Teamwork Begins with the Individual


By Robin Eichart, Founder of PeopleSense Consulting

When working as part of a team, it can sometimes be tempting to take a back seat and just go along for the ride. Dominant personalities may push a specific agenda or maybe the project pushes some team members outside their comfort zone. There are lots of factors that can keep someone from being fully engaged as part of the group. But that mentality –that lack of full participation – is the silent killer of a team’s ultimate performance. 

Because teams are measured by their collective performance, individuals often forget the importance of their own impact. But without the valuable resources that each team member brings to the table, a project can end up with mediocre results or even go awry. 

Not sure how to keep everyone fully engaged (including yourself)? Here are some common scenarios and their easy fixes.

The Bench Warmer

When a team’s success is measured by the collective, it’s easy to understand how any one person can lose sight of why they matter. Someone who lacks awareness or doesn’t recognize how important they are to outcomes in the workplace may choose to sit on the sidelines instead of getting in the game.

For instance, an individual might think: “I don’t need to attend this meeting. There are enough others on the team to represent my opinion.” But what is lost is the unique expertise and experience that person brings. What they don’t understand is how truly necessary they are, and they miss out on the opportunity to share their Input.

Solutions: This is where it’s key to shine a spotlight on what each member of the team has to offer. It could be in the form of written and tracked expectations that are reviewed at team meetings. Or there might be some creative ways to reward team members who go above and beyond. In the same token, it’s important to address team members who aren’t pulling their weight. 

The goal is to make sure each individual fully understands their role and brings their energy to the task at hand. Encouraging everyone to excel can prevent individuals from simply keeping the bench warm.

The Underperforming Team

When one or more people within a team don’t bring their full potential to the work, it can quickly result in a collective downward spiral. It only takes a couple negative attitudes to derail the overall mindset of the group.

Solutions: First, determine whether the right people are on the team; this should be the responsibility of the team leader. If an individual is lacking the necessary skills or motivation and there isn’t a reasonable way to get them up to speed, then they aren’t going to be able to contribute fully. That lopsided or uneven contribution can quickly erode the camaraderie and commitment to high performance of other team members. 

Another important way to get things on track is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Start by opening a dialogue about what team members envision the outcomes of the project to be. During that discussion, look for discrepancies that might be clues. For example, is the team setting the bar high while the leader is content with so-so results (or vice versa)? Different expectations tend to result in big problems.

Imagine a brand-new manager wants to start a new program and has a lot of energy and enthusiasm around it. She puts together a team to help her implement the program, but all the members are already stretched thin by their current workloads. 

Though they might embrace the project, they likely have different expectations than the team leader about the scope of the project. Since they didn’t discuss and get on the same page, a lot of tension and frustration is sure to ensue as they go forward. 

The Floater

Without a defined role, it can be easy for an individual to fall into a pattern of aiming for the minimal standard instead of the highest. They end up floating out there without a real stake in the work. For this reason, it’s critical for every member of a team to be clear on their assignment and then be held accountable for executing it successfully.  

Solutions: The best way to set a new path in this case is to have an open conversation between the team leader and/or other team members to determine how each individual can contribute to the fullest. Team members might ask themselves:

  • Am I following up with tasks? 
  • Are my assignments completed on time or do other team members have to track me down?
  • Am I offering all my skills or assuming someone else will take care of it? 
  • Am I allowing the same people to volunteer for duties rather than speaking up to level the load? 

Falling short in any of these areas can detrimentally impact a team’s performance; ensuring that all team members are fully on board will increase motivation and improve outcomes.

Teams are complex, and they require consistent structure and communication to push all members to be their best. Though encouraging others is a helpful way to contribute, each individual must also take responsibility for their own performance. 

It may sound strange (or perhaps counter-intuitive), but a team’s work begins and ends with the individual! 

Originally published on Linkedin