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How to be an effective team member

by Alison Stieven-Taylor

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford.

In my last column I talked about the Power of the Collective and how teamwork can often be more effective than operating in isolation.

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 Alison Stieven-Taylor is an author, journalist, and magazine editor based in Melbourne.  She is also the creative director of Reality & Illusion Productions, a leading media communications company specialising in B2B communication.

In this column I’d like to address the role of the individual within a team and why teams need to be made up of certain personalities to ensure they can work effectively and harmoniously.

Internationally renowned corporate psychologist and an expert in team and management development Dr David Marriott said in interview, “In my experience there are few organisations in any field of work where the major decisions are made by one person. Rather the running of any successful operation necessitates the collaboration of a team of people from different backgrounds and with unique personality and thinking styles, who interact as peers, pooling their ideas, judgement and plans”.

”The success of their endeavours hinges on the behaviour, talents, balance and cohesion.”

Reality TV demonstrates how NOT to be a team member
Pick any of the current crop of Reality TV shows – Biggest Loser, Masterchef, Survivor – and it doesn’t take long to discover how not to behave as a team member.

These shows work on the premise of pitting one team against another.  But of course there is a twist because each team member is also competing with their other team mates and therefore their actions are driven by their own desire to come out on top.

Now this kind of in-fighting may make for entertaining (and I use that word loosely) television, however it is a recipe for disaster in the workplace and it is therefore vital that team members do not try to out do each other for the sake of their own gratification. 

Step one to being an effective team member is to ‘leave your ego at the door’.  If your motivation is to stand out of the crowd and win favour with your boss then don’t volunteer or accept the offer to join a team because you will negatively impact the team’s ability to get the job done.  And you will do yourself a disservice.

Sports Teams are a shining example of working together
Despite the raft of bad publicity our sporting stars are attracting at the moment, the teamwork displayed by these elite athletes demonstrates how a well balanced team can perform.

Each member has their own set of skills, their own responsibilities within the team, and as we have seen at various times, their own sizeable egos, but when they are out on the playing field they are all working to a common goal – to play their part, do their best and aim to achieve a win for the team.

“Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilisation work.”
 Vince Lombardi, US football coach

As sports coaches assemble teams based on the skills and abilities of each member to fulfill the task at hand, so do corporate managers.  Every team comprises a range of people with complimentary skills and personality traits that combined create the strongest team possible.

Team Roles can be likened to Characters in a Play
Dr Meredith Belbin author of a number of team oriented books including Management Teams: Why The Succeed or Fail; Team Roles at Work; and Beyond the Team says that teams comprise nine different roles - the Plant (creative, unorthodox thinker), the Resource (extrovert, enthusiast), the Coordinator, the Shaper (challenger), Monitor/Evaluator, Teamworker (diplomat), the Implementer (disciplined), the Completer/Finisher and the Specialist.

An effective team leader will –

• Engender a positive environment and help to build a sense of team identity
• Encourage a high level of participation from each member and won’t let one person dominate
• Take responsibility for the team’s performance and refocus the team when necessary
• Create an atmosphere where each member is given time to speak and receive feedback
• Ensure consensus on the decision making processes 
• Facilitate decision making based on organised, logical methods
• Accommodate dissent and encourage resolution
• Celebrate the team’s achievements

To be an effective team member -

• Stay in the moment – when another team member is speaking pay full attention rather than thinking ahead to the next thing you are going to say 
• Don’t bite off more than you can chew – know what you are good at and what you can realistically deliver whether that be resources, expertise or time
• Share light-bulb moments – take your ideas out for an airing, participate in brainstorming and embrace ideas that may not be your own
• Be open in your communication – ensure that the information you collect is readily accessible for everyone in the team
• If you can’t answer a question – make a point of finding out and following up
• Negotiate – be assertive, but not domineering.  Ask for what you need to get the job done and negotiate with your team members in order to meet your obligations
• Be positive – there is always someone willing to play Devil’s Advocate, but you don’t always have to be that person
• Be respectful – value others’ knowledge and experience and trust your team members even if you don’t agree with them
• Take responsibility – if there is a problem then take steps to manage it rather than laying blame elsewhere
• Acknowledge conflict – if there is an issue accept it and work towards a resolution
• Accept criticism – listen to what others have to say and take steps to either remedy the situation or to ask the advice of the team leader
• And finally – seek help if you feel overwhelmed, or are unable to complete a task on time rather than letting it slip away from you

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