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How to Succeed in Business by Being a Team Player

A 20-year study at Stanford University examined the career paths of thousands of executives to determine what qualities they either had or developed that enabled them to move ahead the most rapidly. Researchers concluded that there were two primary qualities that, more than any others, were indispensable for men and women who were promoted to positions of great responsibility.

The first quality was the ability to function well in a crisis. It was the ability of the executive to keep his or her cool when the company or the department faced serious challenges or setbacks. It was the ability to calmly analyze the facts, gather information, reach conclusions, make decisions and then mobilize other people to respond effectively and solve the problem.

The second quality that was identified among the fast-trackers was the ability to function well as a member of a team. This tendency toward cooperation rather than confrontation was evident early in a person’s career. It was the primary quality that senior executives looked for and rewarded the most. The ability to be a good team player inevitably led to greater and greater opportunities to function as a member of more and more important teams. In fact, teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to reach the height of your capabilities or make the money that you want, without becoming very good at it.

You can make the decision to be an excellent team player in everything you do at work and at home. Your aim should be to seek out every opportunity to demonstrate your ability to contribute to the success of a group of people in accomplishing large objectives.

And you can start right where you are.

Let’s begin with the definition of team:  A team is two or more people who combine their talents and abilities to accomplish a specific goal or series of goals. A team, by definition, is made up largely of equals, men and women who are different only in their areas of skill and who are peers when they sit down together as a work group.

A team is formed to take advantage of the power of synergy. Synergy means that the total is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, let’s say that four individuals working alone will produce four units of work; when they are combined as a team, the four individuals may produce five or six or eight or even ten units of work. Many jobs simply cannot be done by one person working alone, whether it’s carrying a heavy box or carrying out a major corporate project. A team needs to be formed whenever the task at hand is greater than the capacity of any individual working alone.

Over the last few decades, the concept of teamwork has evolved rapidly. We came out of World War II with a “command and control” mentality. Most of the heads of American corporations, large and small, had been military officers of various ranks during the war. They brought their military training into the workplace. Their approach to management was the hierarchy or pyramid style, with the president at the top, the senior executives below him, the junior executives below them and so on, all the way down to the workers and support staff who made up the base of the pyramid. Orders traveled in one direction: downward. Information filtered up slowly. Employees were expected to do their job, collect their paycheck and be satisfied.

However, two forces have converged to dramatically transform this approach to management. First is the rapid rate of change and the increasing complexity of even the smallest business operation, due to the advent of the computer age. Everyone has critical skills and knowledge that are necessary to many other people if the job is to get done on time and to an acceptable standard of quality.

Your job in your company requires that in addition to understanding your job, you know a lot about what is going on everywhere else in the organization. And the fastest and most accurate way of keeping current is to develop and maintain a network of contacts, an informal team of people within your workplace who keep you informed and whom you keep informed in turn.

The old methods of command and control now exist only at the old-line companies, many of which are fighting for their very survival. Today, men and women want a high degree of participation and involvement in their work. They want an opportunity to discuss and thoroughly understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. People are no longer satisfied to be cogs in a big machine. They want to have an integral role not just in achieving goals but also in setting those goals.

Being a team player is no longer optional; it is mandatory. If you want to achieve anything of consequence, you will need the help and cooperation of lots of people. Your main objective is to structure everything you do in such a way that, because you are constantly cooperating and working well with others, they are continually open to helping you achieve your goals as well.

Now, the major reason why teams do not function well, and why people end up not making their full contribution to the success of the teams, is lack of clarity. All the studies of team building and team development focus on the importance of everyone’s being absolutely clear about what the team is trying to accomplish. This can be in the form of a goal or objective handed down by senior management, or it can be the result of discussion and participation by the various team members. In any case, everyone must know what is to be done, to what standard, by what deadline and what roles and responsibilities each team member must uphold to achieve the goal.

One of your key concerns is to be absolutely clear about exactly what is expected of you. If for any reason you are not sure, bring it up and ask about it until you have no doubt whatsoever. Then get busy, do exactly what is expected of you and do it well.

Remember, in all your interactions with your team, your role is to be supportive and helpful. Your role is not to challenge, criticize or argue but to look for solutions and for opportunities to help other people make their maximum contributions as well. When you participate in a team meeting, you are “onstage.” Everyone is watching you. The best team players I have ever seen are those whose comments to the other members of the team are in the form of suggestions on how things can be done better. The best team members are always offering to help other people get on top of some aspect of their work after the meetings. This focus on collaboration and cooperation gets noticed and sends a signal that you are a person to be both liked and respected.

Many men and women have kicked their careers into the stratosphere by taking on a small responsibility and doing such a good job with it that they came to the attention of important people both inside and outside their organizations.

Continually look for opportunities to get onto teams and to make valuable contributions. Volunteer for additional assignments. Focus on high-priority tasks and finish what you start on time. Do excellent work. And remember that, as Confucius said, “He who would be master must be servant of all.”