Skill 3: Team

It is no secret that a group of people can accomplish more than a single person. Working as a team opens you up to accomplishing bigger and better things. But why? By focusing a pool of ideas and diversity of skills to a single task, you will always come up with more possibilities, and you will be able to accomplish more in less time. But there’s more to it than that.

When you work on something as a group, and you all know why you’re trying to accomplish it, roadblocks become opportunities for people to build bonds and grow closer together. You begin to share a creation. The pride it generates is shared by everyone involved. Even the smallest projects provide the chance to get to know someone better, learn their strengths, and how to have their back. You learn to motivate each other and rely on each other. If you can focus on the people you are working with rather than only the end goal, you will find that the goal comes naturally.

Working with other people introduces many challenges as well. It can be difficult to wade through the many different opinions, egos and priorities from all the members of the group. And so it is a practiced skill to be able to insert yourself into a group and effectively find your place. But it is a skill you can practice every time you need to work with someone else.

Everyone is On a Team

We don’t usually think about it, but unless you weave your own clothes, grow your own food, and live completely alone, you rely on people every day. And people rely on you. You are part of a vast and complex network of people all taking action and making choices that shape the world we live in. Maybe you have car trouble right now because someone was lazy and didn’t care about making sure they tightened that last bolt. Or, maybe you don’t have car trouble because someone went the extra mile to double-check one last time. You might think that isn’t special, because you expect that of them. But in the end it was still a choice. And it quite possibly changed your day today.

Regardless of motivation, our actions always affect people in ways we don’t necessarily understand. For that reason every person is important. By doing our best at what we do and thinking about how even the most menial action contributes to the overall success and collective happiness of the people in our sphere of influence (including our own) we can re-evaluate the choices we make so that they have more meaning and have a larger positive effect.

The Objective, the Why, and the Expectations

When working directly with other people, three of the most important (yet frequently overlooked) items are:

  1. Making sure everyone agrees on the same objective.
  2. Getting everyone to understand why they are doing what they are doing.
  3. Setting appropriate expectations.

Agreeing on the objective puts everyone on the same page. It tells them what they are trying to accomplish in the end. But it’s important to have a clear objective. This means providing people with the big picture of what the true end goal is. For example, if you simply task someone to purchase a car, there is no criteria that defines what makes one car more suitable than another. However, if you task someone with finding a cost-effective method of transportation to move your team from the office to a conference downtown, the true objective is clear. This type of clear objective, and making sure everyone understands it, narrows the focus and tells everyone what type of results they should be producing.

In addition, everyone should be aware of why they are striving to reach the objective. The reason why should be a larger goal. A higher calling. This is the underlying reason why the objective exists in the first place. It is the mission of your organization. Are you simply making low-cost computers, or are you making low-cost computers to make technology more accessible to those in need? Starting with why aligns people, avoids confusion, and contributes to better results. It makes the work important. 

If the why isn’t clearly defined by your organization, you can come up with your own. As a manager or employee, establish something that gels with your team.

Finding why you do what you do can be used in every action in your life. It helps to give you purpose and clearly shows what your actions are working towards.

Setting appropriate expectations is critical to achieving high levels of satisfaction. It enables people to plan effectively and accurately complete any work they need to do. If you tell your boss you will have something done soon, when is soon? In your mind that may be in 2 days. For them that may be this afternoon. When you deliver your results in 2 days your boss is disappointed because it a day and a half late, even though you did quality work. But their expectations were not met. So they are still dissatisfied with the results. Even if it makes your boss unhappy to hear that it will take 2 days, it is better that they know it now rather than later. It will allow them to plan their other activities more effectively and reduce the stress of uncertainty. This goes both ways. If you are counting on something from someone, take a moment to verify exactly what you can expect.

Play Well

Working with other people introduces many challenges. It can be a challenge to manage the many opinions, priorities, and personal issues held by the members of the group. But if you can make yourself a solid pillar within the group, people will want to work with you more and give your opinions more respect. People will become more willing to listen because they know you have everyone’s best interest in mind, not just your own. When you make it safe for others to do it, they will likely want to follow suit. Here are a few things you can do to start this process:

Be willing to take on some tasks nobody else wants to do

Volunteering to take on some of these tasks gives you control to choose what you will do, and shows you are willing to take one for the team. It shows initiative. It also gives you a reason to say no in the future when someone asks you to do it again. Make sure you maintain a balance.

Do what you say and don’t make others wait on you

This is probably more important than you realize. If we all simply did what we said we would have much more confidence in each other. We would take on greater challenges and feel much more capable. But you can show others what that is like. Simply pay attention to what you commit to and go the extra mile to make it happen. Do it well. Support your team. It will also get you noticed and recognized as someone others want on their team.

Do things well, regardless if you think it’s important

Simply make it your policy to do a good job. This doesn’t mean you need to burn yourself out trying to be perfect at everything. That contradicts everything you practiced in going the extra mile. But do a good job because you think the world would be better if people put more thought into their work. Every time you are inconvenienced by something someone slacked on, remind yourself that you want to avoid that for the next person. You’re making it better for everyone, even if you have no idea how someone is going to encounter your work.


Listen to the ideas of others and take the time to understand why they think it is helpful. Let people participate. Even if you don’t use the ideas, it may get you thinking along different lines to an even better solution. Practicing the incorporation of other ideas will also help you with other interactions.

Own It

Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes. When this happens, own it. Be willing to take responsibility. Don’t point fingers and don’t offer excuses. Offer suggestions on how to resolve the issue you caused. By bringing things to everyone’s attention first they will learn they can trust you. And now you and your team have a chance to fix it before it gets worse. You will find that this typically earns you respect rather than ridicule.

Similarly, if someone owns up to a mistake, jump in and help it get fixed. Don’t focus on the frustration it causes.


Part of working well with anyone, whether it’s at work or in a relationship, is the ability to maintain open communication. This means keeping them in mind. If you notice something they might want to know, make sure you tell them. And if there is a problem, bring it to their attention. Successful relationships of any kind do not come from hiding things or from trying to get a leg up on the other person. So be open, be clear, and be willing to listen.

This is where feedback comes in. Be willing to entertain feedback, and request it from your boss, peers, and even your friends and significant other. Listen to their opinions and suggestions. Do not get defensive. You don’t have to take their advice, but chances are they can help you achieve your dreams, and some of the feedback will help. You might be happily surprised with what they have to say.

By tactfully giving feedback in the right moments we can also help those around us. If someone does something well, don’t be afraid of telling them. If they do something badly, check in to see if they need help or if they have any questions. You don’t need to be a team leader to do these things. It just depends on how you approach it. By asking questions and making suggestions you can help your team leader and other members of the team to realize the importance of these actions.

Practice Suggestions

  • Get everyone to first agree on the end goal.
  • Clearly define the objective of any project. Ask for clarification when needed.
  • Make sure everyone understands why they are driving towards a goal.
  • Make sure everyone has clear expectations.
  • Demonstrate that people can count on you by delivering high quality work on time.
  • Be direct and clear in your communication.
  • Ask for clarification when you need it.
  • Say no if you do not think you are right for a particular task.
  • Ask for help if you need it.
  • Don’t make others wait on you.
  • Take responsibility for yourself. Own up if you messed up before people call you out on it. Come to the table with a solution.
  • Make sure everyone has a role and has ownership. This means they have to have useful work.
  • Let people try things.
  • Realize you aren’t always the best person for the job.
  • Actually listen to the ideas of others and take the time to understand why they think it is helpful.
  • Hold others accountable for pulling their weight.
  • Be approachable and patient when others aren’t.
  • Identify key strengths in your teammates and get them to use them.
  • Actively participate.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • How will you define success for the team? How can you measure it?
  • Be kind to your teammates.
  • Talk a little about yourself to help everyone get to know you.
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