5 Ways to Become a Better Team Player

When I was in school many moons ago (last year), there were few things I hated more than finding out that we had a “group project” to do in a particular class. Just didn’t like them.
It’s not that I’m against working in groups, but I DESPISED group work in most of my college classes. While I’m sure you can imagine why many driven students don’t like working in groups, these group projects early on teach valuable lessons which we can use to prepare ourselves for real work.
At work, most of us have co-workers, bosses, or employees. Unless you hired them specifically, then you probably did not get to choose them- just like my case in school. Nonetheless, we are required to work with others to accomplish a common goal. So, if many of us HAVE to do it, then we may as well make sure that we are well equipped to do so. Below are 5 tips you can implement to become a better team player. Note: If everyone on our teams does this, our projects will be seamless. 

  • Personal Accountability

Let’s start with some good old fashioned “the buck stops here” methodology. It’s never fun to be the one in the wrong, but if we as members of a group do not adopt accountability early on, none of the other tips are going to help.

We should take care of our work, but also be willing to admit when we are wrong or when we mess up. No one likes being in the wrong, but we will be respected far more by our peers if we own our mistakes rather than blame shifting or giving excuses as to why we messed up. If we never take responsibility for our own actions, those at work are going to stop depending on us to get things done. Newsflash: That’s really, really bad news.

While this concept is easy to understand, it can be quite difficult to implement. For many of us, it is natural to immediately blame shift. In order to break this habit, we must decide that we are going to be accountable and then practice that sentiment. We will all mess up, but it is our responsibility to pick up the pieces when we do and move forward.

  • Establish Open Communication

Think about how easy it is to communicate with your best friend, close relative, or anyone in which you may confide. Untethered communication is a beautiful thing, and eliminating unnecessary boundaries around your work communication can be a huge breath of fresh air for the group.

Essentially, you want to know that you are free to speak your opinions without immediately being judged by your peers or getting into a severe argument. For best group results, you want to establish early on that anyone has the floor in terms of voicing their ideas. For meetings, this usually works best by segmenting different time slots according to their purpose. So, perhaps you start your meeting with a 5 – 10-minute brainstorm session, during which anything goes. Then, you can reign in the conversation to focus on specific topics.

However you want to set up your meetings is up to you, but the principle of establishing open communication stays the same. You WILL see better results this way than if everyone is afraid to voice their opinion.

  • Set a Schedule Conducive to All Team Members

If you’re a student, then you need to find times when your classmates can meet outside of other classes, studying, and extra-curricular activities. Next time you do a group project, you should ACTUALLY do this, and not just act like it :D. Far too many times, our group would set a “schedule” just to later find out that only half the members could actually make it. If you have to, get everyone to sign the schedule just to get that extra sense of accountability.

For the rest of us, we need to make sure that the entire team is on the same page regarding meeting times, but more importantly the amount of work expected to go into the project, along with clear quality expectations. Again, this doesn’t seem difficult to grasp, but I’ve personally seen teams within very large corporations who completely dropped the ball on their projects due to timetable/scheduling issues.

  • Give/Receive feedback early and often

While this ties into tip #2, feedback is a little bit different than just person to person communication. In order to have proper feedback, you need to have mechanisms in place which “grade” or “judge” your performance.

Let’s say that your team is working on search engine optimization for your company’s new Shopify page. Immediately, there needs to be some type of goal that you are shooting for; hopefully something other than “a lot of sales.” Set a specific goal, and then allow the KPIs you implement to provide that feedback.

If your goal is to increase website traffic by 40% over the course of 6 months, then there should be a few measurable, short-term objectives you need to accomplish in order to meet/exceed this goal. Once you have these measurements, use them! Determine at least 1 person who is responsible to regularly track these KPIs, and have them relay those to the team at your discretionary frequency.

  • Positive Reinforcement

Odds are, something will go wrong. That is expected, and that means you and your team members are human. Most larger group issues are not formed from the initial problem, but rather the team’s reaction to the problem. Let’s be clear- there are absolutely times when the group needs to call out someone if they aren’t pulling their weight. If you want to be accountable as a group, then naturally you have to hold others accountable as well.
However, when something does go right, LET THEM KNOW!! Praise the team, thank them for their work, and then praise the again. Positivity leads to momentum, which under the right circumstances can lead to synergy. If your entire team can develop synergy, then it’s time for other teams in your industry to watch out! For more on this topic, check out Habit #6 from Stephen Covey’s“7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”