How to become a better team player

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2006, 12:00am

ANY MANAGER ASKED to describe the attributes of an ideal employee will almost certainly put team skills at the top of the list.


The reasons for this should be clear. In today's workplace, people cannot operate in isolation. Their jobs are multidimensional, and need the input and assistance of colleagues who have different skill sets and experience.


Success at work, therefore, depends on building synergy and understanding that a well-managed team will always achieve more than individuals working on their own.


When people collaborate, their overall performance improves because teamwork allows individuals to amplify their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and come up with more ideas.


However, working as part of a team is often not easy. Who has not struggled to get along with a colleague or sat through meetings wondering why no one can see things their way?


Fortunately, research into how organisations function has identified basic attitudes and skills that can lead to better co-operation. So if you want to be more of a team player, here are some pointers:


Commit


Teams exist because of a shared goal. So there is no room for soloists and prima donnas. You must commit wholeheartedly to the common goal, giving it priority over personal agendas. You should also openly discuss objectives, share your views, and get others to express their hopes and expectations. Then, goals set for the team can take into account the needs of each individual.


Be reliable


We have all probably had co-workers who are habitually late for meetings, fail to deliver what they have committed to, or are never around when you need them. Make sure that you do not show this pattern of behaviour. If you let others down, you will hurt yourself in the process. So always honour your commitments.


Contribute


Good team players cannot be passive bystanders. They look for ways to add value to what the team is doing, take the initiative, and make things happen by volunteering or making suggestions. A can-do approach is needed, so that each person asks: 'What can I do to contribute to the team's success?' This requires people to express their opinions openly. Share your views and ideas with your team in a positive and respectful manner.


Other viewpoints


Teams are effective only when each member adds value to the common goal. This means soliciting others' points of view and allowing everyone to have a voice in the discussion. If necessary, encourage people who are naturally quiet or shy to share their views. That will help them and the rest of the team.


No egos


You may have excellent ideas and a strong personality but that does not automatically make you right. Recognise that it is always possible to improve. When faced with opposing views, look for consensus and for ways to incorporate different ideas to reach a better solution.


Motivate


If one individual loses motivation, the whole team can suffer. So, whatever your role is in the team, give positive feedback, infuse energy into others, and understand the benefits of achieving the goal and ensure that other team members also understand these. If each team member can act as a cheerleader, morale will be stronger and the work will get done better.


Share


It can be tempting to hold back information or resources when we think this could lead to a personal advantage or make us stand out in the crowd. However, good teamwork depends on freely sharing information, knowledge and experience. This should be a priority and not confined to formal meetings. In that way, everyone remains up to date and in the loop.


Listen


To become a good team player you must listen to others. Only then can you get the benefit of other ideas and opinions, and use them to solve common problems. To stay focused, ask questions, clarify your understanding and take notes to keep track of key points.


Disagree constructively


Inevitably, differences of opinion will arise and, in a dysfunctional team, these can quickly lead to arguments and antagonism. Do not let this happen. The best approach to deal with conflict is by acknowledging the different points of view and emphasising areas of agreement before seeking a workable compromise. You should be willing to make concessions, and if the discussion and consensus move against you, accept the majority view with good grace.


Respect differences


Teams often sideline people who express alternative views or have a different way of behaving. However, it is far better to accept mavericks as an important part of the team. If someone offers an offbeat suggestion, acknowledge it and consider its possible merits. Do not make the mistake of thinking that a good team consists of people who act and think in exactly the same way. Diversity helps - if each person is given equal respect and consideration.


Accept challenges


When things go wrong, it is easy to blame others or ignore the problem. However, successful teams face obstacles head on and learn to deal with problems constructively. Bring issues out into the open and encourage discussion of their possible impact. Then the team can brainstorm to find solutions and take collective responsibility for what happens.


Article sponsored by Gemini Personnel Limited, the trusted name in personnel


Personality types in a group


In 1981, Dr Meredith Belbin put forward the theory that personality type determines our natural strengths in a team. However, he also argued that, when necessary, we learn to adopt alternative styles to create balanced teams. Consider the Belbin team types described below and think about which of them you have used in different team contexts.


ACTION ROLES


Shapers have the drive and courage to overcome obstacles. They are questioning, dynamic and thrive on pressure, but can hurt the feelings of others as they push to achieve team goals.


Implementers are skilled in turning ideas into practical results. They tend to be disciplined, reliable, conservative and efficient, but should take care to remain flexible and open to new possibilities.


Finishers are painstaking, conscientious and anxious. They check for errors and deliver on time. However, they may take on too much and forget the importance of delegating to others.


PEOPLE ROLES


Co-ordinators are good at clarifying goals, making decisions and delegating. They can appear mature and confident, and are usually good at running meetings. If not careful, they can come across as manipulative and may delegate too much.


Team workers are co-operative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic. Their attributes include being good at listening and averting conflict, but they can also be indecisive.


Resource investigators can be extroverts, enthusiastic and good communicators. Although they enjoy exploring opportunities and building contacts, they can be overoptimistic and may lose interest once their initial enthusiasm wanes.


CEREBRAL ROLES


Plants are creative, imaginative and unorthodox, and they enjoy solving difficult problems. When focused on a problem, they can become too preoccupied to communicate effectively and may overlook details.


Monitor evaluators are the sober, strategic and discerning members of a team. They consider all the options and make accurate judgments. Sometimes, though, they lack the drive and the ability to inspire other people.


Specialists are single-minded, self-starting and dedicated, offering knowledge and skills that are in short supply. Their technical focus means they tend to get too wrapped in the detail.