Becoming a Successful Team Member
The Importance of Team Work
Working as part of a team is a given in nearly all organizations. Even if one is a consultant one is more often than not working as part of a team. It can sometimes be a frustrating experience for many very talented and capable people. Often individual goals have to be deferred to meet team goals. Plus working with others requires lots of patience and understanding. When teams are working well it can be very enjoyable and bonding experience. Strong friendships often result and it can produce many long-term career benefits. Most people enjoy working with others. Man is after all a social animal! However, it can turn stressful when there is work to be done and time is limited. We do not like the situation where our future and reputation possibly depend on work done by others who may have their own needs and agendas. How does one work well and happily in a team and become a good team player?
It is important to understand that a work team is a very powerful beast. When functioning well teams can be highly productive and very effective. People working together can achieve much more pooling their talents and resources than working alone. On the other hand a very dysfunctional team can have equally destructive effects on both the organization and the individual. This makes it crucial to get teams working well together as soon as possible. Issues and problems need to be sorted out soon otherwise they can turn toxic to the team and possibly spread to the rest of the organization. Team leaders and management have a big role to play in making teams work together successfully. Team members too have a lot of responsibility in making things work.
Making it Work
- Get an idea of the team goals, responsibilities and timelines: Try to meet with supervisors and senior managers to get an idea of what they wish the team to do and when. This is a very crucial element of success. If we have a mistaken notion of what is important we are going to be very unhappy & disappointed when the team's work is considered a failure because it did not achieve goals or schedules that team did not know about.
- How will success be measured: Understanding what is defined as success will help us marshal our resources and not waste them on items that are not very important. Sometimes even if the team is unable to find a solution, senior management may consider it a success, as one of the goals may have been to identify solutions that would not work!
- How is information to be provided to stakeholders: This is another crucial item. While all of us may dislike the drudgery of regular reporting it plays an important role in helping our stakeholders have a good handle on the project. Nervous stakeholders who do not understand what is happening can itself put the team at risk. Imagine investing your money in a company that does not seem to have any results or information to report. At some point you will be tempted to sell your stock, as you have no idea whether they are going forward or not!
- Who in the team is responsible for what: Knowing everyone's roles and responsibilities will help reduce conflicts and finger pointing. It also gives each team member some sense of control and ownership that is highly conducive to great work.
- How does one handle issues and escalate them for resolution: This is another item that can help things from breaking down. A well-understood process for handling issues and escalating them can help ensure that things do not get swept under the carpet or cause items to be blown out of proportion possibly causing hard feelings.
- Be proactive in handling problems: Try to handle problems quickly rather than avoiding them till it is too late. If they are not your own problems, see if you can help other members who may be struggling with these issues. Their delays are your delays since you are part of a team. Maybe you can take on some other items off an overloaded team member.
- Try to be as tolerant as possible: Remember that everyone has his or her faults as well as good points. At the same time realize when things may be going out of control. Discreetly bring this up with team management if you cannot resolve it directly with team members. Avoid being confrontational; people will resist criticism on anything that seems personal. You could try to recommend changes in a process oriented way. For example a co-worker may not be able to complete a task on time or the quality of work leaves a lot to be desired. Discreetly check if this is due to too much of a workload, a lack of skills or unwillingness to do the work. Too much workload could be resolved by rebalancing work within the team or trying to reduce project scope or increase time and resources. A lack of skills can be addressed by training or support from more skilled members. Unwillingness to work can be due to a variety of reasons. Try to find out what they are. In many cases they could be issues that can be addressed in other ways e.g. unhappy with tasks given, had a fight with a co-worker, family problems and so on.
- Keep team leaders, management and other members in the loop as often as possible. While it may seem attractive to go off a do ones own thing for several weeks, making sure that everyone knows what you are doing will help ensure that your work products are considered useful and will not be thrown away because they are not what was required. It can help to circulate around among the team, go out for lunch together, request opportunities to publicly speak about one's work. The last option is a great way to highlight your skills and talents. It also benefits the organization since others get a chance to learn what you know.
Working as part of a winning team can be an exhilarating experience. The strong team dynamics make it very enjoyable for all and can benefit the organization in many ways. Tough problems have a way of getting solved and team members learn many useful and valuable skills as well as make many strong friendships. The techniques outlined above can help make your team a winning team. Good luck!
Copyright © 2002 Sanjay Murthi
Sanjay Murthi is President of SMGlobal Inc. He has over fourteen years of experience in the software industry in a variety of roles and responsibilities. He now helps companies to review and improve their software definition, development and delivery process. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.