Teamwork has been a hot topic in business since the 1980s, when an onslaught of management consulting books, videos and training courses became de rigueur for CEOs and led to thousands of trust falls and ropes course exercises. Not surprisingly, there were no magic bullets then, just as there are none in our more technologically-complex era.
Businesses continue their efforts to build a team-oriented culture that successful athletic programs create instinctively. The astute organizations recognize that a flourishing team-oriented culture is unattainable without team members who perform individually while increasing the value delivered by the whole. What characteristics, then, make a great teammate, in a company, athletic team, music or drama group, or university?
- Exceptional Performer: the best way for an individual to help the team is to do his or her job extremely well.
- Single skill or versatile: The story of the hedgehog, who knows one thing very well, and the fox, who knows many things, offers an interesting application to business and teamwork.
- In some cases, a team benefits from a member’s individual brilliance (hedgehog), e.g. when the firm’s core competency is a specialized product like product development or research.
- In the majority of cases, teammates without these unique gifts can contribute by adapting to the team’s needs, backing up colleagues and filling gaps as needed (fox).
- Reliability +: Every high-performing team welcomes that colleague who has Cal Ripken-like dependability, always meeting the job requirements and frequently exceeding them.
- “Just do it:” Nike made it a slogan, and a great teammate makes it happen, finishing a project by grit, determination, or whatever is needed in that particular case.
- Cultural Fit: Many team members with outstanding skills and knowledge don’t make the impact expected because they have a different ethos or mentality than the core team. While high-performing teams are open to varying styles, most great teammates are in sync with the team’s broader culture.
- Looks in the mirror first: “Blamers” have been around since the dawn of humanity, and these blood-suckers subtly drain a team of life. Great teammates are the antithesis, taking responsibility for their actions and even protecting worthy colleagues who are under duress.
- Integrity: Of course.
- Comes through in the clutch: Most enduring work is created in the crucible of deadlines and pressure, so a great teammate must do his or her best work in the most demanding conditions.
- Commitment to the team: Great teammates put the team’s interests above their own, which often means doing those unpleasant but necessary tasks that others shun and accepting a lower profile. While these teammates are very loyal, they have self-respect too, and great teams find ways to reward them and keep them on board.
- Communicative Collaborator: Top team players instinctively look to work with others in addressing problems and developing solutions. In doing so, they tend to be good not only at clear communications but also at the broader need, which is knowing how, when, and with whom to communicate.