What does it mean to be a team player? The phrase is used often enough that it must have some tangible roots. I personally believe that our early, formative experiences on teams, as well as the dynamics within our families can play a role in how we work on projects that require a collaborative effort. I grew up as the middle child in a family with five kids. The older and younger brothers closest to me in age were both gifted athletes. My older (by two years) brother was graceful and talented with a keen competitive spirit. He was also four or five inches taller than me. My younger (by one year) brother was strong and deceptively fast, qualities that were especially effective as he pounded his way across the football field as a running back. No matter how much I trained, he always managed to pull ahead of me when we raced down the quarter-mile gravel driveway on our farm. With such close proximity to natural talent, I figured out pretty early that if I was going to earn a place on an athletic team, I was going to have to work at it. 

In retrospect, I’m grateful for the experiences on various teams while growing up, but also for the numerous professional collaborations I’ve been part of over the years. I do believe that an understanding of roles and team dynamics can be helpful in work situations. On the (thankfully) rare occasions I’ve conflicted with coworkers, one of the first questions to cross my mind is whether or not the person has ever been on any kind of team or group project.

Following the recent finale of the popular Game of Thrones series, I asked a colleague at work what he thought about the final season. He was among the loyal followers who were disappointed, saying that the theme of “we need to work together or die” that had been alluded to throughout the series had been squandered in the end. I never gave the series that kind of weight, but the significance of the “work together or die” theme follows a historical line starting with the earliest groups of humans and continuing with the pilgrims, pioneers and into the present.

Figuring that no matter what the profession or skill you are practicing (myself included), it never hurts to revisit the fundamentals. I found some information on the Psychology Today website that relates to what makes good work team members. They included: 1. Honest and Straightforward. A good team member is up front. He/she doesn’t play games, or lead others on. You can count on a good team member to tell you what’s what, regardless of whether it is good news or bad news. 2. Shares the Load. A good team member does his or her fair share of the work. There is a sense of equity and fairness in the good team member. A sense of equity is critically important for team members’ collective motivation. 3. Reliable. The good team member can be counted on. She or he meets deadlines and is on time. 4. Fair. A good team member takes appropriate credit, but would never think of taking credit for someone else’s work. 5. Complements Others’ Skills. An important characteristic of effective work teams is the shared capacity. Every member has areas of strength and some weak spots. A good team member provides some unique skills and/or knowledge that move the team forward. 6. Good Communication Skills. Teamwork is social, so good team members need to be skilled, and tactful, communicators. 7. Positive Attitude. No one would ever follow a pessimistic leader, and the same goes for team members. A positive, “can-do” attitude is critical for the good team member. The conclusion is that if you think about successful projects and the best team members you have worked with, the odds are that they have many of these qualities. Go team!


Paul Dols is photojournalist/website editor for Press Publications. He can be reached at 651-407-1238 or photos@presspubs.com.

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