Learning how to be a good team player can help you achieve your work goals and get along better with your coworkers. So why do we often find it hard to work with others?
When trying to complete an important project, it’s easy to feel like you can only trust yourself to get the job done. You might work long hours, leave your coworkers off of important email threads, or make decisions without input from others. Though seems like the more efficient way to get things done, in the long run, it can harm you and your career.
Even if your coworkers are difficult to be around, you have to learn how to be a good team player. Everyone, from entry-level workers to entrepreneurs, has to work with other people to achieve their goals. You even need teamwork skills in your personal life — have you ever tried to decide where to eat dinner with your friends, only to have one person try to control the discussion?
From networking to emotional support, your “team” is comprised of people who can make or break your goals. Everyone has different strengths, and you can’t follow your dreams without the right people by your side. Plus, if you don’t work well with others, you could burn out from the effort of trying to do everything alone.
So how can you learn how to be a good team player? Let’s dive into what makes a great team member and 10 tips for improving your teamwork skills at work.
The characteristics of a good team member
Being a good collaborator takes more than just being liked by your colleagues. Sometimes it’s about making tough decisions for the benefit of the group or being the dissenting voice in a controversial meeting. Above all, a good team player has the following characteristics:
Accountability. Effective team players are accountable to themselves and to others. They take responsibility for their actions or mistakes and understand how their choices impact the team.
Flexibility. Adapting to change is a critical part of a team’s success. Strong collaborators are willing to take on new challenges to support their peers and tweak deadlines for the greater good.
Positivity. A positive mental attitude keeps morale high. Teams value people who exude optimism.
Commitment. Successful team players believe in the group’s processes and team goals. They stand in solidarity with the rest of their members.
Integrity. The value of integrity is important in a team setting. A good colleague doesn’t just say “yes” to everything — they push back on ideas they think go against the team’s values.
Why should you learn to be a good team player?
Forbes listed “collaboration” as one of the top 10 skills employers look for in their employees — and with good reason. Collaborative team dynamics, where members feel safe to share ideas and lean on their partners, encourage productivity, efficiency, and innovation.
Teamwork also improves employee morale and overall well-being, as everyone feels valued and knows they can ask for help.
Collaboration is sought-after by employers, so consider expressing how you’re a team player on your resume and when answering interview questions. Bolster your collaboration skills with stats and team accomplishments.
10 tips to be a good team player
People often misunderstand what makes a great team player. They think collaboration means saying yes to everything, not having boundaries, and never pushing back on bad ideas. But in reality, the opposite is true.
You have the ability to be an intelligent and capable member of a team. That means you shouldn’t be afraid of speaking up when needed. In fact, it’s probably expected of you. You need to recognize that you’re a valuable contributor and can participate in decision-making.
Here are 10 tips on how to be a better team player in the workplace:
1. Be a good communicator
Healthy communication skills are vital to your professional development. Actively listening, relaying your ideas clearly, and taking and receiving feedback effectively will help you advance quicker and connect with your team.
Strong communicators also know how to check in with themselves and others so they’re always on the same wavelength. This means being self-aware, practicing empathy, and improving emotional regulation. You can support others better if you understand your biases and triggers and can put yourself in their shoes.
2. Be a problem-solver
Your team will face challenges. Critical thinking and problem-solving are essential to collaborate effectively and overcome these hurdles. Be ready to suggest creative solutions when brainstorming with your colleagues.
3. Know your role (and your limits)
You should know what’s expected of you and how your role fits within the team. You should also be realistic about how much you can take on. Others depend on you, so make sure you can deliver.
4. Take initiative
Taking the initiative means helping prevent problems before they happen. It also means addressing them as soon as they appear, if and when they do. Be ready to spring into action before someone asks you to. Your initiative may inspire others to be more proactive.
5. Stick to your deadlines
Someone is waiting for you to finish your work so they can do theirs. Use your time management skills so you don’t let them down. This will make you a valuable and dependable team player.
6. Know your strengths
Most projects go through a planning phase where everyone’s assigned tasks. Be transparent about your abilities and help people understand how you can contribute. Ask for jobs that take advantage of your skillset.
7. Support and be supported
High-performing teams feel supported and validated by one another. Motivate your team by sharing positive feedback, expressing gratitude for their hard work, and asking them often if they need help. Just make sure you don’t take on more than you can chew.
8. Share information
Found a useful online resource? Send it to your team. Worked on similar projects before? Share your experience. This information exchange will help everyone produce better work and problem-solve difficult challenges easier.
9. Understand your team’s objectives
You can easily hinder progress toward shared goals if you don’t know about or comprehend them. Make sure you understand overall objectives to gain perspective on your tasks and understand how your work depends on others.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do I understand the company’s overall mission?
- Does my manager know what I’m prioritizing and why?
- How do my deadlines affect my teammates’ progress?
10. Be open-minded
Teamwork is about bringing together a diverse set of individuals with unique perspectives and skills. Practice mental flexibility by being open to different approaches and techniques. You’ll learn something new and encourage your coworkers to share innovative ideas.
With these tips in mind, you’re on your way to proving yourself as the ideal team player.
Perfect balance: Leadership versus collaboration
Being a good team player is about balancing leadership and collaboration. You’re a vital part of the team, even if you’re not the team lead.
Remember that no matter your role, you can’t build a successful team if you don’t trust each other. Your job is to help one another shine — and you don’t need to be a team leader to make that happen.
Being a follower
At work, you know how important it is to have a manager that can handle pressure while regulating their emotions and supporting their team. A good leader inspires a team to follow their example and keeps their door open for feedback. If you know that someone has your back, you might be more willing to take risks that can benefit the team.
Even if you’re not in charge, you can demonstrate integrity and ambition. Your leadership skills can still shine through as you follow someone else’s lead. For example, offering solutions to problems as they arise is one way to show the spirit of leadership.
Supporting your fellow team members is also key to being a great team player. Finally, make sure that you respect your manager and listen to what they have to say — but don’t be afraid to speak up if you have an idea that will help everyone out.
Being a leader
The more you embody the spirit of a leader, the better your team will perform. You should pay attention to everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. From there, you can help delegate tasks accordingly. Don’t try to exercise power over others. Instead, influence people to be self-motivated to do their best.
Also, be sure to remain open to feedback from your team members. This will help everyone go about their work with confidence.
Don’t micromanage your team, but don’t abandon them, either. Find the right balance, and your team will thank you for it.
How to recognize bad team players
There are plenty of difficult employees to go around. You will invariably have to work with one at some point in your career. Bad teammates hurt team morale, cause resentment among group members, and overall sabotage the efficiency of the team.
Here’s how to recognize a bad teammate — and make sure you don’t become one:
1. They could care less
It feels impossible to motivate them. They don’t participate in team discussions, they’re inattentive, and they do the bare minimum to get through the day. They also produce poor-quality work.
2. Responsibility means nothing to them
They complain rather than propose solutions. They prefer to point fingers instead of sharing responsibility for a problem. If the entire group makes a mistake, poor teammates deny that they had anything to do with it.
3. It’s their way or the highway
They’re allergic to constructive criticism. They steamroll over other people’s ideas. They reject the possibility that others might have something to contribute.
4. Arrogance is their bliss
Bad colleagues dismiss other people’s ideas and double down on their point of view, even if they’re wrong. Their stubbornness brings the entire team down.
5. Jealousy comes naturally to them
Difficult coworkers are jealous when a colleague receives praise. They want to be the center of attention, even if that means bringing others down. They’ll be passive-aggressive toward that person and may even claim that person’s achievements as their own.
How to deal with a bad teammate
Working with a poor colleague can create a negative team environment. Thankfully, there are some things you can do:
And, if they become truly unbearable, you can report them to your manager.
Do you consider yourself a good team player?
These days, it’s almost impossible to be a lone wolf. Nearly all jobs require working with people. Your approach and your attitude will determine whether others enjoy working with you. Be confident in your skills, use your voice, and support your colleagues. Your team will be lucky to have you.
Learning how to be a good team player isn’t easy. Consider working with a mentor or coach who can hold you accountable along the way. They’ll work with you to set goals, develop your skills, and help you become the best team player you can be.