Want To Be A Great Team Player? Spend More Time Alone

Does it feel like collaborate has come to mean cohabitate? Does teamwork mean working together? If you find yourself spending all day, every day in meetings with other people, chances are you’re not being the team player you want to be.

From hospitals to high-tech to the military, great teamwork is proven to lead to better outcomes. That performance advantage comes from the combination of specialized skills and knowledge, shared purpose and transparent communication.

However, in day to day practice, many groups overinvest in the third element (communication) at the cost of the first two. Being a great team player becomes synonymous with always being available on IM and accepting every meeting invite that arrives. The consequence is that team members end up distracted and in back-to-back meetings — neither of which is conducive to bringing our best — or bringing out the best in others.

Great teamwork relies on something radical: working alone.

Be a hero to your team by adopting these three solo practices:

1. Block out 15 minutes to design a great meeting.

Why: Spending dedicated time to think about the structure and process ahead of time will make any dialogue more effective.

How: Before any meeting you are planning, answer these questions and communicate them to your participants: 1) Why are we convening? 2) What are the expected outcomes? 3) Who needs to be involved and what is needed from each person? 4) What information or discussion questions could I share ahead of time to increase the quality of dialogue during the meeting?

Your 15-minute investment in framing the conversation will increase both the quality and efficiency of any meeting. This works best if you prepare a couple of days beforehand and let the participants know what to expect. But even last-minute framing is better than no framing at all.

2. Make the implicit explicit by writing it down.

Why: It is common for teams to establish a clear destination, aka the goals or deliverables of a project. However, it’s easy to skip over the step of establishing a shared starting point. The consequence is that a team can be well into the journey before realizing they’re operating with different assumptions, inaccurate data or an incomplete view of the system.

How: Reduce backtracking (and the frustration that goes with it), by documenting relevant context for the work. This might include: 1) assumptions about urgency, importance and level of risk; 2) constraints and interdependencies; 3) the relevant facts on which a decision will be based; and 4) critical knowns and unknowns and unknowables.

We’ve all heard the adage “go slow to go fast.” Your individual action will create shared context, which will noticeably increase your team’s pace of forward progress.

3. Create a strawmodel.

What: A draft version of something that a team can debate, pick apart and improve.

Why: A strawmodel is an accelerant to team productivity. It prompts engagement and provokes new, better and more discerning ideas.

How: Schedule a strawmodeling session with yourself. For example, generate a hypothesis for a root cause, propose a solution to a complex problem, draft content for a critical communication or create a simple working financial model for a business plan.

While it can be intimidating to “go first” in solving a complex problem, it can ultimately lead to a much better solution. The final answer the team generates may look nothing like your original draft, but your investment will serve as a great jumping off point for the team’s thinking. It’s always easier to “edit” than to originate so consider it a gift that you’re giving to the rest of the group.

Time is your organization’s scarcest resource. By going solo and doing some advance thinking, you’ll maximize the value of the entire team’s time. Now that’s what we mean by being a real team player!

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