I hate to say it, but I think one of the major contributing factors to ageism is not being able to become a part of the team at work. This doesn’t mean we have to go out partying after work – unless you want to of course. It does mean finding ways to build positive working relationships with people of all ages.
If you haven’t read the Harvard Business Review article “Collaboration Overload”, check it out. My big takeaway from the piece is that employees spend more time collaborating than ever before. And that the skills it takes to be a good collaborator are different than being a high-level contributor. So, one of the qualities that can make us an effective team player is learning how to become a better collaborator. Here are 10 things to focus on:
- Communicate! I know, I know. Communication always shows up on these lists. But effective communication with the team is important. It’s how we present ideas, provide feedback, and ultimately accomplish goals. One aspect of communication that’s particularly important is empathy. Try to remember what it was like being in your younger colleagues’ shoes. Being a good team player means having empathy for others and using it when delivering messages.
- Balance the positive and negative. I’m one of those people who believes that life isn’t always positive nor is it always negative. Knowing when to be the skeptic and when to be the cheerleader is important. We run the risk stopping momentum if we don’t know how to motivate people. I’m not saying don’t present your concerns but figure out how to do it where the other person doesn’t lose their zest for the project.
- Think about work flows. Sometimes one of the most valuable things a team player can do is explain how things get done in their department or the company. Not always what the policy is – although that can be helpful too – but how things really get done. If you’ve been working at the company for a long time, you probably already know this. Being a good team player means not only knowing how things work around the office but being able to suggest new and better ways of doing things.
- Be organized. I realize that I’m a ridiculously organized person but there’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting watching someone fumble around for stuff. It’s painful for others to watch and for the person being watched. Disorganization can be confused for not caring and being respectful of others’ time. When meeting with other members of the team, take a few moments to prepare. Don’t assume that everything is immediately accessible.
- Work outside of your department, company, and industry. If you work in a perfectly cohesive team right now, congratulations! Your working situation is rare. And dare I say, not helping you get better at team development. Working on a team can be challenging, frustrating, and downright hard. It can also be incredibly fulfilling, educational, and lots of fun. Regardless of your years of experience, look for opportunities to work on teams that will give you both.
- Set the right priorities. High performing teams accomplish their goals because everyone on the team has the same priorities. Are your priorities the same as the rest of the team? If they’re not, ask yourself “Why?” Do you need to have a conversation with the team leader about your concerns? Are you the right person to be on the team? But if you haven’t bought in to what the team is doing, then you owe it to yourself and the team to find out why.
- Meet your deadlines and keep your promises. Your credibility as a team member is important. The quickest way to lose it is by not being a person of your word. I understand that stuff happens but that’s no excuse for leaving the team waiting. Renegotiate your commitments when necessary. The team wants to count on you because, at some point, you’ll need to count on them. Set the example you want to see in others.
- Understand your influence. Everyone has power and influence. Everyone. It’s important to realize that and use your influence for positive outcomes. Not only is it bad to use your power for the wrong reasons but it’s equally bad to not use your influence when you could. In those situations, the rest of the team knows that you can change a situation and you didn’t step up.
- Have fun. Whenever I see lists, have fun is always seems to be the final one. Let me suggest that being a part of a team should be fun. Yes, there will be tough days. But you really should have more fun days than tough days. The team should find ways to have fun, laugh, and celebrate their successes. Building some kind of bond with the rest of the team will help everyone become better team players.
- Respect others even when you disagree with them. I read somewhere that “Dream teams are made up of diversity not sameness.” No matter what happens on the team, the individuals on the team should be treated with respect. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. In fact, the team might need to disagree to produce their best work. But you can raise questions, show concern, and disagree with respect.
Even employees who are considered “individual contributors” have to work on teams. We all must have the ability to work with others. And it takes effort to do that.
I find that lists like these are good reminders for me about all of the things I need to do to be a good team player. Because it’s hard. Somedays I’m very focused on being organized. Then somedays, I might be focused on deadlines. It happens. The good news is if we’re all focused on being a good team player, then the other members of the team are too.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Las Vegas, NV