Throughout elementary and high school, there was always one type of assignment that I hated: the group project. As soon as one was assigned, my mind would immediately flash back to memories of long nights spent scrambling to finish paragraphs that no one else had written, or hastily gluing grainy pictures (that should have been given to me days ago) onto chloroplast. I preferred to work alone.
Over the years, however, I’ve been blessed to work on some fantastic teams. Working in environments that have been characterized by high levels of trust, mutual respect, and collaboration have taught me so much about what makes someone great to work with. The art of being a great teammate is underrated; in my opinion, a leader can’t be great unless they know how to be a great teammate.
The good news? It’s not hard to be a great teammate. Here are 5 simple practices that are fundamental to being a great teammate:
1 - Do What You Say You’re Going to Do:
Show up to events, practices, work bees, etc. when you say you will. Send the group emails that you said you would take care of. Honour deadlines and weekly appointments. It’s important that your teammates can trust you when say you will do something.
Repeatedly, the Bible reminds us that “not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made… had failed; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:45) Keeping our word not only builds trust, but reflects the character of God.
2 - It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It:
Have you noticed that a good amount of space in the book of Proverbs is dedicated to the way we talk to each other? For example: “Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.” (Prov. 15:4 MSG)
Ask yourself three questions. Is what I am saying honest? Is it clear? And is it gracious? If we’re missing one of these three elements, we run the risk of creating an opportunity for distrust, bitterness, and confusion to take root in our teams.
3 - Ask for a Hand (or their Two Cents):
In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner dedicate a chapter to helping leaders foster collaboration among their teams. Why? Because “people who reciprocate are more likely to be successful than those who try to maximize individual advantage.” (p. 233)
So ask for a teammate’s opinion once in a while. Let them know if you’re overwhelmed and need help with a task (and thank them with coffee afterwards). Make sure that they know you’re asking out of respect for what they can contribute, not out of a desire to be lazy. Let them know you’re available when they need you, too.
4 - Respect the Boundaries:
Following that point, respect your teammate’s boundaries by accepting their “no’s” with grace. Don’t try to persuade, coerce, or pressure your teammates into doing something they aren’t comfortable with.
Respecting boundaries also extends to our gifts, strengths, skills, and personalities. For example, it’s not fair for an extroverted teammate to expect an introverted teammate to be act just like them at a gathering with lots of people. Remember that your team is one body with many important members, just like the church (1 Cor. 12:12).
5 - Honour Your Teammates:
The Bible instructs us to “outdo one another in showing honour.” (Rom. 12:10) When things are going well, this is easy; when we don’t see eye-to-eye with our teammates, or when we’re facing unexpected challenges, this becomes crucial.
Shut down divisive or malicious talk about your teammates immediately. See the best in your teammates; don’t assume the worst of them. Encourage and affirm them whenever possible. Share credit for your wins. It’s not about flattery or smooth talk… it’s about a purposeful reorientation of your own perspective.