In today’s driven society, it is not uncommon for companies to have teams filled with talented, ambitious, opinionated people with large egos who want to advance in their careers.

The temptation for people to stand out from the crowd for recognition, promotion, bonuses, and office size looms ever large.  Internal competition creeps in and those company perks become ways to keep score.  The word team, unfortunately, exists in name, but not in practice because it becomes a collection of rivals who want to pursue individual achievement over group success.  If unchecked, these intergroup conflicts can have adverse rippling effects. 

So, how do you encourage your members to act as a team?  In short, form a community.  Phil Jackson said, “Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”  Do not just think about your team as a compilation of members who are working towards completing a job.  Instead, see them as much more –  a community that supports each other to be better than they think they can be as they march towards a common goal that they also personally care about.  Teams that act as communities do not have to be best friends and spend all their time together, but they have to know how to integrate their interests and put aside differences. 

The benefits of a community cannot be ignored.  Those who feel like they are part of a supportive network at work are more engaged, more productive, and are less likely to experience burnout.  The simple fact is that teams of people who subordinate individual agendas will always outperform teams that do not. 

Here are some ways you can build community:

1. Understand your role as contributing to the greater good.  Numerous examples can be found in sports.  Shane Battier is known as a no-stats All-Star in basketball, he never scored a lot of points or got a lot of rebounds, but he made his teammates more effective and the opposing team less so.  His team was more likely to win with him in the game and was part of two NBA championships. He knew exactly what his role was, which was not to be the best small forward in the league by merely chasing stats but to do whatever he had to do to be the best for his team, even if it was in a set-up role that did not allow him to accumulate impressive stats.   

Similarly, in 2015, co-captain Abby Wambach, considered to be one of the most successful soccer players –  2x gold medalist and all-time top goal scorer of 184 – spent most of the World Cup on the bench.  She was called upon as a substitute only in the late stages of some games.  She shared how she did not let that discourage her, she always found ways to lead from the sidelines and champion her teammates because that is what was called for.  To win a game, it requires a coordinated effort on and off the field and she always found ways to uniquely contribute wherever she was standing.

2. Share credit.  This is a vital part of being on a team.  Author A.J. Jacobs shared a story about Jonas Salk taking sole credit for coming up with a polio vaccine and when given a chance, did not acknowledge any of his collaborators and predecessors who helped along the way.  Psychologists call this failure to recognize and thank collaboratives the responsibility or self-serving bias.  It is a pitfall that we should all avoid since it causes a lot of pain and resentment among other people.  So, how do you fight against the natural tendency of each member to exaggerate his/her contribution relative to the influence of other teammates?  Choose to elevate and reward cooperation, as well as individual achievement. Encouraging teammates to help each other thrive should garner just as much, if not more recognition. When you consistently catch people doing great things like mentoring others or pitching in on teammates’ projects, that should be valued and rewarded. This gesture clearly communicates the emphasis your culture places on teamwork.

Author and Startup Investor Fran Hauser offers some easy strategies to share credit for team success and to provide appreciation.  When you have a team win, you can do the following, depending on what you think the recipient would most enjoy:

·      Send an email to that person’s boss and CC your coworker.

·      Call out a coworker’s “good job” at a meeting – have the person stand up while everybody else claps.

·      Take a colleague out to lunch to celebrate teaming up on a job well done.

·      Treat a colleague to a small gift card at their favorite store for helping you.

·      Send the person a morning text letting them know you got them a Starbucks coffee if you know they get a latte every morning.

·      Write a handwritten note mentioning their specific contributions that made the team successful.

If a supervisor accidentally credits you with a good idea, you can interject to set the record straight by letting your boss know it was your coworker who came up with that idea.  If somebody has told you an idea in private and you are passing it along in front of a crowd, be sure to mention the source and your information. When you spread the credit, you pass along the love, trust, and pride in the team

3. Contribute as a problem-solver.  Being a part of a community involves having a collective mindset.  Going to a meeting and pitching in on solving a problem, even if it does not relate to you directly because you are invested in the group’s outcome.  It is also about taking ownership of the group’s success.  When you complain, think about it as if you are griping against yourself so instead of spreading negativity, what are 1-2 possible solutions you can offer that goes along with your constructive critique?

While you may not get the chance to choose your colleagues, you can always take steps to improve the dynamic. Simple gestures about asking about people’s days, sending an email letting them know you appreciate their work, and genuinely listening to others can make all the difference in feeling like a community.

“Ego is the ultimate killer on a team,” said Management Guru Patrick Lencioni.  One way to subdue the dominance of the ego is to encourage people to feel like they belong to a community where they enjoy numerous collective benefits when operating together more than they can ever experience individually.

Quote of the day: “Great things in business are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people.” — Steve Jobs

Question of the day:  How do you like experiencing a sense of belonging?  Comment and share with us, we would love to hear from you!

The next blog in this team series 4/10 will explore the importance of healthy conflict.

What can you build with a team-first mentality?