Throughout my career (and life) I’ve been on many different teams. Obviously, this implies that I’ve been a teammate to others and had many teammates of my own.
I bring this up because yesterday I had an interaction with a current teammate of mine that made me think “Wow, what a great person to work with.” This led me to wonder if anyone has ever said this about myself. Then, I began to question what really is the hallmark of a great teammate. Someone that you look forward to working with every day and someone that you would be generally sad to see join another team.
As technical people it is so easy to get caught up in our work; problems are there to be solved and it is easy to shift your focus and neglect the world outside. But becoming a great teammate can be one of the best ways to pave a great career path in the future.
So what makes an awesome teammate?
I think a good place to start when trying to answer this question would be to look back over the years of the people you know that everyone loved to work with. What were their qualities? Why did everyone like them so much? Why did youlike them so much?
Next, after you have a handful of people that you have determined were great teammates, think about the other end of the spectrum. Who were the people that you knew on teams that everyone avoided? Why did others dislike working with them? What made interacting with them so unenjoyable.
After asking myself these questions, I made a few observations.
Be positive, and have a good outlook.
This is pretty simple and should probably come as obvious. At its core though is having a good attitude and looking at each day and project as an opportunity. Not just to get a lot done, but also to make steps at being a better person. This means not just having a good attitude when you’re haveing a great day, this means even in the face of very stressful situations – like when your website goes down, or there the system stops behaving correctly during a launch event – you stay positive and calm and work together with your team to provide a solution. Getting pissed and yelling at everyone never solved any problems (but I’m sure it has created a few).
The people I recognized as good teammates were generally happy, positive people. They recognized the best in people and situations; they pulled their own weight and were enthusiastic to help when needed.
On the other hand, people that weren’t as great to work with were mostly the opposite. They had a negative attitude about the project or team or even the day of the week it was. They weren’t enthusiastic about helping others or getting out of their comfort zone. Even on sunny days when everything was going right, they still seemed to have a problem with something or somebody. Don’t be this person! Nobody wants to listen to Debbie Downer all day long.
Bring solutions, not problems
This one hits home big for me. In the beginning of my career, I used to work with someone that always had a problem with the way something was done or an idea that was brought up. This person was definitely a pessimist and if you brought up an idea or solution to him he would meticulously pick it apart and tell you all the reasons it wouldn’t work. This was especially unfortunate because he was the team lead of our project. Eventually, people stopped sharing their ideas with him in fear that it would get shut down and they would be ridiculed for bringing up such an absurd solution.
This finally got to me, and one day I asked him what he would do to address his concerns. I asked if he would start thinking about the problems from all sides, and start coming up with ideas rather than shutting everyone else’s down. Eventually, he started coming up with a list of things that could be done to mitigate the problems. Just coming up with some potential solutions makes the conversations much more pleasant.
Next time you want to tear down someone else’s idea, remember that they at least came up with an idea to try to help solve the problem (you didn’t). Unless you have something that would work better as a solution, try to find a way to mold their idea into something that could work rather than picking it apart for all the reasons that it won’t.
Always take the blame, but never take the credit.
This has been called out in Jim Collins book “Good to Great” and for good reason. This is one of the most important aspects of a good teammate and a good leader.
Everyone wants to be liked. I know I do. If you understand this about people, it can really empower you to be a better person all around.
When you achieve success, generally it was through the help of many people. Making sure you recognize this fact and never slight anyone is very key. Make sure to use “We” instead of “I” when talking about any of your accomplishments. Even if you were the one that did 99% of the work to complete a project, praise Joe for the 1% that he completed! I can guarantee that it will make a world of difference to him, and if you don’t he might even hold a grudge against you for it. People want to be appreciated, even if it is for the tiniest of tasks. Let them know that you recognize the work that they have done and are glad to have them helping you.
On the flip side, if a project fails or a major bug gets released into production, always take the blame. There is something to be said about having full ownership with everything you do in life and understanding that there is no reason to blame anyone else. Take responsibility and learn from your mistakes, even if your mistake was hiring a developer that didn’t understand that he should encrypt credit card numbers in the application and sent them over the wire in plain text…(uh-oh!).
While it may be mostly someone else’s fault, standing up and owning your part prevents others from feeling slighted. Plus, people want to work with people who own their mistakes and failures. Of course, a key part of this is also addressing the cause, or mitigating it in the future. Regardless, don’t blame other people or point fingers, real leaders and great teammates take ownership and then strive to do better next time.
(For more on taking full ownership, read this great book written by retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink –> http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Ownership-U-S-Navy-SEALs-ebook/dp/B00VE4Y0Z2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=)
These are just some of the most important qualities that I believe makes a great teammate. When you thought about the people you enjoyed working with the most, what qualities did you find? Let me know in the comments!
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