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How to improve as a team player

Even when you're the boss, being a team player is essential to running a smooth operation. Here is how you can improve your team skills.
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You may feel like you are an effective team player, as many of us view ourselves how we want to view ourselves, rather than trying to look at ourselves objectively. 

It doesn’t matter what level of experience you have, or what your role is within an organisation; many people need to know how much of a team player they are. If you want to ensure you are a well-oiled cog within your organisation then you should consider the following points.

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Forget the job title, what is your role? 

Now I’m not simply talking about your job description or job title, I’m talking about what you mean to the various stakeholders in the organisation. 

Do people come to you as a trouble-shooter? As a mentor? Maybe a management or leadership role is the right fit for you unless you are not comfortable being a leader, then you can still contribute as a guide to other members of staff. Perhaps you prefer to follow rather than lead, which is just as important. 

Many people have a plethora of different characteristics and are happier when working in roles which match those unique collections of traits. 

Make sure you are in the right position to match your characteristics; if you are in a leadership role but you don’t enjoy having staff coming to you for help and advice then perhaps a more back-seat management role would be more suitable. 

It is good to look objectively at yourself and what you mean to your stakeholders in order to make sure you are the right person for that job.

Don’t shoot down someone else’s ideas

One of the joys of working in a diverse team is the diverse range of ideas that will be merged. 

There will always be times where you disagree with someone’s contribution and your instant reaction could be to challenge them. Even if you refrain from responding with something like “You’re wrong” you may give other indications that you disagree such as a face expression or your body language. 

A better response would be to simply go along with their idea and be enthusiastic about it.

It is better to change someone’s opinion from their point of view. If their suggestion would result in a bad consequence then it is much kinder to be disappointed at this obstacle which came out of nowhere, making it much easier for the other person to admit their mistake and continue. 

Small gestures like this help people to “save face” rather than see you as someone who didn’t give an idea a chance in the first place. See the example below:

Shooting an idea down:

Tom: I think December 15th will be a good date for a team-building event in the city centre as the prices will be lower out of season.
Jerry: No, that’s a bad idea because the city centre will be blocked off due to the Christmas market. 

Letting them down gently:

Tom: I think December 15th will be a good date for a team-building event in the city centre as the prices will be lower out of season.
Jerry: That’s a great idea, plus it’ll be a great way to end the year before the stress of Christmas trading starts! Oh wait, doesn’t the Christmas market set up that weekend? *sigh* which means the city centre will be blocked off and packed. I’ll try and see if we can do the weekend before.
Tom: Oh I didn’t think of that. Thanks for spotting that!

Dealing with a problem

No office in the world runs smoothly enough to stop problems arising without warning. The key is how you deal with it when something is not working out. 

Make sure you don’t make it a personal issue and just focus on addressing the problem and ensuring procedures will stop it occurring in the future. Remember from my last point not to shoot ideas down, but to stumble upon the negative consequences instead. 

Also make sure you listen, which is one of the most important traits to master to be an effective team player. 

If a colleague seems to be uncertain about how to proceed with a task that you are clear on, ask them if they need assistance with the issue (without sounding patronising).

Remember that people prefer to have a task clarified by a co-worker and not their supervisor for fear of an opinion being formed of their competence in the role, so if you manage someone it is wise to have some tact. 

A final word of thought is that everyone in a team needs to show they do the best job possible regardless of job title or job description. “All hands on deck” seems to be an increasingly common setup in many work environments and getting bogged down with who is responsible for what and whose fault it is that something isn’t working is counter-productive.

Alex Carroll is careers and student welfare manager at Finance Business Training (FBT), the Birmingham division of the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF).

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