(Writer’s Note: As we wind down the year, we have been spending time going through our blog archive, looking for older posts that still resonate. I wrote this post in 2012, and it applies just as accurately today as it did when I wrote it eight years ago. Enjoy!)
I spoke at my former university recently, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the school’s sailing team, which I’d been part of at one time. The organizers asked me to say a few words about team building and team culture, as they know it’s a subject I think about and speak about often. The school’s sailing team has a strong team culture, and a philosophy that is best embodied in the single phrase “As One.” The team operates under the belief that no matter your standing on the team, from the standout star to the last person on the bench, the team stands together “As One”… no matter who’s on the field (or in their case, the water). That’s certainly a philosophy I agree with, so I was more than happy to add my comments at the event.
I made three essential points in my comments, and they apply just as much to the corporate team as they do for the collegiate sports team. So I share them with you here:
First, being a great teammate is an attitude, not a skill. Being a great teammate is completely unrelated to your ability on the field, or in the office. Skill and ability, oftentimes, are in your nature, whereas attitude is something you can adopt and nurture. You have complete control over your attitude.
Second, being a great teammate is a choice — one you make every day. It’s a choice between promoting yourself and your needs, or promoting the needs of the team. And it’s not always easy. As human beings, we’re ambitious, and each of us wants to do what’s best for ourselves. So making that choice is sometimes challenging. But it’s essential in order to be that great teammate.
And third, never forget what your teammates will remember about you in five, ten, or twenty years down the road. The people you’ve worked with, played with, or teamed with may remember if you were a talented contributor. Perhaps. But they will absolutely remember what kind of teammate you were. You may be the best in the world at what you do, but if you were a bad teammate, people will remember that. Being a great teammate may not always seem important in the competitive moment, and in fact many teammates hide behind that “I just want to win” mentality. But down the road, some day in the future, peoples’ recollection and perception of you, will be less about what your record was on the field, or on the water. Rather, their recollection of you will be overwhelmingly based on how you treated them, and the rest of the team.
Being a great teammate is not at all about skill. It is an attitude, a choice, and it is what your long-term reputation will be determined by.
(Postscript in December 2020: In a world where we hardly ever see each other face to face, and where everyone on your team is under more and deeper pressures than ever before, being a good teammate has never been more important.)
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