Stop Worrying About Getting Cut From the Team: 7 Steps to Becoming a Better Collaborator

In business just like in sports skill alone won’t always protect you from getting cut. Team members who can’t play well with others can find themselves benched, or worse, eliminated from the roster entirely. Don’t let that happen to you. Take your collaboration skills as seriously as your other expertise, and start by following these 7 steps.

1. Take a look in the mirror. What if people don’t consider you a team player?  When the initial shock or irritation from hearing this feedback subsides, ask yourself these questions: Do you avoid responsibility and let others bear a greater share of the work load? Do you hog the spotlight and take credit for other people’s work or ideas? Are you the perpetual voice of doom, continually focusing on what won’t work without offering solutions for what will? Are you a Debbie Downer who drains the positive energy from those around you? Do you lie or throw your co-workers under the bus to make yourself look good? Do you refuse to take responsibility for your mistakes and react negatively to feedback about your shortcomings? If you’re serious about changing the way you interact with your colleagues, then you need to be honest with yourself about how you behave. You can’t change what you refuse to acknowledge.

2. Raise your self awareness. Let’s face it, we’re not always good at being honest with ourselves. Do a reality check with the rest of the world. Make a list of the 10 key stakeholders in your current role. Ask if they would provide you with professional feedback. Begin the conversation by saying, “I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with you, and I value your opinion. I would like to understand how people see me as a team player in our organization. Would you share your thoughts on working with me?” Collect feedback through a survey, an email, or in a face-to-face meeting. No matter what people say, avoid becoming defensive or explaining why you did what you did in the past. Just listen to the feedback and then thank those involved for their time. (If you are uncomfortable asking for this type of feedback directly, then reach out to a professional development consultant who can initiate a perceptual interview process to get 360 feedback for you.)

3. Decide what kind of player you want to be. One of the most important steps in becoming a better collaborator is knowing what you want to create. Negativity can bubble up from the frustration of living someone else’s agenda. So sit yourself back down in front of the mirror and ask, “What do you want?” Make a list the things you want to achieve, the roles or projects you want to be assigned, the titles you aspire to, the people with whom you want to develop relationships. Whom do you want to support, guide, mentor, or serve? How do you want to add value to your team or your organization? Your list will help you see what motivates and inspires you. As you gain clarity about what you want to create, you will see the value in fostering more collaborative relationships with others.

4. Change your story. All of us create narratives about who we are and where we’re going. The stories we tell about ourselves make a huge difference in how others see us and how we create our futures. If you’re not perceived as a team player, chances are you’re telling negative stories, stories about how you’re the victim, how no one includes you, how everything is always someone else’s fault. Or it may be that you tend to focus on loss or sadness, hurt or revenge. Each of these stories has a negative emotional wake. If your water-cooler chatter or lunch room conversations frequently involve stories that trigger negative emotions like sadness, anger, fear, or dread, then you’ll  drive other people away. Want others to collaborate with you? Inspire them. Tell stories that leave an emotional wake of hope, joy, success.

5. Be mindful of integrity. If you’re guilty of unethical behavior--lying, back-stabbing, stealing credit that others deserve--then you need to adjust your moral compass. No one forgets getting thrown under the bus, getting hung out to dry, or getting robbed of their fair share of credit, so no one benefits from these kind of behaviors. Eventually, they catch up with you. But if your moral compass is in good working order and you have learned that others view you as dishonest, you may need to educate yourself about communication styles. One style prefers to think through all the details before sharing, and so tends not to speak up at meetings. Another style can view this behavior as a kind of dishonesty, assuming that the silent person is hoarding ideas or information, when in fact he or she is simply processing information. Educating yourself about preferred communication styles can challenge your own perceptions of other people’s integrity and also make you more mindful of how others view yours.

6. Share the spotlight.  Ever listen to the speech of an Oscar winner? It’s filled with acknowledgements. Why? Because every actor knows it takes a whole team of people to create a great performance--a fabulous script writer, a talented director, cinematographer, other gifted performers, etc.. Sharing the spotlight is the single best way to ensure that the best team members will always want to work with you. So if you don’t want this achievement to be your last, give credit where credit is due.

7. Consider a coach. If Tiger Woods needs to revamp his swing, he doesn’t do it alone. He works with a coach. If you need to revamp your people skills, you may want to consider doing the same. An outside observer can tell you where your game is off, work with you on your weaknesses, and provide you with the tools for achieving success. If you’re worried about your career, then invest in a coach who will chew you out or cheer you on as needed.

Feedback is a form of collaboration. If someone has given you the message that you’re not a team player, consider it a signal that he or she wants to collaborate and is working with you, not against you. Decide to learn and grow from the experience.

Shawn Kent Hayashi is the business conversation expert who helps executives solve problems within organizations, teams, and work groups. In her new book, Conversations that Get Results and Inspire Collaboration, Hayashi shares her expertise on communication, group dynamics, and team building.