Five Ways to Become a Better Team Player

Five Ways to Become a Better Team Player
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Almost every employer these days is seeking "good team players" - but what does that actually mean? Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, author of the new Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, says the job requirements of today's employees have changed profoundly. In the past, she says, "product lifecycles were longer and a lot more work was routine and well-understood. You'd spend a great deal of time to figure out the perfect way to assemble a car, and you'd assemble it that way for a long time." For modern employees, though, innovation is a fundamental part of the job description: "We need to do something, reflect, and analyze quickly, and then learn to learn - those are today's critical skills."

This new direction is especially apparent in contemporary teamwork - and here are five tips from Edmondson to make it more successful.

Create ground rules. It's a myth that the best creative teams are disorganized, says Edmondson. Instead, they're only chaotic within certain boundaries. She suggests codifying a "rigorous process of action, reflection, then new action and new reflection." The goal is to learn from your mistakes - each and every time.

Ensure everyone participates. "If you actually tape-record team conversations," says Edmondson, "you'll be surprised to diagnose the transcript and see how rare genuine questions are. Why don't we do it? We're too busy telling and not asking." It's easy for groups to be dominated by the loudest voices; don't let it happen. Literally going around the room to ensure everyone has spoken up can introduce an element of "airtime equity."

Don't assume others know what you do. Says Edmondson, "I do exercises in the classroom with managers where I've deliberately distributed the information needed to solve the problem through the group - but eight times out of 10 they fail the problem because they haven't shared the information." Why? It's very rarely an intentional gambit to hoard information-as-power, she says. Instead, "people will say it all the time in the debrief - I assumed everybody knew this." Don't risk a bad guess: share your information.

Share, analyze, decide. "Most of the time," says Edmondson, "people won't be as systematic or scientific as they need to be." Your group process should first require team members to share what they already know about a problem, then analyze alternatives, and then make a decision. Not working? Rinse and repeat - but do it systematically.

Failure means succeeding at learning. Many employees can become paralyzed at the thought of failure - but taking risks is essential to innovation and creativity (as I discuss in my recent Huffington Postpiece on Why Leaders Should Embrace Being Wrong). To inspire your teammates, says Edmondson, "Get curious, look around, model the behaviors you hope to see - openness, fallibility, and humor." The right mindset shouldn't be about succeeding or failing in a given performance; rather, it's an exploration where you learn each time.

What are your secrets for being a great team player?

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Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

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