When we talk about team work, when we read about team performance, there is a lot of talk about how to form a team, how to lead a team, how to appeal to its strengths, how to observe behaviour and identify dysfunction so that they could be corrected. Or optimised.
There are umpteen models that explain teams in the hope of making teams successful. And all that’s great.
It feels like all the talk about teams out there is geared towards those who have teams.
But teams aren’t just made of team managers. Teams are made of people.
Being part of a team
When I looked up about being a member of a team or a being a “team player”, I found a lot of it was strengths based (which is great and positive). A lot of it read like situational leadership, so each member of the team adapts their leadership style to facilitate that of others (which made me wonder about reciprocal leadership again; but that’s besides the point).
It makes sense, but it’s still about someone taking the lead and doing something to the team.
I didn’t find anything about how to follow; about how to do something with the team.
What I didn’t see is something that I believe is key to improving the quality of being a team player.
Be aware and be honest
It’s fantastic to know your strengths, but you must also know your weaknesses. I’m not sugar coating it. I’m not talking about “areas for development”. It’s good to know your ares for development, but you should also know what you are bad at, what you are afraid of, what your triggers are – even if there is nothing you could do about any of them.
Even if there is nothing you want to do about any of them.
Even if you think your weaknesses have nothing to do with work.
As for being honest – you may not need to offer full disclosure the moment you step into a team, but be honest with – at the very least – yourself. Really acknowledge the things you are bad at, and be honest as to whether you want (or can) change them.
Be the weakest link
We are never told that. We are never taught that. We are told the opposite. Weakest links are bad. They drag the team down: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
We are taught to “be of value”, to “not be a burden”. Weakest links are the opposite of that.
Here’s the sobering thing: being the weakest link is a humbling experience and a true test to our own strength.
It’s a truly shocking thing to be the weakest link in a team, especially when you don’t intend to be one. It’s not very pleasant. But it’s not meant to be.
At the same time as all that badness, it is an amazing thing to experience, because after so many years of focusing on the strength and the good and the value, we forget that every single team has to have a weakest link.
At some point, you may find you need to become the weakest link on purpose, and I can tell you that you cannot fake being a weak link until you’ve been one.
Allow someone to help and/or relinquish control
Note that this isn’t “asking for help”, because I believe there’s a difference between asking to be helped and actually allowing yourself to be helped.
The reason I paired these up is because it is so often that we ask for help when there is something in our responsibility that we can’t do, so we outsource it. Yet so often we wind up micromanaging the help we source – even though we don’t have a clue as to what needs to be done or how.
I also believe that the unwillingness (or reluctance) to do either/both these things stems from the same place of not being a weak link: we need to show our value, even when we ask for help.
But when we allow ourselves to be helped and let go of control we stand the risk of being of no value; of being a burden.
Challenge 1: Make a little list in a secret, hidden place (but please make it a real list. Don’t keep it in your head. Write it down), that has all your downsides and weaknesses on it. If you fancy, pick one at the end of the week and share it with a colleague you trust. Or a friend. Or a family member.
Challenge 2: Push the envelope so far it falls off the table: step so far outside your comfort zone until you can’t see it. Do something that is so wildly outside your vocabulary you couldn’t tell if you were good at it, because you’ve never done anything like it. Hopefully, it will shock your system and may get you to experience being a weakest link, even if it is for a brief moment. (It may take a while to find what this thing is. This is definitely a place where if at first you don’t succeed, try again. I did a Spartan Sprint.)
Challenge 3: (This is easier if you’ve done the first two). All you need to do here is really let someone else take over for you for something. It can be anything, but you really need to let them take over. Give no instructions, no preferences, no specifics. Let them help you and let yourself be helped.
What do you think? Can these make us better team players? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment.
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