No ‘I’ in ‘team’

What does being a “team player”
really mean? The phrase has been
worn threadbare in corporate America, but nonetheless, it is an important characteristic among employees in
order for a business to run smoothly and
successfully. While the term refers to,
essentially, honoring obligations and being
supportive to co-workers, the aspect of
meeting deadlines appears to be the most
important characteristic according to a
national poll conducted by Accountemps,
a temporary staffing firm for accounting
and finance professionals owned by
Robert Half International.

“Today’s workplace requires a high level
of collaboration and cooperation among
employees,” says Lisa Schneider, branch
manager of Accountemps in St. Louis. “It is
important for managers and employees to
understand what playing on a ‘team’ really

Smart Business spoke with Schneider
about the definition of “team player” and
how businesses can achieve more productive collaboration among employees.

What can professionals do to become better
team players?

Our survey showed that 40 percent of the
executives polled said ‘meeting deadlines’
was the most important characteristic of a
team player. For individuals, being part of a
team means having accountability for your
own responsibilities while putting the
team’s goals first. Professionals need to
realize that they may have individual goals,
but they need to see the bigger picture and
support the collective interests of the
group in order to achieve the ultimate goal
the team is working toward.

In our competitive culture, it is often difficult for employees to realize that what may
work for them, personally, may not work for
the good of the entire team. Adjusting your
work style may be a compromise you need to
make for the group to be effective. For
instance, if you normally prefer to wait until
the last minute to complete projects, you
may need to change your work style to avoid
hindering coworkers’ progress. Lastly, it’s
important for all team members to have a
clear understanding of the team goal.

Is it the team leader’s job to make sure that
everyone is on the same page regarding the
team goal?

Yes, the team leader needs to establish the
group’s mission early in the process, discuss
the project’s strategic implications, and
define the role of each team member. The
manager must be open to communication
and encourage the same among team members. Managers should also be aware of the
feedback they give to team members. Certain
tasks require praise for the whole team, while
other times, it is more appropriate to recognize an individual for his or her work in a particular area. One of the single most important
things a manager can do for its team is lead
by example. Since employees take their cue
from their managers, they should be the first
to dive into a project and express their enthusiasm for the team’s efforts.

What are some other characteristics of a successful team?

A strong work ethic among team members
and individuals. The ability to be flexible —
team members need to know when to switch
gears when a project is not going the right
way. This decision, again, should not be made by the individuals on the team, but
should be for the betterment of the group as
a whole. Also, team spirit — most successful
teams have good camaraderie.

Is it a good idea for managers to coordinate
social events outside of work to help build
team camaraderie?

Yes, since it helps people get to know each
other and bond. These social events can be
team-building exercises, such as bowling or
other sports events. Managers can be creative. For example, our company had a team-building exercise that involved getting
groups together to assemble children’s bikes
for charity. It was a lot of fun. We had 12
groups of four assembling 12 bikes in 20 minutes. At times, it was frustrating because
some of us didn’t even know how to use a
wrench. But we ended the project with a lot
of takeaways about working as a cohesive
team. The exercise was a microcosm of what
can happen in a real group project situation,
and often communication among team members is a sticking point for groups.

How can managers best deal with communication problems among team members?

Managers need to play the role of the
mediator — not judge. Pay particular attention to how information is relayed to each
member and to key individuals outside the
group. If there are weak spots in the system, you’ll soon see them. Once you’ve
identified problem areas, share your
insights with the team. Be careful not to
place blame. Instead, frame the difficulty
as a group dynamic that needs fine-tuning.
Suggest options and encourage everyone
to brainstorm practical solutions.

Managers must trust that people can
work out their differences and encourage
team members to discuss their issues.
Ideally, employees should come up with a
solution that will be best for the team. The
bottom line is that successful teams run
smoothly when responsibilities are clear,
team members get appropriate credit, the
project is done on time, and there is strong

LISA SCHNEIDER is the branch manager of Accountemps in St. Louis. Reach her at (314) 621-8367 or [email protected].