“A major reason capable people fail to advance is that they don’t work well with their colleagues.” – Lee Iacocca
The word teamwork and its importance for business are included every day in many conversations and other types of communication like blogs and presentations. We also receive training about it and/or participate in team building activities very often. There is so much noise about it that some people may think it is overrated. Well, it is not.
Most people understand why teamwork is important for companies, for the very same reasons it is important for individuals that desire to advance on their careers. And this importance is even more critical if the person want to have a leadership role.
Some time ago while working with the management group to decide who would be part of the team that will work on the initial lean manufacturing implementation activities there was a lot of back and forth when the general manager mentioned one name. The reason for the discussion was that this person was notorious for his lack of teamwork. John (not his real name), worked for the company for over twenty years, probably anybody had more experience and knowledge than him. He is very reliable, John will come to work every day on time, will finish his projects successfully and he volunteers for those tasks that nobody else wants. All these things make him a very good candidate for a supervisor position, even a future manager but, his lack of teamwork has been on the way for a promotion for years.
Why teamwork is so important? When team members are led by an individual that understand and practice teamwork they will be driven to share the same behavior. Communication of each member responsibilities, how they interact with other members responsibilities and their impact on the output help to understand and share the vision and goals. Now, is not the individual contribution but the synergy created by mutual support.
Collaboration within a group can help solve difficult problems or create innovative ways to do things. Brainstorming is a good opportunity for the team to exchange ideas and come up with creative ways of doing things. By working together, teams can find the solutions that work best. By finding those incredible solutions, team members will feel a greater sense of accomplishment; also cooperation, trust, and respect are built one step at the time.
If John and others like him cannot be examples of teamwork and more importantly cannot drive the team to work as a team, then leadership positions are out of their future. But not everything is lost, it takes time but it is possible to learn how to communicate effectively and be a part of the team. The following are some important characteristics of a good team member:
- Respect your coworkers, listen to their words, practice tolerance when you don’t agree with their point of view. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.
- Be honest and fair. Explain your point of view, use facts, keep the discussion professional but real. Make sure what you say and what you do are giving the same message. In other words, keep your verbal and nonverbal language on the same page. This limits confusion.
- Focus on the behavior or problem, not on the person. People become defensive when criticized personally. Keep the discussion focused on the task and the issues.
- Shares the Load. A good team member does his or her fair share of the work. Be reliable, when you say you are going to do something, do it! There is a sense of equity and fairness in the good team member, this is important for team members’ collective motivation.
- Validate others’ contributions. Compliment team members on good ideas and suggestions. This makes them feel a part of the team and encourages future participation.
The list above is not a magical solution to be a better team member. You need to know what you lack and consciously work to improve it. It is about been aware of your weaknesses and practice, practice, practice.