At nearly every job interview I’ve participated in, a question or comment about being a good "team player” eventually enters the discussion. My observation is that the conversation is usually trying to determine whether the candidate is someone who will get along with people or who will cause more headaches than they fix.
If I’m part of the team that’s making the hire, I always make sure the candidate is asked what they think it means to be a team player. Although I’ve heard a lot of great answers, I’ve never had anyone claim the characteristic for which I’m looking. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it, or utilize it, but I think it’s somewhat remarkable that it’s never once been a first response. What I eventually want to know is whether or not they can follow a process and the characteristic that I’m looking for is a willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team. In this article I’ll explain three ways that I think being a team player is defined by being able to follow a process.
As part of our onboarding after our merger with Flowtivity, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Dustin Hostetler put us through an exercise that created an "aha moment” about the importance of process. I don’t want to steal his thunder so I’ll just say that he took a simple process and demonstrated how self-serving actions can destroy the value of teamwork. As a lifelong sports fan, I immediately saw a parallel with the recreation league team of 10 and 11-year olds that I attempt to help coach. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate.
When you try to teach a bunch of 10 and 11-year olds to run a play, you’re doing essentially the same thing as putting a process into your workflow. The point of a play, or a process, is to create a competitive advantage. So for example in basketball, instead of just asking your best shooter to take all the shots, you try to design a play which allows any player to get open for a high percentage shot. That gives you a better chance of winning when you’re playing a team with a great defender or when you’re playing without your best shooter.
So how does a team player approach processes?
A Team Player isn’t a ball hog
A ball hog in basketball is someone who doesn’t share. A ball hog usually has good or superior offensive skills but mistakenly thinks that employing them in every situation is the best policy for the team. In a short term view, a ball hog can be responsible for a great deal of success and our society tends to reward this mentality. But in the long term, there are two very negative effects.
First of all, a team that employs a ball hog will never improve beyond the capabilities of that player. Ball hogs are self-centered and don't see the abilities or potential abilities in their teammates. Since teammates are never given an opportunity to show or develop their skills, you will never reap the benefits of using everyone to their maximum potential.
Second, teammates don’t like to play with ball hogs. Ball hogs tend to take credit for things in which they are actually quite dependent upon others. You’ll survive if you can continue to win but you’ll experience high turnover anytime an equal opportunity is presented.
So what should you do if you are the player with the best skills? First, be a leader, not a dictator. In my way of thinking there’s only one thing that distinguishes between the two; a leader has followers, people who want to be where they are. Second, and very closely related, look for ways to help others. You will only be able to sustain a team if you can keep it motivated, and individual success is a primal motivational factor. In addition, helping others is a great way to insure that you’ll receive their help when needed.
So how does this relate to a workflow process? If you excel in a process at work, don’t be a silo; share your knowledge. Taking the appropriate time to train someone else is always beneficial to the organization in the long term. Share some of the opportunities for success and keep your team motivated by rewarding the contributions of each player.
A Team Player Understands the value of process and commits to following it
As I mentioned earlier, the point of a play, or a process, is to develop a competitive advantage. The advantage comes when you utilize two or more people to do something that they can’t do individually – so this is more than just utilizing people in their unique abilities. This is combining unique abilities to create something new and more powerful.
In a basketball play, this may mean that the best shooter actually spends a good part of the game just being a decoy. The other team concentrates so much on stopping the shooter that they allow one or two others to hurt them even more. The problem is, if your shooter doesn’t buy in to the process, the play will never work. This is a real problem with 10 and 11-year-old basketball players because they apparently have an inherent gene which causes them to be drawn to a basketball instead of the spot on the court where you need them to go. This makes it very difficult for them to adhere to a process and you’ll soon see them completely destroy the intended outcome of any play.
This also describes an organization that allows its principals to interrupt process for short-term gains. If you ever get a chance, attend one of Dustin’s workshops so you can experience his interpretation of this dilemma as it relates to the tax process. His demonstration will put measurable results to the importance of process improvement. I think the first step for committing to following a process is to understand its purpose and the consequences if you don’t.
A Team Player has confidence but is willing to make improvement
Every team has one player who’s the best at something - at any given time. It’s important to have confidence. It’s also important to not underestimate the abilities of your opponents and your teammates.
Left to their own devices, 10 and 11-year-old basketball players assign roles based on assertiveness and friendships rather than ability and efficiency. At some point, parent-coaches were invented to fix that problem so that we could shape those young athletes into future professional money making machines. The team players are very coach-able; they're eager to listen and improve.
Fortunately, our profession has qualified coaches to help with process improvement. Do you have confidence in your processes? Are you possibly a little overconfident? The Flowtivity Process will help your organization gain the competitive advantage of process improvement.