Monday, February 9, 2009

5 Ways to Put the "I" in Team

Teams are pretty commonplace in the workplace these days, but that doesn't mean they're fun. Or pleasant. Or useful. Or efficient. Or productive.

Certainly, there are lots of folks who love teams. These are usually the people who put teams together, or make a living out of touting how teams are fun, pleasant, useful, efficient and productive. But for those who have to work in teams, the experience is often frustrating, unproductive and annoying.

Is there a middle ground? I think so. What makes teams useful is when you understand they can be helpful in getting work done, but they can also be a bottleneck. You need to understand that while you can reap the rewards of being on a team, you also need to watch out for yourself and your own career interests.

In other words, it's time to put the "I" in team.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Companies who get all warm and fuzzy when talking about teams aren't going to take kindly to you breaking away from the pack to promote your own contributions. And certainly your other team members aren't going to like it. But I think in this economy, with this bad job market, you need to find ways to make sure your skills and abilities don't get overlooked.

How to make that happen? First, you've got to take stock of your team dynamic. How does it function? What is its purpose? Do you understand exactly how your specific skills are being used? If you can't answer these questions, then you're in trouble. Why? Because it clearly points out that you are letting the team happen to you. And if you're not participating totally, then you could be overlooked for your contribution -- not something you want when a layoff could be hovering around the corner.

So, let's look at how you need to put yourself into a team equation that most benefits your career future:

1. Find your niche. Every team has certain people, such as the leader, the troubleshooter, the cheerleader, the risk taker etc. All these roles are essential, so find one and grab it. You want a role that is visible enough you come into contact with key people within your department and company. You want to make sure that other team members will consistently need you, or look to you for support or leadership. In other words, you want to be memorable.

2. Focus on bottom-line impact. These days, you can't afford to do anything else. When you participate in a team, constantly ask yourself -- and others -- what the impact of your efforts will be on bringing in revenue. If you can't come up with an answer, it's time to re-think your efforts.

3. Enter the fray. You may think that all you want to do right now is keep your head down, and hopefully you won't do anything to lose your job. Wrong strategy. Right now companies are operating so lean that it's critical every worker be thinking like an entrepreneur. That means you don't stand on the sidelines, but wade into the middle of a problem and start helping. Phones ringing like crazy? Help answer them. Files piling up and everything becoming a disorganized mess? Grab some paperwork and start filing. Difficult customer than no one likes? Jump in with a smile.

4. Use a lifeline. Sometimes working in a team can be like working in a vacuum. You start a group-think mentality where everything you come up with seems like a good idea. Even if you might have a niggling doubt somewhere, you squash it. But that can be a deadly mistake, because if the team bombs, you're going to be one of the casualties. To avoid such a scenario, always have someone -- a mentor or senior manager -- within the company that is aware of what you're doing. You can update this person through e-mails or phone calls about your contributions. That way, if things go terribly wrong, you may be able to save your own skin because someone understands you have value.

5. Focus on PR. When working on a team, always make sure you're looking at the public relations angle. Say positive things to others about team members while you're promoting your own accomplishments. By doing this, you're much more likely to get them to say equally positive things about you. This is critical in case a key role comes up either on your team or within the company. Lobbying for that job will be much easier if you've already started your PR campaign.

What are some other suggestions to promote yourself in a team environment?

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David Benjamin said...


I've read dozens of your posts by now and this one may be my favorite. You give excellent advice and sound judgement. Great value!

I also recommend to candidates that they should request written annual reviews if they've been doing a great job (something measurable). Too often I hear they got great reviews (orally) thus losing any benefit from getting the positive review in the first place.

Keep up the great writing!

Anonymous said...

These 5 points are great to puts work on a different perspective.

In a team, I'm a coordinator, teacher & cheerup-er. Although I always find it hard to link to the bottomline in IT projects.

For mentors, would someone outside of the company work or does it have to be inside the company?
I would also add, what's are you bring to the table? (functional or knowledge expertise)

Anita said...

First, thanks for the kind words!

Second, I think you really make an important point, and that's to get stuff in writing. If the pink slip comes, you're not going to have time to go from person to person, asking them to write something on your behalf, or even to find copies of your latest job performance. (People have told me they get fired and are immediately escorted from the building) Get it in writing, and keep copies up-to-date and at home.

Anita said...

I think you could say that IT definitely contributes to the bottom line, because without it, no one could do their jobs. If that doesn't directly impact revenue, I don't know what does!

As for the mentor question, I would make sure you have a senior level person within your company, but you can always have more than one -- and a second person could be outside your business.

You give good advice about making sure you're clear what you're bringing to the table, and other people understand that role, also.