Working on a team presents a unique set of challenges — something that just happens when you put more than one person in a room and ask them to achieve a goal together. The challenges are as old as primitive man and include head-bangers such as: people don’t always pull their weight, roles and assignments are fuzzy, and team members have different views and work styles.
This doesn’t mean we have to accept these hardships and battle our way to the end. With a little self-examination and some good behavior habits, you can become a highly valued member of your team – and increase the value you have on your group and the project.
Here are 6 tips to play effectively with your team:
Nobody likes working with a team member who says he or she will do something and then has no follow-through (but an endless list of excuses). If you’re that person, then put some thought into your claims before committing them on paper or to a group. Map out a plan that, when you look at it, makes you feel confident about delivering it. Include a backup plan and a check-in point so that if you’re not on track you can let your team know. If you’re not sure how to come up with a trustworthy plan of action, sit down with a boss or co-worker who can help you out. It’s not about being perfect — change happens around the clock at work, we all know that.
Of course, being reliable is also about staying focused and working toward a goal. Keep your eyes on the end result, follow through, and deliver what you say you will, and more people will see you as trustworthy.
Even with the most collaborative planning tools, you probably have a lead project manager who oversees the delivery of a project (even if his or her title isn’t “Project Manager”). This person initiates tasks and assigns work to all other team members. In some groups, this person could be your boss or a team leader, and is generally the one who takes the fall if things go south. When you show respect for your project lead’s responsibilities – by meeting deadlines, communicating changes, and being reliable – you make an important person’s life easier and raise your value quotient.
Projects hardly ever go as planned, so there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself doing “surprise” work in order to move a project forward. It could be helping a teammate with some tasks, taking over part of a ballooning project – you name it. If you can roll with these change requests with a positive attitude and pitch in where needed, this will earn you those key points as “team player.”
Also, if you’re a good problem solver and naturally willing to do whatever (within reason) the team needs of you, it could be that flexibility is one of your greatest strengths. Every team needs a flexible player, so play to it!
Some people think they increase their career worth if they’re the one with all the information. It depends how you play this. Hoarding resources and then trotting out your smarts at opportune moments will not get you far. (Nobody likes a know-it-all.) Instead, make yourself a necessary part of the team by sharing all of your information, knowledge, and resources freely. Take a page from people-centric business expert Tim Sanders’ book Love is the Killer App: Be a lovecat – a rich, open source of knowledge.
We all know this one: Everyone is different and we all have our own work styles. Just because a team member approaches a task or challenge at a different angle than you would doesn’t mean it’s wrong. So if you don’t understand what a teammate is doing or saying, ask questions until you find common ground. Clearing up the differences in your processes will help you work together more fluidly going forward, and who knows – you might even learn a thing or two!
You can’t do everything perfectly, which means you’re going to get constructive feedback every once in a while. This is also how we learn and build our career skills. So when you do get constructive feedback, try to take it with a positive attitude. Keep in mind that not everyone’s great at their feedback delivery, so don’t take it personally if it comes out blunt and insensitive. Instead, just focus on the part that you can learn from. If a boss sets out a plan of action and you can rise to the occasion and meet it – well, how many ways can you say “raise” and “promotion?”
At the end of the day, however, we all know what matters even more than raises and promotions: the feeling of doing meaningful work in a team that fosters your talents, and being appreciated and valued for the good work you do. Focus on how you can do your part in the equation, and see the world rise up to meet you.
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