Anyone who's worked in information technology for any length of time has probably been asked to join a project team. Working with a group of colleagues can be fun, as teams become infused with camaraderie and a shared sense of mission. But being a group participant can also be challenging, especially for technology workers whose interactions are often focused on a computer screen.Nonetheless, the ability to collaborate with others is an essential skill in the IT world. If you can't work with others on a project team, your ability to take on positions of ever-growing importance in your organization may be hampered.
How do you move from working as an "I" to a "we"? Here are six secrets of great team members:
1. They check their egos at the door. No one wants to be on a team with someone who considers himself the smartest person in the room. Teams are brought together, after all, because organizations need people who can bring a mix of skills and strengths to bear to solve problems.
Don't join a group boasting about your aptitude with a particular technology or how adeptly a past work team handled a similar challenge. If you're really the smartest person in the room, your teammates will discover that on their own.
2. They're flexible. You've probably heard the saying, "There's no I in team." Once you become part of a team, you have to shift your thinking from being self-focused to concentrating on what's best for the group. This means temporarily setting aside your preferred modes of operating and adopting the rules, protocols and work practices of the team.
If, for instance, you do your best work at the last minute, you may have to begin to work in advance so others on the team can weigh in before a deliverable is due.
3. They're good listeners. The best team members don't always need to be heard; they're comfortable participating through listening. As a result, they're usually the ones who are the most informed about where the team stands and who is handling what.
Although there are times when you should speak up, listening more than you talk is hardly ever a negative. In a team environment, there are always going to be people who compete to be heard. Those who listen well are rarer and potentially much more valuable.
4. They accept constructive criticism. Rather than becoming defensive, successful team members understand that useful critiques are an opportunity to improve the end product, and that goes for whether they're giving or receiving constructive criticism.
They accept input with an open mind and are willing to explore alternative solutions. Likewise, when they must offer critiques to others, they do so in a direct and respectful manner that inspires others to want to improve their work.
5. They're all in. Too often, group members hide behind the shield of a team. They may not take the responsibility they would if they alone were responsible for the outcome of a project. But the best team members are as serious about their shared responsibilities as they are about their individual ones.
They're not passive participants, and they come to meetings having done what they had said they would do. They don't relegate the team's needs to the back burner while pursuing individual initiatives. Through their actions, not just their words, they show they're "all in" when it comes to the team's success.
6. They go with the flow. Working with a group of people means that not everything will proceed smoothly. Setbacks will occur, goals will be altered, and the team may have to change directions. Rather than letting these hiccups discourage you and using them as an excuse to lessen your commitment, accept that things can change quickly. Stay focused on what the team -- and you -- need to do to get back on track and address the challenge at hand.
The next time you're asked to join a project team, keep in mind that although a team achieves its goals as a group, its strength is derived from its individual members. Do your part to observe these practices, and you'll quickly develop a reputation as an indispensable team member.