negative environment and is not helpful. Instead, “vent up”, meaning speak with your boss about your frustrations. If they are a good boss, they will listen and give guidance on what you should do.

Know your role and execute

In most professional sports teams, there are specific positions that are in charge of specific responsibilities. Whether being a shortstop on a baseball team, a point guard in basketball, a user experience designer in an app company, or product manager for your team, it’s important to recognize your role and deliver the results expected of you.

Communicate

IMHO, this is one of the most important traits of being a team player. You can’t expect a fellow teammate to read your mind and you can’t assume what they expect either. Poor communication can be detrimental to a project and cause a ton of frustration. A couple of best practices that I adhere to is to take some time to scope out the project beforehand, make sure everyone has their responsibilities, and then give updates if you are having trouble or just to check in. After a project is complete, we do a post-mortem to see how we did and where we could improve.

I’ve never had someone tell me they had a problem with me overcommunicating but I’ve had issues when I haven’t communicated enough.

No Drama

I know it is extremely frustrating that your neighbors keep you up with their late night debauchery and that your dog isn’t getting along with the other dogs at the dog park but sometimes it borders on TMI. As a fellow compassionate team mate, I’ll listen to your problems but sometimes, it’s best kept to yourself. Everyone has problems but it’s better to check them at the door so we can keep our work environment positive and drama free.

Do the Dishes

In any company there are things that some people don’t want to do but must be done. Whether it is doing the dishes, answering the customer service line, or staying a few hours later to fix a bug, a team player rises to the occasion and gets it done, otherwise it’ll be left for another team member to do. I love this motto from the Boy Scouts:

Leave this world a little better than you found it. - Robert Baden-Powell

Give without expecting anything in return

When I was in high school, I asked my wrestling coach, who had been successfully married for 23 years, “What makes for a successful marriage?”. He answered, “To give to the other person without expecting anything in return.”

That really stuck with me and is a part of the foundation in my marriage but also with my other relationships whether they are friends or co-workers.

One of the great joys in my life is to work in a team where everyone is running at full speed and is completely in sync with each other and their contributions to the project.

Hopefully these thoughts can make you a better team player. If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them.