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How to Develop the Qualities of a Good Team Player?

We’ve all been on teams before. Have you ever been on a great team? One where you made great things, AND felt amazing while doing it? I still remember one such team I had the pleasure of working with. I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning and was still energized when I went home at night.

The staying power of teams – what keeps them going for the long run – comes from within the team.


Good teams don’t happen by chance. They take a lot of work. Some of that work and effort comes from the people who put the team together (leadership, volunteer organizers, or others). But the staying power of teams – what keeps them going for the long run – comes from within the team.


I’ve been reading “Teams that Work” by Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas. They have a lot of great information about how to help good groups of people become awesome teams. One definite element is that the people in the teams need the appropriate skill sets. I’m not talking about only the ability to do the tasks that the team is built for. There are team-focused skills that take thought and effort as well.

While Tannenbaum and Salas have a lot of great information on how to help create great teams, one piece that I think is most helpful is their list of recommendations for being a great team member. I'm going to share all 10 over the next few posts with some of my thoughts and experiences.


Stay alert; be aware of what’s going on in your team, where it’s headed, and how you can help.


In agile communities, there has long been encouragement to keep teams co-located. While remote and distributed teams are much more common now, one lost benefit of a common team room was the ability to understand what everyone else was working on. Since I was in the same room, when someone asked Kevin about the payment process he was working on, I couldn’t help but hear about it, and know enough to be able to answer on Kevin’s behalf if he wasn’t available.


And keeping a common vision front and center is always important. Whether you are part of a team or working individually, having the end goal in mind helps you track what’s important to do to get there.


Ask “How can I help” and offer to provide support without waiting to be asked or told to do so.


As children, we are so proud when we can do something on our own. And in many situations, we are more than ready to offer assistance to others, or even ask for it. I think there’s something about the work environment, however, that makes us reluctant to offer or seek aid in any way. I still remember when, as a junior developer, I was banging my head against a problem for a good day before I was willing to admit that I needed help. A ten-minute conversation, and about thirty minutes of programming solved my issues. I could’ve saved myself a lot of pain and frustration if I had asked a little earlier.


I also know that there can be a negative effect when there are too many requests for assistance, so am a staunch supporter of good and useful documentation, as well as a little bit of effort before asking for assistance. One team I worked with came up with the recommendation that team members should at least spend one hour poking around to find an answer before reaching out to the (very busy) staff engineer.


Seek ways to adapt and improve – both personally and for the team.


As an agile coach, I understand the benefits of well-run, regular retrospectives. So, it was no surprise to me that Tannenbaum and Salas called out the benefits of debriefs – or regular opportunities to improve not just the tasks, but the teamwork. As I’ve started my own business, I find that regular reflection can certainly assist me in understanding where I am and where I’ve succeeded – or fallen short – in reaching goals.


Maybe it’s because agile concepts are so much a part of my life now, but I find that even a short daily reflection on what I could have done to reduce effort has been helpful. It helps me stay focused on what matters most.


Stay tuned for another couple of posts describing other team-based skills.

I'll post more next week!

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