I am all about helping people find their happy and that includes finding it at work, too.
Work relationships play a big part in being happy on the job, so this week I want to talk about how to be happier at work by being a team player.
I interviewed a lot of people during my career, and whether it was for a promotion or to hire someone into the organization, I always asked them if they were a team player.
There’s only one right answer to that, so of course every single one of them assured me that they were, in fact, a fantastic team player. I think the words have become so familiar that we may not think much about what they mean anymore, so this week I wanted to touch on what that phrase means to me.
It’s something worth considering, because teamwork is essential if you want to have a successful career and experience work satisfaction. Most major projects can only be completed by relying on the diverse skills of a wide range of participants.
Building a strong network will also help you to advance.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say they didn’t want to change teams because “I love the people I work with!” Heck, I even said that when I left my tech leadership position to work in Organization Development!
But if you have strong team player skills, those transfer to wherever you are in the company. Work your way through enough teams, and you will have a great network when you need to get things done as you climb the career ladder.
There are two aspects in my mind: the work you do as an individual contributor, and how that work ties into the bigger picture of what the team is charted to accomplish.
Here are my thoughts on what it takes to be a team player. The goal is to contribute your unique strengths and form positive connections with your coworkers.
Before you can perform tasks with a group, it’s important to carry out your own responsibilities successfully; to be that great individual contributor.
I know this one is easier for extraverts, but for my introvert readers, let me just tell you that you can save yourself a ton of angst by asking sooner. Yes, there is value in “figuring it out for yourself”, but there isn’t a whole lot of efficiency in it so if you’re busy, you could be wasting valuable time.
4. Continue learning. Picking up new knowledge and skills makes you a more valuable employee and team member. Sign up for training courses at work and attend seminars at your local community college. Subscribe to magazines and attend conferences about your industry. My motto my entire career was “versatile and indispensable." In the course of my career I did everything from creating simulation experiments to test a new tank cockpit configuration, to researching biofuels for military use, to corrosion prevention on coastal bases. By the way, the best work travel ever was three weeks in Hawaii trying a new corrosion resistant primer…just saying…
Even talented individuals will have trouble creating a powerful team if they’re disengaged or arguing with each other. This is where the people skills come in.
One time, on a Jamaican vacation, my husband and I booked a tour to climb Dunn’s River Falls. Our tour guide told our group of 20 that we had to hold hands as we climbed the falls. He said “if one makes it to the top, we all make it to the top!” Then he continued “if one of us falls to the bottom, then…” and we all finished with “we all fall to the bottom!” He looked at us kind of funny and replied “No, we all pick them up and keep climbing!” That’s what a team does for you. You are part of the system that gets everyone to the top whether you’re the one who stumbles, or someone else needs the helping hand.
2. Think positive. Look for ways to take advantage of apparent setbacks. For example, if a new product launch is taking longer than expected, use the extra time to increase your social media presence and recruit more influencers. A deadline moved closer can be just the impetus you need to get the creative juices flowing to meet it. The more you expect changes in cost, schedule, or requirements, I’ve learned, the more apt you are to respond positively when they do happen. Be ready for them.
3. Reach out. Try to get to know your teammates. Maybe you’ll want to socialize outside of the office or just share stories about your children and cats. Lend a hand when you see a colleague falling behind or dealing with extra demands. I definitely saw this when having to travel with a coworker. Nothing builds a bond like spending hours with them en route and dining while on travel! You don’t have to be best buds, but sharing some details of your life outside work opens up the possibility to find connection points. I remember finding out a lady I worked with was actually a certified dog trainer when I mentioned to her I was going to be getting a puppy soon. I had no idea before that conversation but it became an instant bond with her.
4. Create ground rules. Clear expectations make it easier to work together. Your top priorities may be starting meetings on time and accepting each suggestion as worthy of consideration. One of mine is that I expect emails to be written well, including spelling and punctuation. It’s a blessing and a curse that if there are errors, it’s ALL I SEE! So I just said that out loud and set the expectation.
5. Express appreciation. Tell your coworkers what you like about them. Thank them for sharing their ideas and pitching in with making phone calls. Be sincere about it, but make it a habit if it’s not one already. Especially if someone went out of their way to help you in some fashion. If the person is particularly uncomfortable with praise, just drop a sticky note on their keyboard. Trust me, it’s the little things on this one!
6. Provide feedback. Be tactful and direct about commenting on individual and group performance. Focus on finding solutions and making enhancements. I teach a whole mini-workshop on giving effective feedback so I’ll leave this one at it’s one of the most valuable things a team can learn to do. Rather than learning to “put up with” each other, the team learns how to actually work together.
7. Negotiate agreements. Working as a group may mean doing things differently than you would on your own. Be open to suggestions and willing to try out unfamiliar approaches. Remember, life is an experiment and their hypotheses could be the best one, even if yours is right, too!
Working well with others will help you be a happier person at work. Not to mention it will open up more opportunities and cultivate valuable contacts. Work on being a good individual contributor but never forget that most companies need a team to get the big things done.
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: Wash your hands like you just cut habaneros and have to take your contacts out!