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Master the 4 Basics of Teamwork

Being a dependable member of your team is essential.

Key points

  • Being part of a team means staying focused on the shared mission and how each person contributes to that shared mission.
  • Teamwork means coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating with others and playing your assigned position.
  • Membership, belonging, and participation come with rights and rewards; that is the quid pro quo.
cacaroot/Adobe Stock
cacaroot/Adobe Stock

You’ve probably heard over and over again about the importance of good teamwork at work. But what does that actually look like?

For the most part, at work, you don’t get to choose who will be on your team. You don’t get to choose your own leaders. You don’t get to choose your own mission. You don’t get to choose your own position. Not everybody gets to be the MVP. Not everybody gets a trophy. But everybody on the team did choose to be in this job at this time.

You and your colleagues are all in it together as long as you remain at any job. You must depend upon each other to succeed. So, being a dependable member of the team is essential.

These are the four basics of mastering teamwork, regardless of your role or place in the organization.

1. Respect for Context

Developing appreciation and respect for context means realizing that work is situational and his role in any situation is largely determined by factors that have nothing to do with him. Some preexisting, independent factors would be present even if he were not, and they determine the context of any situation.

No matter who you are, what you want to achieve, or how you want to behave, your role in any work situation, every situation has a context that limits possibilities and the scope of your potential role.

Once you get a handle on the context of your work situation, you have to ask yourself where you fit in this context. Why are you here? What is at stake for you? When did you get here? What is your appropriate role in relation to the other people in the group? What is your appropriate role in relation to the mission? What expectations and hopes are reasonable for you to have?

2. Citizenship

Let go of the idea that good citizenship has to be completely selfless. Good citizenship does not require selflessness. It’s OK if there is a quid pro quo. Employment relationships are transactional by nature. Most people would stop coming to work if they stopped being paid.

Membership, belonging, and participation come with rights and rewards: That is the quid pro quo. What good citizenship requires is this: When you “join,” you are also fully accepting, embracing, and promising to observe the duties that are on the other side of that quid pro quo.

Every workplace has its own structure, rules, customs, and leadership. What good citizenship means in one organization may differ greatly from what it means in another.

What does this mean for you? It means you need to know what really matters to you. What is “in it for you” here in this job? And what is that worth to you? It also means you need to understand the structure, rules, customs, leadership, and what that requires of you. You need to really understand what it means to be a good workplace citizen in your current organization. You must also make sure you feel great about accepting, embracing, and observing the duties of belonging there, along with the rewards.

3. Service

There is much more to the service mindset than just the other side of your paycheck! The truth that everybody knows but nobody likes to acknowledge is that one super high-performing employee is worth more on some deep level–and is valued so much more by everyone–than three or four mediocre employees.

If you are one of those high-performing employees, you already know that. If you are not one of those high-performing employees, you should learn that and become one! Where do you begin?

At the very least, you need to know the bare minimum requirements and the gold standard of performance, the cardinal rules of conduct, and the outer limits of your discretion. In every working relationship with every person at every level, ensure you understand how to meet the basic expectations of the job and go above and beyond those expectations. If you fail to meet a commitment, be honest and forthright about it. If you make a commitment, deliver on that commitment.

If you don’t get the extra rewards you hope for or deserve right away, be patient. Be understanding. After all, doing a great job and delivering on your commitments is what you were hired to do in the first place. If you don’t benefit immediately from bending over backward and jumping through hoops, then write off the short-term loss as a cost of doing business, an investment in the bank account of your reputation at work. Or maybe a long-term deposit in your karmic “service” account.

4. Playing Your Position

No matter where you work or what you do, your work probably involves dealing with other people–internally and externally–here, there, and everywhere. Most likely, you are forced to rely on the support and cooperation of many other people while doing your own work every day. That means navigating a lot of interpersonal dynamics and a lot of dependency and interdependency. That’s what a lot of people call “teamwork.”

Yes, some people pull more weight than others. But don’t ever tell yourself you are doing a great job if you are not also being a great team player. That means staying focused on the shared mission and how each person contributes to that shared mission. It means coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating with others. It means playing your assigned position as needed to support the larger effort.

In short, here’s the bottom line: Some people really get things done. And there are plenty of times when you need to get things done, and you need someone’s help. So, you want to be able to go to the right people, the ones who really get things done. Go-to people don’t just get things done. They get things done for other people. That’s why go-to people are the most in-demand people in the workplace: Everyone knows they can be relied upon to deliver for the team. Playing your position is the first step to becoming known as an indispensable member of your organization.

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