Are you a really good team player?

By Alex Malley, Chief Executive, CPA Australia 
“Are you a good team player?”
I’m sure you’ve been asked that question in an interview before, and it’s highly likely you’ve posed it to someone else too. It has truly become one of those commonplace questions where the response “yes I am” is often delivered, as if on autopilot.

Rating oneself as an effective collaborator shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is because if you meet an interviewer or manager like me, you’re going to be challenged for proof as to why you believe you are. I’m going to dig for evidence.

So where does this evidence come from?
Funnily enough, it often comes from experiencing a dysfunctional team scenario. Whether it’s working in an environment rife with negative internal politics, perpetual personal show-boating or personality clashes, whatever the scenario, if you can articulate or demonstrate your ability to set aside personal differences to achieve a collective goal, you’ve got my attention.

It’s for that reason I believe challenging team environments should be embraced rather than resisted. A harsh reality is that an average career span will always include personalities, beliefs and behaviours that you find undesirable. Learning how to successfully navigate these rough waters will take you a long way in developing your leadership skills.

Here’s my approach:

 1. Avoid taking it personally

In a highly pressurised and competitive environment it can be difficult at times not to let an undesirable person or decision knock your confidence. If that happens, avoid letting it fester into a lingering inadequacy. Some situations are simply beyond your control, so focus on how you’re going to bounceback rather than dwelling on the negatives. Turn this into a habit and you’ll become much stronger for it. Also, know that you’re not alone: everyone, including the most formidable leaders in the world, would have faced similar challenges.

 2. Keep listening

Often, establishing how to work better with people is a simple case of listening to them. Exhibiting a willingness to listen to their perspectives, whether you agree with them or not, is a sign of respect. People want to be heard.  If they sense that you’re not giving them your attention, this will likely compound an already awkward dynamic. Listening will also provide you with a deeper understanding of the person and how best to engage with them.

 3. Stay curious

Adopt a positive inquisitiveness about why someone might be behaving the way they are. There might be a hidden reason lying at the core of the issue that you will only be able to identify and address through considered questions and an open dialogue. Lack of communication is often the problem as it can lead to misunderstandings. Some individuals won’t always be willing to engage with you, but at least you’ve taken the higher ground in trying to uncover and solve the problem.

4. Influence morale

A team that harbours a negative culture is difficult for an individual to turn around, but you can try to influence a fresh direction or collective mindset. By staying positive, focusing on solutions, highlighting what the team does well, and celebrating other members’ success, the team will be in a much better position of adopting a similar attitude.  

5. Mix it up

As most of us know, the workplace is often fraught with deadline and workload pressure, making it difficult to extend the necessary energy and time to remedying relationships. This is why I see enormous value in creating opportunities for the team or individual to communicate outside of the workplace. Sharing a conversation in a stress-free environment, like over a coffee or meal, really can make a marked difference as it enhances communication at the human level.

By following this simple approach, the next time you answer, “yes I am” to that inevitable question, you’ll be able to evidence it with, “and here’s why…”.