6 Ways to Become a Better Collaborative Team Member

by Amy Steinberg Published Apr 17, 2018 Last updated Apr 17, 2018

Let’s face it: many people are productive because they zero in on a task and ignore all distractions until it is completed. However, this means that they sometimes avoid communication and interaction with colleagues who can provide valuable feedback. A deliverable that is the product of collaboration reflects the wisdom and experience of a whole team, instead of just one individual. Here are some ways to become a stronger collaborator and team member, even if that aspect of work isn’t your favorite.

Plan collaborative moments into the project schedule.

Many timelines for projects are specifically focused on the individual, discrete tasks that each team member will complete. This is an important component, but these same timelines can make it seem too overwhelming to seek feedback on each person’s work. By planning a clear moment to ask for input from other team members, preferably after a draft of the task has been generated, the collaborative nature of the work can be preserved without missing deadlines.

Allow all new ideas to simmer for a few minutes before they are rejected.

Our brains tend to respond with lightning speed when a new idea or suggestion comes up that would create a lot of work for us. Instead of listening to that flash impulse, which can hurt other people’s feelings and shut down dialogue, collaborators let the idea sit for a minute. If you still disagree with a suggestion after you cool down, find a clear and kind way to convey the obstacle to using that suggestion, and see how the spirit of the suggestion might be incorporated into some aspect of the project.

Accept that you will share credit and share blame.

One reason high achievers often dislike teamwork is that the whole team shares blame when it might have been one person who caused a problem, and likewise other people receive credit even when one stand-out member did most of the work. In a job that demands teamwork, it is best to accept this truth as soon as possible, rather than feeling resentful. Instead, become known as the person who not only does a great job on their individual tasks but encourages others in their tasks by removing roadblocks and offering resources. Yes, you will often have other people sharing your spotlight of success, but the reputation you build for being easy to work with is also an incredibly valuable asset.

Notice friction and handle it, rather than letting it fester.

Teams do not always get along, especially if there are undercurrents of jealousy or different approaches to particular problems. The best way to be a great collaborator while experiencing team friction is to sit down one-on-one with anyone who seems to immediately oppose ideas or the direction of the project. Talk to them about what you are “reading” in the situation, and ask them to express what they think is happening too. They may not grow to like every idea, but they will often shed some light on how they would feel more included and respected, making meetings more productive and work more fluid.

Be a leader or support the established leader by fulfilling your role.

Teams work best when roles are clearly established. When you are given the role of leader, make clear how you will communicate with each team member and the objectives that the team seeks to achieve. When you aren’t the leader, work toward being the best at the role you’ve been given, rather than wasting time trying to take over leadership. Being really great at your role is more likely to get you a leadership spot in a future team.

Find and eliminate barriers to trust.

Trust is so important in teams; after all, if everyone feels the need to meticulously re-do each other’s work, the team is incredibly inefficient. Thus, when you and your team members are worried about aspects of the project, find ways to get rid of any doubts you have about each other’s work. This can mean greater communication, such as asking more questions and offering follow-up answers and showing each other successful results.

Regardless of the specific projects you participate in, finding the new skill sets necessary to work well in teams and collaborate effectively is an important step toward greater progress in your career. Collaborative leaders make a positive impact on their organizations even as they begin to distinguish themselves as individuals.