If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen “I’m a team player” in a CV, I’d probably be one of the richest people in the world. In my post on lies we tell in our CV, I mentioned that this was one of the very popular lies. Sometimes, I think that people really do not know what it means to be a team player.
Like you all know, there is no “I” in “team“. To be a good team player, you have to set aside your personal goals. It is not about showmanship. Working in a team means working together with other members of your team to achieve the common goal. Most times, this goal is to solve a client or employer’s problem.
Take a basketball team or a football (soccer) team for instance. No matter how driven or talented you are, you need your teammates to succeed. Without his teammates, I’m sure we won’t know people like Steph Curry, Lionel Messi or even Christiano Ronaldo. I was watching El Classico (for the non-football fans, this is a football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid football clubs) with my husband a few weeks ago, and I kept commenting on how sublime their passes were. Each player exemplified what it meant to be a team player. (Totally unrelated, but Real Madrid won the match).
In our various organisations, being a team player is a very good trait to have. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to think that, being in a team, means showcasing your individual talent. Nope, not really. Team spirit is essentially all about effectively combining your talent with that of your teammates.
Being a team player also doesn’t mean that you relax, while the others do the entire work. A lot of people are guilty of this as well. I worked on a particular transaction last year involving a possible acquisition of one of the then bridge banks in Nigeria. The partner in charge put together a team to work on this transaction. The lawyers were 12, I think.
So, we got down to the nitty gritty of the job. We put ourselves in groups assigning tasks to each group. Each group had a leader. If your group failed to complete a particular task effectively, the group leader gets the blame. At the end of each activity, the leaders would combine notes and come up with either freshly drafted agreements or legal opinions. It wasn’t long before we realised that some members of the group were not actively participating.
Some of them would submit shoddy work to the group leader, comfortable in the knowledge that the group leader would practically redo the whole thing before submitting. When this pattern continued, we informed the partner in charge of the transaction, and these people were kicked off the team. At the end, we were only 3 that completed the transaction.Team spirit is all about combining your talent with others Click To Tweet
In all honesty, working with different people on a project requires a bit of skill. Your teammates are coming with their own baggage which they fail to toss out of the window. Petty issues like who should be the team leader crop up. A funny thing happened in my office a few months ago. It was funny to me because I was not part of that team. The team was put together for a particular transaction and someone was made the team lead. Unfortunately for her, some of the members of the team were her seniors at the Bar (a very ridiculous tradition that the Nigerian legal system should throw away, in my opinion).
The reason my colleague was made the team lead was because she had done a couple of similar transactions. Anyway, it wasn’t long before they started bickering amongst themselves. Things like, “why should you question my work“, “I don’t like your tone“, “this is the way I’ve been doing this work since I joined this firm” etc. These people were competing with each other, as opposed to working together.
To be a good team player, you need to work with your teammates. How do you do this? I’ve found that it works to always brainstorm on the particular project/task with teammates. This helps to demystify the project/task, and also allows everybody contribute their ideas. After the brainstorming session, tasks are then assigned with a deadline for completion. When these tasks are submitted, everybody goes through it and comments where necessary.
I’ve applied this technique in a couple of transactions, and it has really worked. Remember that not everybody will understand the project, hence the need for a brainstorming session. And when responding to questions, avoid sounding superior.
This is very important, especially when you have a contrary opinion. The team leader has to set the tone for team meetings. I tease my colleagues a lot, especially when we are working on a transaction together. At our meetings, we crack jokes, laugh, and then get serious. It reduces tension, and allows people to speak freely. This informal setting works very well.
Contrast this with a more formal setting where everyone is trying to outdo each other. Ideas are stifled, and people will prefer not to say anything than be made to look like a fool.
There’s nothing more depressing than attending team meetings where you are the only one actively participating. I’ll admit, I use to be one of those people who kept mute at team meetings. Unless I’m asked a question, I won’t say anything. Even when I’m asked for my opinion, I’ll just gloss over the fact without going into too much detail.
Now that I’ve had the opportunity of leading a few teams, it gets to me when my other teammates are not participating. So, when you find yourself in a team, participate. Ask questions, seek clarification. Whatever it is, talk. Let people know that you are not just there to answer “present“. One of the partners in my firm puts it this way, “all of you will just be looking at me talk without participating. At the end of the day, you will go and put “part of the team that worked on xxx transaction in your CV“”. I laughed the day he said this, but it is true.
People’s style of working is different. In a team of different people with different backgrounds, you will get this. The most important thing is to accept each other’s style of working. In so far as it is not negatively impacting on the project/task at hand. I have this friend who is gifted with words. I go to her most of the time to review my work. She knows how to put the words together, it’s uncanny. When you have someone like that on your team, it is a no-brainer what her task would be. After putting together a rough draft of the agreement/opinion/whatever, her job will be to fine tune it, and submit a solid document.
Someone else may know how to play a devil’s advocate. There are people gifted with this talent of poking holes in what would have otherwise been a good idea/argument. When you have someone like that on your team, build your case and get him/her to poke holes in it. This helps you to put together a solid case. This talent is extremely useful where you have a dispute (if you are a lawyer).
At the end of the day, you must be able to meet agreed deadlines. This is the hallmark of a good team player. If for any cogent reason you are unable to meet the deadline, inform your team leader ahead of time. This is to enable your team leader inform the client, if necessary, and ask for an extension. There is nothing more frustrating than not meeting deadlines, and also not informing the team leader.
The one that goads me the most is after sending countless reminders to teammates, some come back with excuses as to why they were not able to meet the deadline. I always ask them, “why didn’t you say something? Why wait till I’ve sent the fifth reminder?”
In concluding, I am by no means telling anyone to toe the party line when you don’t believe in the idea. Always voice your concerns, that is the whole essence of a team. State your mind, and when it is ignored or overlooked, put it on record. Send an email (polite email) voicing your concerns and why you think xxx idea will not work. This way, it is on record that you said something.
Have you been part of a team? Are you a good team player? What was your experience like?