Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How To Be A Team Player by Mark Rowh

You know being a team player is important.

Find out what it takes to be one.

It's one of the most exciting moments in sports: Michael Jordan takes a pass from a teammate, leaps through the air, and slams the ball through the basket with a thunderous dunk.
This is a riveting picture, but what made Jordan a truly great performer was more than his individual skills. Even more important, sports experts agree, was his team spirit and ability to cooperate with others on his team.

Of course, the concept of teamwork applies to more than just sports. In school and in the workplace, working together is an increasingly important ingredient for success.

"At our core, human beings are social creatures," says Michal Chick, CEO of Cornerstone Initiatives, a management and technology consulting firm in San Diego, California. "The fact is that no one person could have built our railroads or programmed Microsoft Windows. Like it or not, we are all team players." He adds that while our culture still tends to worship stars, the most respected stars have tended to be individuals who also made their teams better.

Working Together
"In the workplace, it is essential to be perceived as a team player," says Libby Sartain, vice president of Southwest Airlines. "Being a team player will lead to promotion, while not being a team player will limit career and promotional opportunities. I cannot think of a job at Southwest Airlines that doesn't require teamwork."

Success in college, to a lesser degree, can also depend on teamwork. Lab assignments, group projects, and internships are just some of the experiences requiring cooperation with others.
"In today's world, it's better to be perceived as both a team player and an individual contributor," says Gary L. Couch, president of Professional Management Alternatives in Palm Harbor, Florida. "But there's more emphasis on being a team player in the workplace since most organizations are running lean, pushing more responsibility down the line, and using team concepts to run their business."

Having What It Takes
But what does it take to be a team player? How can you make sure you fit into the teamwork profile that is so often preferred in businesses and other organizations? Here are a few key factors to consider in this important area of job and academic performance:

1. Be cooperative.

Cooperation is more than just good manners. From a teamwork perspective, it means working toward common goals. Doing your fair share, minimizing conflict, and maintaining a positive attitude are all parts of being cooperative.
"It's important to believe the most important outcome of your effort is the accomplishment of the team's goal," Chick says. "Whenever you allow your personal agenda to be your primary consideration, you increase the possibility that your actions will diminish the performance of the team."

2. Keep people informed.
"What we got here is a failure to communicate." This statement is more than a famous line from an old Paul Newman movie. It's also a common source of conflict in the workplace. When co-workers are not kept informed about matters affecting them, they tend to become confused, disappointed, and sometimes angry. Conversely, good communication supports positive teamwork.
"Being able to communicate effectively continues to be one of the top requirements in having an effective team, not only among team members, but also with other internal and external contacts," says Couch. "Communication is always among the top five items clients identify as an issue or problem within their organization."

3. Keep commitments.
On a truly effective team, others know they can count on you, and vice versa. "People need to know they can depend on you," says Arthur Crane, owner of Capstone Services in Sherman, Connecticut. "You need to be known as someone who does what they say they are going to do."
If you want to be seen as a team player, be sure to perform in such a way that other workers know they can rely on you. If you say a report will be completed by next Friday, make sure it is ready as promised. If you agree to attend a meeting, don't cancel out at the last minute. When you make any type of promise or commitment, keep it.
"It's tough to be a highly functioning team when people do not fulfill their responsibilities," Sartain says. "It is important to be clear on what is expected of you and to be reliable about delivering results." When you keep commitments, it shows that you respect others. Being on time for a meeting, for instance, shows that you don't want to waste other people's time. In the process, others are more likely to treat you the same way.
"The really great news about giving respect is that it usually begets respect in return," Chick says. "If you consistently keep your word and do what you say you'll do, people will want to give you better assignments and more interesting challenges."

4. Be honest.
Honesty and trust are essential elements of positive teamwork.
"One of the first tenets in problem solving is identifying the real problem," Chick says. "And when dealing with people, you can't identify the real problems unless people are willing to be honest about their issues. As a leader I spend a great deal of time searching for the real truth of a situation and looking for the individuals with the courage to speak the truth, even if it is painful. Because often, the lies cost the organization more than the truth does."
Also, if you really want to be trusted, don't betray confidences. If a co-worker shares private information, don't repeat it to anyone-- unless it presents an ethical matter. Avoid the too-common practice of assuming it's OK to share information if you preface it with, "Don't tell anyone this, but...." In most cases, this is a sure way to spread information originally intended to be confidential.

"Successful teams build trust and have to be able to count on all team members," Sartain says. "Even little indiscretions can break the bonds of trust."
Discretion might include such practices as refraining from passing along gossip or holding back from revealing data acquired during routine work. For example, a discreet worker would not read a report about salaries, and then tell a friend how much her co-workers earn.
"Discretion goes with trust," says Crane. "Knowing when and if to share information determines how you'll be perceived. If someone gives you information and you use it inappropriately, the likelihood of getting it again diminishes."

5. Share credit, not blame.
Whether things go well or poorly, it's important to avoid a selfish approach. This includes both sharing credit and holding back from criticizing other team members.
"Sharing credit is critical for respect between team members," says Lori Busch, an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College and experienced human resources executive. "And searching for resolutions to problems as a team is much more effective than blaming others. Teams need to feel free to take risks and learn from their mistakes." A related matter is that of blame. When something goes wrong, a natural tendency is to point out who is at fault. But a real team player holds back from blaming others, even when they make mistakes.

Joining the Team
No matter how you look at it, the ability to function as a team player is a key to success in almost any setting. In planning your future, be sure to focus on building skills in this area.
"Working with a team with all its quirks and difficulties can be very tough, but it's the way to go," Crane says. "Every individual brings specialness to the table, and an effective team can identify those strengths and work with them the best way possible. But take those risks and stick yourself out there, and you'll find the rewards will come back to you 100 times."

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