4 Ways To Be An Effective Team Member

4 Ways To Be An Effective Team Member

Posted by on Monday, January 11th, 2016  


There are a number of pictures going around on social media depicting characteristics of a boss versus those of a leader. In some of these images, a boss is pictured above the team and leaders are depicted as those down in the trenches with the team.

In other images, the boss column has a list of negative traits while a leader has a list of positive traits. While there are admirable qualities and concepts around this vision, I believe it stems from the evolution of societal rebellion against those “in charge”. Everyone wants to criticize those in charge. Certainly, the command and control style is often contradictory to agile development and the days of bosses running roughshod over and taking advantage of employees in a vacuum (with no oversight or pushback) are hopefully gone or at least dwindling.

Indirectly related to the boss vs leader discussion, there are many articles on the web about how to form a team. The vast majority of articles on forming teams that I’ve read, are focused on the leader, the manager, the front person (whatever is your flavor of the week term). Often these self-help articles have 5 points of how to be a better team leader or 7 mistakes you’re making when leading your team. And yes, leaders can always improve. This focus is good and necessary, but what about the team members themselves? Who is expecting them to improve?

What I don’t often see is a call to action for team members. Well, here it is. I expect team members to value certain things. If they do not, they are not leadership material. Furthermore, if I experience a team member who doesn’t strive to value this list below, it gives me pause and leads me to question if I still need them on my team. Bottom line, if you are on my team, I expect you to engage with your fellow team members and me to work toward our project goals as peers.

Call to Action #1: There is no I in team.

It’s basic. We’ve all heard it before. But what this phrase means is lost on many people. Let me be more specific. Most young people that I have worked with do not understand what this means. Hello millennials, I’m talking to you!

Certainly this is not relegated to a certain generation, but the pattern I see more and more is that younger generations look to do the flashier tasks, the cool and new technology and shy away from the mundane tasks or the tried and true methods. They think they know everything and so rarely, if ever, use the phrase “I don’t know” but rather want to argue with experienced and seasoned veterans with little facts or thought behind their argument. And if those mundane tasks are assigned to them, they complain to anyone who will listen. It’s hard to grow with that attitude because mundane tasks are at the core of every single technical project we face as consultants.

At its core, the phrase reminds us to not work alone but work together with others for the purpose of accomplishing something. Two basic points I wish to make, certainly not all encompassing, about this concept:

  1. You will have opportunity to volunteer for mundane tasks that have to be done, someone’s got to do them on the project, but they are not the flashiest or most public aspects of the project. To be a good team member, volunteer for those tasks often. The best leaders are servants; they are willing to do the menial tasks that have to be done. And the best leaders are also good team members.
  2. If you’re the lone wolf, you are losing out on opportunities to leave a legacy. There are a few engineers and software developers that I had the pleasure to work with early in my career. I don’t know where they are now (quite frankly it was before texting and Facebook), but I remember those few because they taught me. They did not look out for their own personal interests or hoard their time and knowledge, but they helped me learn things that I didn’t know at the time I needed to learn. I tip my cap to those who spent time with me and left a tiny legacy of knowledge and growth with me. I strive to do the same with those younger than me. I’m willing to teach if you’re willing to learn. That statement doesn’t mean that I claim to know everything, but as Voltaire wrote: “Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?”

Call to Action 2: Be transparent.

As a project manager, I am always asking people what tasks are remaining on a project or what is left on this phase for it to be complete. I rarely get an answer that is understandable. Sometimes I’m told that the person is done with the task, but when I ask for a demo, they can’t. We used to have a saying at a previous job “Is it done or done done?” If you don’t understand something, being a good team member requires honesty and openness. Using the phrase “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” is perfectly acceptable. We are not born with knowledge. In fact, I respect someone who tells me they aren’t sure, don’t know or that they need help.

Task decomposition, being able to define what tasks are left to be done, is a critical concept that requires someone to break down the large task into steps. If you cannot do this, then you can’t do the work well. In that case, you don’t truly know when the work is done. Being transparent includes being able to estimate for your team leader how long you have on a task or what blocks you currently have on a feature. Not stating these things is hiding them and that is lying and is not the mark of a good team member. A person of integrity does not lie – whether maliciously or out of innocent ignorance. I don’t want you on my team if you can’t be transparent with me. I cannot trust you, I cannot rely on you and I can’t accurately status a customer without transparency from my team members.

Call to Action 3: 2 heads are better than 1.

There are very few roles and jobs that call for a person to make decisions in a vacuum. Collaboration is a must. As a team member, you cannot be too proud to ask for help or ask for a review. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a design laid out except for one part that alludes me and I explained it to someone else only to realize through their fresh take on the problem that there was a better way to do other aspects that I thought I’d already nailed. Humans need others. Everyone needs a sounding board. Discussions make us smarter. Even if we do not change our thoughts, beliefs or design, the mere defense of them helps us. Don’t be too proud to ask for a review and take any criticism in stride.

Call to Action 4: Stop being selfish.

This is the golden rule. Treat others how you would like to be treated.

  • Do you insist on using your speakerphone with your door open?
  • Are you the kind of person who walks down to someone’s office and stands in the doorway to talk instead of looking at their Skype status or calendar to determine if they have time for you?
  • Do you tell others to call meetings when you are perfectly capable of that administrative task? Is requesting your own meeting beneath you?
  • Are you the kind of person who waltzes into work whenever you feel like it and leaves when you want without at least telling your manager?
  • Do you call meetings with people the day of? Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but often it shows a lack of planning and care for the other person’s day.
  • Do you expect others to stop what they are doing whenever you want to talk?
  • Do you complain about little things that deep down don’t matter to your course of business?
  • Do you constantly give your team leader flack about things they cannot control?
  • Are you behind in your own work so much that you miss or cancel meetings with others at the last minute?

Think of others first. Don’t insist on your own way when it negatively affects others. This is basic teamwork. Look out for your teammates and don’t insist on just being you when it’s offensive, degrading or distracting to others.

These 4 calls to action will make you a better team member. You may be tech savvy. Your resume might be flawless.

But if you don’t strive to implement these 4 calls to action, I won’t ask you to be part of my team.



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