There is No "I" in Team – Except When There Is
When talking about teams, we’re conditioned to think of them traditionally as an intact group or function—the “Sales team” or the “Executive team”. However, you probably work alongside, within, or around different teams all the time either in person or virtually—whether you are a formal member of that team or not.
Traditional team training might focus on internal cohesiveness. But to succeed in an environment of rapid change, innovation, and virtual teams, the principles of good teamwork should extend to help anyone in an organization become a better teammate. After all, teams are made of individuals, and it’s the individuals on the team that set the tone for how the team works together as a whole.
The current business landscape is continually changing. Disruption and transformation are the new normal. Recently, the pandemic has altered organizational work and poses a challenge to how traditional teams work together. Teams today are formed for new and different reasons. They might be purpose-driven or project-based and that makes the need to rapidly assemble, accomplish a task, disperse, and re-assemble a more common, critical skill.
There are skills you can practice as an individual and take from team to team to help promote speed to ground, quicker onboarding, expressing trust and competency, and even gaining agreement and exploring conflicting opinions.
New to working on a virtual team? Learn more about The Five Behaviors® for Virtual Teams
To help teams succeed, individuals need to take the behaviors and characteristics of good teamwork from team to team and encourage a culture that focuses on collaboration and results.
how do you reframe teamwork behaviors into more personal actions?
A popular team development model that I like is “The Five Behaviors®” by Pat Lencioni. You can use it to hold yourself accountable to become a better teammate (or encourage your employees to do the same), with a foundation of the knowledge of good teamwork behaviors plus a little encouragement and self-awareness.
If no one has taught you how to become a good teammate, this is an excellent place to start. Starting with trust and working toward results, this model helps reframe teamwork on an individual level. It all begins with you.
Here are some tips on each of the five behaviors (trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results):
Explore what it means to you to "trust” your team and how you would build it—what do you need to create trust, and what do you expect in return? Trust is not about predicting behavior or “reading a room”, it is about being vulnerable, letting down those first barriers, and asking for help when needed. You might be open to new situations, whereas others might be reserved. Are you a dip your toe in the water person, or do you jump straight in? Are you the person who makes others feel heard, or the one who talks the loudest?
Once trust is formed, you can more comfortably wrangle with conflict in a positive, productive way. If you trust someone, you are more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and debate concepts and ideas instead of feeling defensive. Productive conflict means voicing your opinion at the risk of causing disagreement, but also seeking out the views of the other individuals on your team and building toward consensus.
People will not commit if they have not had the opportunity to voice an opinion, ask questions, understand the decision-making process, or see the goal and understand the rationale for it. If conflict is engaged in—meaning options are weighed, discussed, and debated over, and all team members feel they have had their perspectives considered, individuals can more confidently move into commitment, buy-in, and decision making. This doesn’t mean everyone gets their “way", or even that everyone gets to own a piece of the decision-making progress. It means that decisions feel more comfortable because everyone’s ideas have been heard and their ideas were taken into consideration. If you have ever been on a team where you or someone left the meeting and said, “well, I didn’t give my opinion because I didn't want to overstep” or, “well, no one listened to me” then it might be time to revisit trust.
You and your individual teammates are bought in, so now what? It takes courage to hold each other accountable. On a traditional team, it might be ‘the boss' or your manager, but not in more matrix organizations or project-based teams, it’s up to you. Building on the commitment piece, the next step is understanding how you hold yourself and others accountable when hierarchy isn’t an option. It should be reassuring that because you have taken the time to build trust, engage in conflict, and embrace commitment, accountability shouldn’t be too hard to call out. But it is still difficult. Team members are not always going to default to accountability or automatically do everything they say they are going to do. This skill is about feeling comfortable holding another to their promised performance or behavior.
Gauge where you sit on the scale of “keep the peace” vs. “address problems head-on” to assess your personal comfort level and work from there. Even if a commitment was made wholeheartedly, you still may find yourself needing to offer constructive feedback or perhaps feeling pressure from others about you having to perform if you are the one not keeping the pace.
The project is over. The deadline was met. You may already even be re-assembling on a different team. But did everyone keep pace? Holding one another accountable bolsters results so one person isn’t scrambling to do all the work or left waiting or wishing for a different outcome. The ultimate goal of encouraging all the prior behaviors is for the team to achieve results.
The results from taking a personal development approach to team behaviors aren’t that YOU succeed, however, it is that the team succeeded. Your ability to be a good team member individually propels the team toward its goal instead of helping you personally win the race. Team success means valuing collective success over individual triumphs, being willing to make decisions for the benefit of the team and not for ego, valuing the achievements of others, and taking responsibility to improve as a team.