The power of difference: How everyone can be a better team player

Being a “team player” is a standard requirement in most employment, but many of us have difficulty operating to the full potential of a truly cohesive team. Thankfully, there's a better way.

by Catie McHugh
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Being a “team player” is a pretty standard requirement in most employment, hence its inclusion on seemingly every generic job posting since the beginning of time. While most people can exist as part of a team and perform their duties, some seem to gel just that little bit easier than others - think an office montage of high-fives, team-building activities and jubilant fist-pumping.

Regardless, many of us have difficulty operating to the full potential of a truly cohesive team.

Hungry like the (lone) wolf?

If you’re seen as suffering from a bit of Lone Wolf Syndrome, it can be extremely detrimental to your career - one of the top reasons for termination is failing to be a team player.

It’s a curious one to unpack, though. Being a “team player” can mean different things to different people - for example, a shy person in an office of extroverts may be seen as an outlier, and the mismatch of energies could be assessed negatively:

Ugh! We always invite Fred to Freestyle Rap Battle Fridays and he never fails to shut us down! I don’t think he likes us, so we’re not including him in stuff now.

This “us versus them” mentality can turn office relations sour very quickly, breaking down communication and affecting productivity. An otherwise healthy, hard-working employee can become demotivated as a result of misunderstandings, rather than being a genuine ‘lone wolf’.

What does a real lone wolf look like?

A lone wolf in your midst can become a serious culture issue and it’s important to be aware of behaviors that can erode progress and wellbeing. Some (or all) of these actions may become increasingly apparent:

  • A general unwilling to share tasks and responsibilities (even when the load is heavy).
  • Reluctance to communicate, even regarding work.
  • Refusal to help out when other team members need assistance (the “not my job” scenario).
  • Can be observed taking credit for work that wasn’t their own (or cannot give credit where it is due).
  • Rejection of feedback and blame-shifting.
  • A limited understanding of their own weaknesses.

Hmm. A bona-fide lone wolf is a tough cookie (and not in a 90s action hero kind of way). A team member who reeks of unreliability, looking out only for numero uno and who seems to actively work against the best interests of the team, will leak malcontent all over the workplace like toxic sludge. And they may not even realize they’re doing it (which means, luckily, they can be guided to a much more positive outcome for everyone).

So, what’s the plan?

A misunderstood personality is a little less complicated to address, however, both they and the lone wolf could benefit from a deep-dive into their communication skills and styles.

The fact is, everyone on the team can play a part in fostering a harmonious environment with reliable, high-performing members that get shit done.

All too often, we humans really jump the gun with each other - we see people who are not like us and out of defense, judgment, whatever… we polarize them and their difference as bad.

We’ve gone about it all wrong. The greatest power you have in a team lies within that difference.

Unleash the power of difference.

A team that kicks goals isn’t necessarily one that is all the same and best friends outside of work. In fact, if everyone is super-similar in their approach to work, there are almost always blind spots that are not being covered by any one individual.

What do we mean by blind spots? Well… let’s say every person on the team is a high-level, big picture thinker. That’s some great entrepreneurial thinking that is perfect for early-stage business, but if nobody is detail-oriented, there’s going to be some nitty-gritty considerations that go unchecked. And if a product or service ships like that, guess who might uncover that problem down the track? A detail-oriented customer. Wouldn’t it have been better to nip it in the bud before it was exposed to the world? If there’s a details person on your team, it would have been fixed.

But… as you can imagine, the one detail-driven person on the team might be seen as a nitpicker, or not ‘going with the flow’. That comes down to how their skills and strengths are interpreted by others. If everyone was shown an overview of each team member’s work attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, those behaviors could very quickly be seen in a much more positive light.

So, what that means for the lone wolf is that they will likely feel more prepared to work with others, see how their behaviors could be construed as negative, and likely feel as though they’re in a safer space to collaborate and work on areas for improvement. They will also have the opportunity to see why others in the team approach work the way they do, and how this can provide a positive overall impact. This will work to bridge gaps in communication and misunderstandings and give people an actual roadmap to self-improvement. Their nuances can be positively navigated by the rest of the team while at the same time, they can see how best they can support others.

Fingerprint for Success (F4S) is a people analytics platform with some serious grunt when it comes to team performance and functionality (if we do say so ourselves). See, the thing about problems is that they are hard to fix when you can’t quite put your finger on what they are.

F4S can provide you with a complete overview of your team’s attitudes, with clear pathways to smoothing communication blockages and becoming a powerful, cohesive unit. You will uncover the power of difference quickly and easily, so you can move forward better than you thought possible.

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