How to Be a Better Team Member

  • 4 mins read

Most everyone is part of a team. And most of us try to be fair, accepting, helpful, and supportive of our teammates. And yet we frequently encounter problems interacting with others, in spite of shared values and common goals. Why is that?

“We have a strong and natural tendency to look out for ourselves before others, even when those others are part of our families and our teams.” ~ Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, (Jossey Bass, 2012)

Teams are made up of fallible human beings, all with self-interest and self-preservation on their minds. If that were not enough, people also have strong competitive drives that lead them to put themselves first in an effort to “win.” Those who are less competitive feel threatened, and react with their own defensive stances.

And that is how well-meaning team members end up distracted from goals and collaboration.

Once self-preservation kicks in, it spreads to other members like a contagious disease; it erodes team spirit causing trust to disintegrate. Because trust is foundational for team members to work together effectively, things can quickly go wrong.

As an individual team member, what can you do when you sense friction that could derail your team’s effectiveness?

What Would a Navy Seal Do?

Brent Gleeson, writing in Forbes magazine in an article, “5 Habits That Effective Team Members Should Never Outgrow(April 27, 2014), explains that in order to become a member of the Seal’s elite military group, one has to excel in many individual efforts. More importantly, however, Navy Seals must learn to operate as a team in life-or-death missions. Here are five habits anyone can adopt to become a better team member.

  1. Put others before yourself. Ask yourself daily what you will do to add value to your team and the organization as a whole. It can be a small thing; a simple gesture or offering of your assistance with a project.
  2. Reflect on your actions. Overly reflective people often spend too much time over-analyzing their actions. But imagine if you could harness this habit into something highly valuable? Sometimes the smallest task you are responsible for can make or break the success of your team. Remind yourself how your actions affect the entire team’s success.
  3. Be obsessively organized. Some of us innately have this ability, often to a fault, and some have to work at it a bit more. Find a process that works for you. Good team members, especially team leaders, must be organized in order to support the team’s objectives.
  4. Assume you don’t know enough. Because you don’t. Any effective team member understands that their training is never complete. Personal and professional development is critical for continued success. Those who spend time inside and outside the workplace developing their knowledge and skills will provide momentum for their team’s forward progress.
  5. Never get comfortable. Always push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you do this continually with every task you take on, that boundary will continue to widen. This process will ensure that you are continually maximizing your potential which will positively impact your team.

Learn to Embrace Conflict

If everyone on your team agrees on everything, you may be heading for failure. Perhaps you’ve worked too hard to achieve consensus. You may have inadvertently created an environment of groupthink, where good ideas get ignored in order to avoid conflict.

“There’s no point in collaboration without tension, disagreement, or conflict. What we need is collaboration where tension, disagreement, and conflict improve the value of the ideas, expose the risks inherent in the plan, and lead to enhanced trust among the participants.” ~ Liane Davis, “If Your Team Agrees on Everything, Working Together Is Pointless,” HBR, January 31, 2017.

Giving people permission to challenge, disagree, and argue isn’t enough. To be a good team member requires you actually practice constructive debate and tolerance of others’ ideas and differences.

If you aren’t good with conflict, you can learn to be. One of the best ways to expand your skills to improve team member effectiveness is to work with a professional coach.

As Walter Lippmann said, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”

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