I have written before about how critical it is to be a good team player. Regardless of your skills, you limit your growth and potential if you don’t play nice with others. We are taught from an early age to share, listen, use our magic words (yes and please), and never, ever bite. These basic principles are not just for 3 year olds. They should stay with you for a lifetime. I know there are some people who are just bad team players and others that only play nice with people of influence, like a boss or someone signing their paycheck. Although this post is a good reminder for them, it also relates to everyone. For most of us our intention is to be a good team player, but work stress and life in general get us out of our team player mode.
I teach a one day workshop, Improving Communication through Improvisation, where I facilitate an exercise to highlight the common traps we fall into during projects which make us not-so-good team players. The exercise is called group juggle. The group gets in a circle. One ball is tossed around the group with each person catching and throwing the ball to someone else just once. The ball makes it around to each person crisscrossing the circle depending on where each individual wants to throw the ball. Next, I introduce 2 balls, with each ball going in the same order. Then a third, fourth and fifth ball is added in. As the balls are flying in the air I encourage the group to move fast because there is not a lot of time for the exercise. Without fail balls are hitting people in the head, flying way out of reach, or being thrown to the wrong person. Sometimes a ball gets dropped and just lies at someone’s feet.
Once the exercise is complete the group discusses how the exercise relates to projects. Here are the common points discussed.
- You may have guessed that the ball represents an activity or task, and my encouragement to move faster is the equivalent to a manager, business stakeholder, or a project manager pushing to get the project completed as fast as possible.
- The cause for the balls hitting others in the head or flying past them is caused by others just wanting to get a task off their plate. The person passing the ball (task) was not making sure the receiver was ready for that ball (task).
- Balls being left on the ground are like tasks that get forgotten by one teammate or one teammate having too much to do. No other team member stepped in to pick the ball up. Being a good team player means you will jump in when necessary to help out a team mate.
In life and especially on projects we do not accomplish overall objectives in isolation. With the help of others we come together utilizing each individual’s strengths to achieve the best results. You need to slow down and make sure your teammates are ready for the hand-off of tasks. You need to make sure your transition of a task is done in a way that works for your teammate. And when a teammate needs help be there for them. When you need help they will be there for you.
Do it for the team,