This part 2 in my being awesome series (in preparation for my talk on the same topic). Part 1 is all about managing your career, and this second portion is all about being a good team member that people will want to work alongside.
Being a great teammate
As technical people it is so easy to get caught up in our work; problems are there to be solved and it is easy to shift your focus and neglect the world outside. But becoming a great teammate can be one of the best ways to pave a great career path in the future. For example, if you are working with smart people know imagine where they will be in 5 or 10 years from now – would you feel comfortable reaching out to them for a job at their company? Or if you consider the fact that you spend at least 40 hours a week with your coworkers, wouldn’t it be awesome if you actually enjoyed that time with those people?
So how do you get there?
Well first, think about your past. Do you have someone that you have worked with that you generally liked, and it seemed everyone else liked them as well? What were the traits or things that you liked best?
For most of us, these people are generally happy, positive people. They see the best in people and situations; they pull their own weight, and are willing to help when needed (regardless of the task).
I am a very cynical and pessimistic person by nature; and until a few years ago I was the person that when you brought an idea would pick it apart and tell you all the reasons it wouldn’t work. Then I realized, that people didn’t really like telling me their ideas. When someone is excited about something, they don’t want someone to shoot it down, they want someone to be excited too.
In fact, I know I like being around happy people. I like it when people have the attitude of “let’s figure out how can we make this happen” versus “here are all the reasons this would be hard to do”. Both statements can result in the same conversation, but the first one is certainly the place I would like to start.
While most of us aren’t going to ever be bubbly, here are some of the key tips that have helped me become a more enjoyable teammate:
Bring solutions, not just problems.
I used to work with an employee and ever time we had a one-on-one I would dread those meetings. All he used to do was complain, everything was wrong with the project, the process, etc. Then one day I started asking him what he would do to address his concern. Eventually he started thinking about the problems from all sides, and coming up with great ideas on how to solve his own issues; and sometimes realizing that the issues weren’t really worth solving (for one reason or another). After a while our meetings became much more productive for both us – I didn’t feel like I was listening to Debbie Downer for 60 minutes, and he felt more empowered to effect change in our organization.
If you are someone who feels helpless or thinks about all the bad parts of your job/boss/project, instead of coming to your manager or coworkers with these complaints, take the time to come up with a list of things that could be done to mitigate the problem. Just coming up with some potential solutions makes the conversations much more pleasant (instead of dwelling on the problems, you are spending time on the solution), but it also gives you the ability to lead and influence change in your workplace.
Never take credit, always take blame.
This was a saying that I was taught early in my management career, but it really applies to anyone on a team. Many of us (and I am guilty of this too) want to be liked, admired and feel valued. In fact there are many people for whom recognition and praise is a key motivator. Understanding this about people can empower you to be a better colleague.
When something is accomplished, generally it is always more than one person that contributed, and people want to be recognized for what they do (even if it is small). By using the term “we” instead of “I” it can be very empowering to recognizing the way other’s contributed to the overall success of the project – from deployments, operations, or even just contributing to code or design reviews. Being the person that talks about things and this way, and giving credit to others will make your team mates want to help you – since they know they will be recognized for their work.
On the flip side, if something goes wrong, you should always take responsibility. While it may be mostly someone else’s fault, standing up and owning your part prevents others from feeling slighted. Plus people want to work with people who own their mistakes and failures. Of course a key part of this is also addressing the cause, or mitigating it in the future. Regardless, don’t blame other people or point fingers, real leaders take ownership and then strive to do better next time.
Have a good attitude.
This is pretty simple and ties in with some of the points above. At its core though is being positive and looking at each day and project as an opportunity. Not just to get a lot done, but also to make steps at being a better person. And not just through the course of the day, but when things get really stressful – like when your website goes down, or there the system stops behaving correctly during a launch event.
I have a hard time dealing with stress. When things go wrong or off plan I have a very hard time taking things in stride; someone once told me to check my baggage at the door. I have made a ton of progress in this area, and one of the biggest techniques I have learned is to reframe my view of the situation. I actually learned this technique from a pickup artist, and it really changed my way of thinking.
You see, most of the things that ruffle our feathers at work, are nothing more than blips on the radar. Just think back – can you recall all the times that things really went wrong last year? How about 3 years ago? 10 years ago? There are definitely pivotal moments that shape who we are, but many of us have the tendency to sweat over the small things. And these reactions make us a lot less fun to have on a team during stressful times.
So when bad things happen, instead of focusing on the “bad” I try to reframe the situation to something more actionable and positive. So let’s say you get fired from your job; you can dwell on it, become depressed, or you can use it as a catalyst to start your own company, find a new role you like better, or learn new skills and tools to be even better in your next role. Or even more simply, your code ships and has a major bug that impacts your company’s revenue for the month. You can dwell on it and feel bad about what happened, or you can see this as a chance to be better, take ownership and fix the mistake quickly; and know that this is just one mistake in a full year or more of projects and accomplishments (just at your job, not even including all your hobbies, friendships, etc.), and so minor compared to everything you will do and create, over the next few years. Reassure yourself, that you really are a great person with a lot to offer the world – because you really are.