Why “Team Player” is a redundant term, and what you really need from team members.
If you lead a team, why would you have any non-Team Players on it?
* * * * *
THE term “team player” gets used a lot. But what does it actually mean?
Common usage suggests that a “team player” is one who puts team above self. That’s a false alternative with which I don’t agree. [For more on that, see: There Are Only “I”s in Team.]
Within effective teams, individual goals are aligned with team goals, so there’s no conflict or compromise between what you want for yourself and what you want for the team. What’s best for one is best for all, and vice-versa. [See Ego Is Not A Dirty Word for more.]
The idea that there could be both “team players” and “non-team players” on a team is a bit silly. It’s the team leader’s responsibility to ensure that every person on the team is a “team player”, so the term is redundant.
* * * * *
The Five Commitments (no, that’s not an Irish soul band…)
What it really means to be a “team player”, which, in fact, is what it means to be properly on a team at all, is commitment to five things:
- Commitment to the team’s objective;
- Commitment to fulfilling your role;
- Commitment to your team mates;
- Commitment to the team leader; and,
- Commitment to team norms.
A team has a purpose. You join a team because its purpose inspires you. Even a company making widgets, if it’s committed to making the best darn widgets on earth, can inspire its employees to greatness.
Commitment to the team’s objective also means commitment to the agreed strategy and tactics. That’s why good leaders get everyone involved in strategic planning; to generate “buy-in”.
If a team’s purpose leaves you cold, reconsider joining. Life’s too short to spend time on pursuits that have no meaning to you.
Every team member serves a purpose, which in turn supports the team’s purpose. As a team member, you need to engage fully; give everything you’ve got; do your absolute best to fulfill your responsibilities. No coasting, no shirking, no excuses.
It’s part of the team leader’s role to make sure everyone fulfills their role – it’s called a culture of accountability.
One for all and all for one.
The only teams that function exceptionally well are ones in which every team member “has the back” of every other team member. Period.
The Chinese have a saying:
“There can only be one tiger on the mountain.”
And then there’s the truism:
“You can’t hunt ducks by committee – by the time you’ve aimed the gun the quarry has flown.”
Teams need one final arbiter, a pace setter, a visionary. One individual who ultimately defines the goals, decides the path, and inspires the troops.
Join the team and you join the leader.
Remember though, that few are perfect. Leaders, like everyone else, make mistakes. As a team member, you need to “manage upwards” at times, supporting and assisting the leader. Everyone is on a learning curve because life does not come with a set of instructions. That includes the boss. Justice demands that team members cut each other some slack now and then, and a good leader is a team-mate like any other.
And if the “leader” really isn’t one, jump ship as soon as you can, because without a good leader, the team is going nowhere.
[For more on what the leader should be doing, see: “The 6 Essential Responsibilities of Organizational Leaders“.]
A team is not a democracy. A team is formed by someone for some objective, and, unless you are a slave (in the literal sense), you join a team voluntarily. By doing so you signal that you agree with the team culture and agree to be bound by the team code (both of which have hopefully been clearly elucidated and consistently demonstrated).
If you don’t agree with the team code, you don’t have to join – look for another team, form your own, or go it alone.
* * * * *
If you’re on a team, take a little self-test using the five commitment points above. Are you committed to them all? If not, are you on the right team? Should you be on a team at all? Maybe it’s time to go out on your own; maybe build your own team?
If you lead a team, evaluate your team members against the five commitments. They’ll reveal which of your players needs development (if they have potential), help (if they have a problem) or letting go (if they just won’t commit). The latter sounds harsh, but exceptional teams demand high standards – unfortunately some people are not up to it.
* * * * *
All of us play on teams. Work, sport, social club, family. So, by definition, everyone is a “team player” some of the time. If you can’t commit to the team(s) you’re on, it’s time to rethink your participation.
And here’s an interesting final thought: people with good leadership skills make the best team mates.
* * * * *
For more on teams, check back. These posts are on the way:
“The Six Pillars of Successful Teams” and “The Rules of Team”
Or subscribe, for notification of new posts (and some exclusives).
2 comments on “Why “Team Player” is a redundant term, and what you really need from team members.”
I think the Four Tops were the result of the Five Commitments.
Seriously, though, excellent post!