Teamwork — How To Be A Team Player In A Work From Home World
Now that I’ve been working solo for the last couple months, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the value of working on a team. I’ve always been on a team ever since I started my career back in 2010. Over the last eleven years, I’ve been on a different variety of teams. Each team has unique in its own way and I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great team versus a team that you just can’t wait to leave. Many would think that working from home severely impacted the way teams work. Some would argue that you cannot innovate and work as a team if you aren’t inches away from each other. I can personally say that out of all the teams I’ve worked with over the years, the one team that I never personally met is the team that I felt the closest to. They lived over two thousand miles away from me, never saw their faces, yet I felt the biggest bond with that team. I also felt extremely innovative with my distanced team. I never felt that we couldn’t think outside the box because we didn’t have the luxury to run into each other in the hallway. I want to explore what makes a great team and how you can be a team player in an era when many of us are working remotely.
Many of the elements of a team can be done at any point and from anywhere. An office and its enclosed space does no make a team. Many years ago I read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The things I learned in that book changed my perspective on teams and team building. As technical people, almost everything we build or create requires input from many others. Hardly anything we build can be built in complete isolation. But as the technical people that we are, we sometimes lack certain people skills. These people skills are essential to have a high performing team. A team needs trust, empathy, and accountability to succeed. These things aren’t taught in school and many individual contributors that come together to build something usually lack one of these key attributes. For whatever reason, many technical people feel that they need to be smarter than everyone else. They feel that as long as they are technically smart, soft skills are not important.
To have a great team, it all starts with trust. I used to joke around that I would spend more time with my coworkers than I did with my own family. While this was meant to be a joke, it did have some truth in that I typically spent nine to ten hours a day with my coworkers. I only spent five or six hours with my family. Trust is the most important trait that a team must possess. Without trust, any team will struggle. You entire career depends on your ability to work together with a team to create a product or service. If you cannot trust the people you work with, the team suffers. Team members spend valuable time feeling like they need to defend themselves for every decision they make. This is very unhealthy and leads to low performing teams. If you want a team to be able to deliver on all cylinders, it needs to be based on trust. I would personally recommend that you build team-building activities to have your team get to know each other on more personal levels. When a team is just a bunch of coworkers that work together, the overall output of the team will be lackluster. Working from home makes team building activities a little harder, but I spent hours with my team, listening to baseball games while we updated servers. I know it may sound like it’s a waste of time and money, but trust me. one hour of productivity from a team that is built on trust is better than one week of productivity from a group of individuals that happen to work together.
A high performing team is built on empathy. At the end of the day, technical skills are great but you are still working with humans. Humans have emotions and we need empathy. Many technical teams and managers believe that because we create technical work, we don’t need empathy. I’ve had some really bad managers and I’ve been on some really bad teams. The thing they all had in common was a lack of empathy. Managers and teams that are just there to squeeze every ounce of productivity are the worst. They don’t value their team members and a team with no empathy has a really hard time learning to trust each other. It amazes me how we forget how the psychology of people plays such an important role in how an individual contributor performs. Showing empathy isn’t difficult. As long as you are genuine, you can express interest in a coworker’s life. Everyone has a life beyond work and showing that you care about your team shows that you have empathy. When someone makes a mistake, how do you handle it? Do you scold your team members? Do you throw people under the bus when something goes wrong or do you take ownership even when it’s not your fault? Expressing empathy towards your teammates will yield great results when done properly.
Finally, how accountable is your team with each other? Having accountability in a team is something that every team needs. But building accountability is tough when you don’t have trust or empathy. Without accountability, you end up with a group of unique individuals that may or may not work well together. They tend to not get done things done effectively and you can usually feel the tension whenever they are in a meeting together. Building accountability isn’t something that is easy to do. Many companies talk about culture and if their culture pushes the first two items discussed, then accountability is easier to develop. To build accountability, teams need to go through tough times but they need to do it with trust and empathy. Only by fighting off their demons can they come out on top as a more unified team. When team members are accountable with each other, they know they can count on their team members to have their back. Things just work better and like a well oiled machine, the efficiency gains are remarkable.
What do you think? Do you have trust, empathy, and accountability within your teams? What are you doing to help build trust or empathy? I’d love to learn what tactics your teams have used to increase these very important soft skills.