6 Musts to Be a Great Teammate

Teamwork is the lifeblood in creating innovative planning and design solutions that make the world a better place, yet, so many people fail at it. If you want to improve your community, you must learn much more than how to get along with others. You must learn how to use teamwork to accomplish what no other individual can by himself.

So, what must you do to be a great teammate?

Take Ownership

When you make a mistake, take ownership of it and refrain from blaming others. Blaming quickly erodes trust with your team. Before you blame that other person, ask yourself: what is my part?

Take ownership of your biases, perceptions, and feelings. No one makes you feel or believe a certain way, they just trigger it within you. So take responsibility.

Taking ownership gives you a sense of control because now you are focusing on yourself, the only thing you can control. That builds confidence and trust with yourself and your team.

When we don’t understand ourselves, we are more likely to succumb to the fundamental attribution error of believing that the behaviors of others are the result of negative intent or character (“he was late because he does not care”) and believing that our own behaviors are caused by circumstance (“I was late because of traffic”).

-Jennifer Porter

Self-Awareness

In order to take ownership, you must have self-awareness of who you are and how you affect other people. Jennifer Porter explains how there are two types of self-awareness: Internal and External.

Internal self-awareness involves understanding your emotions, values, and perceptions. Ah jeez, I have to be in tune with my emotions? Well, “when we don’t understand ourselves, we are more likely to succumb to the fundamental attribution error of believing that the behaviors of others are the result of negative intent or character (“he was late because he does not care”) and believing that our own behaviors are caused by circumstance (“I was late because of traffic”).”

External self-awareness is understanding how your behavior and words affect others. When you become aware of how you affect others, you can change how you communicate and behave to leverage your team’s strengths and collaborate more effectively.

For example, one of my employees would often not speak much when we would talk about her projects and I thought it was because she was just shy. I realized that I avoided silent pauses in our conversations because I thought they were awkward (internal self-awareness) and wouldn’t give her space to think and then speak (external awareness). Once I allowed silent pauses, she began speaking up and asking questions.

Use Conflict Productively

“Teams are complex systems of individuals with different preferences, skills, experiences, perspectives, and habits,” creating conflict within teams.

Conflict is not a barrier, it is an opportunity. I’ll say that again, conflict is not a barrier, it is an opportunity.

Address conflict upfront and quickly with your teammates to increase productivity and trust. The best solutions to planning problems start from conflicting views and perceptions.

We avoid conflict because it sucks and it’s painful. But avoiding conflict creates greater pain and mediocre solutions. Ignoring the weeds in your garden, doesn’t make them go away and the longer you wait to pull them out, the worse they get.

Provide Value Without Expecting Anything in Return

Help your teammates without thinking about how they are going to help you in the future. Teach an inexperienced colleague about a subject they are struggling with, or help a colleague complete their part of a project or plan because they are swamped.

Giving value to your teammates without the expectation of receiving anything in return makes you reliable, and it also just feels good!

You might be thinking, so I should do all the work for them? ABSOLUTELY NOT! You’ll be doing them a disservice by being the “hero” and helping them out all the time without giving them the tools to help themselves.

Crucial Accountability

A great teammate is not always nice. They are candid and give feedback that may temporarily hurt another, but helps the team in the end. You must confront your teammates when they are not completing their end of the project and being destructive to the team.

It’s excruciating to confront others. So, how do you begin this type of conversation?

Check out the book Crucial Accountability. It lays out concrete guidelines and tools about how to begin, continue, and end a conversation with a teammate, employee, or boss about holding them accountable.

Remember this:

When we approach an accountability discussion, it’s important to know that we must work on ourselves first. We can’t go in determine to ‘fix everyone else’ and expect to get the results we’re really after. We can only actually ever change ourselves.

-Crucial Accountability

Engage Your Team

Teams waste time, energy, and talent when the brains around the table are disengaged.

Ask engaging questions to get your teammates’ opinions, thoughts, and perceptions. It doesn’t end at the question. You must listen, reflect back, and ensure you understand what they’re saying.

For more info on listening, check out Strategies to Engage in Tough Conversations!

Engaging with your team outside of work is also very important in building trust. When I first began working as an environmental planner, a colleague told me that if I only go up and talk to people about work, they will begin to avoid me and distrust me.

I took this to heart, and began having “small talk” with my teammates about their weekends, families, hobbies, and sometimes personal problems. The key was being truly curious about who these people were, and what experiences they were having.

This helped me relate to my teammates on a personal level which built trust and often created better outcomes when we worked together. We were better able to give feedback and hold a dialogue when we had differing opinions.

Breaking it Down

A great teammate must:

1. Take Ownership of your mistakes, feelings, perceptions, and biases

2. Be Self-Aware of your feelings, behaviors, and words; and how they affect others.

3. Help your Team without expecting anything in return

4. Hold your team Accountable through effective feedback

5. Engage with your team

I want to hear from you! What you believe is most important to be a great teammate? Comment below!

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