In business, it’s great teams that deliver and achieve success. Individual strengths and capabilities are great, we need them, but staying in the game for the long haul needs more than just a group of talented individuals. We need a great team.
I believe authenticity is at the root of a great team. A team where people are prepared to show up and be open about who they really are, what they think and feel, and what they believe. We need to create safe spaces for this to unfold. If the space isn’t safe, people can’t be authentic. They can’t be who they really are. While people are wearing a mask and pretending, great teamwork will be difficult to achieve.
The problem is, there are people with traits that make them less prone to being a great team player. That’s not to say that they couldn’t learn, adapt, and change their behaviour over time, but their lack of capacity to be part of a team, could be holding you back.
You may be reading this because you have someone in your team who you believe is not being a team player. Or you may be curious as to why your team dynamics are not brilliant. Or maybe you are humble enough to be exploring the fact that it might be you that is not a great team player. Whatever your reason for reading, take the below ideas as opportunities for improvement, as opposed to a witch hunt. Opportunities to work with people on supporting behavioural change and making a positive impact in their lives.
What are the profiles of people who struggle in a team?
I am not going to go into the deep psychology here. That would need to be a full book to get the depths of why people struggle being a team player. But in summary, the types of people below are the ones I see struggling the most to perform well as part of a team. 90% of the time, there are childhood stories around why people behave the way they do. Often circumstances beyond people’s control. Be mindful of that with others and yourself, as you read through and plan your next steps.
The Lone Wolf
People who are highly individualistic and independent will often only see things from their own perspective and will prioritise their own goals and needs, ahead of the teams’. They can work well on their own and will often push for “being left alone” and will struggle to see the point of teamwork. “I’m fine just getting on with things… meetings and discussions slow me down.” While autonomy is great, we need collaboration and cohesion in an effective team.
People who have a high level of self-importance and grandiosity will often seek admiration and validation from others. Rather than seeing results as a team win or loss, narcissists want to ensure that everyone hears how well they have done, and how important their part was in the success or failure. And when it goes wrong, it’s usually ‘the others’ that caused the failure. They tend not to care about people’s feelings, usually because they don’t understand them.
People who play the victim are generally blamers. They will be at the centre of drama a lot of the time and will say “why has this happened to me again?”. They don’t take responsibility for their own part in conflict situations and failures, and always point the finger at others. Sometimes to the point of manipulation, where they don’t share the whole truth to ensure the others get the blame.
The Fixed Mind
People who struggle to open their mind to learning and changing things about themselves. It seems glaringly obvious to the rest of the team, that they have a development area that they need to work on, but they struggle to show vulnerability and see this ‘opportunity for improvement’ a sign of weakness. The fixed mindset thinking can be a little black and white. Things are right or wrong. You are good or you’re not. You can do something, or you can’t.
People who hide behind a mask or persona to project a greater image of themselves to the world. Often someone who struggles with low self-esteem and lack of confidence. They always want to be right because being wrong creates a huge internal conflict that they are not good enough. Their ego needs lots of stroking and can distract the teams’ attention towards pleasing them, rather than what is best for the team.
People who are lazy and for some reason make every effort to avoid doing any work. They always seem to find a role where they are on the side lines watching others working, rather than mucking in and being part of the team. They can be good at organising others and delegating, but a good team needs everyone to pay an equal contribution (albeit the roles may be different, we should all put in the same amount of energy to team success).
The Angry One
People who are passive aggressive and have a chip on their shoulder. They struggle to communicate with the rest of the team in a calm manner and can be perceived as negative and or prickly. Others may avoid working with them because they a just so angry about everything. It is often misplaced passion for the angry person, and they just don’t appreciate what it’s like being on the receiving end of them.
People who are naturally drawn to disagreeing with the views of the team, just to stir things up. Even when they agree, they will disagree, to provide themselves with some fun debate with everyone. Fun for them, but not fun for the team who just want to collaborate and move things forward. It’s healthy to have an environment where you can openly disagree with each other, but maybe not on everything. That’s just frustrating for the rest of the team involved.
People who share personal or private details from conversations beyond the boundaries of where they should do. They create divides between different teams whilst aiming to be part to both. Rumours or distorted information are leaked and can lead to unease in a team or culture. When a team suspects they are working with a gossip, they with obviously withhold personal and delicate details, which will hold the team back from building any depth in their relationships.
How could I improve my team performance?
Hopefully, you have found some insight from the profiles and can identify the different traits that may be causing you and your team a few issues. Please be humble and be honest with yourself first if you feel any of these resonate with you (they probably do – that’s if you are a human). Great teams need great leadership, and if it’s you that is part of the problem, best to fix that one first.
Some people will not be working well in a team because they have more than one of the profiles above that applies to them. And the more of the profiles that apply to you, the more of a challenge it will be to change. Which I believe is possible if you can answer yes to these two questions…
- Does the person have the will and desire to commit to the changes needed to be a team player?
- Will they take ownership of their own behaviour in the process?
Here are a few ways you and your team can help each other and move things forward:
Communicate openly: Make a safe space for people to be open and encourage team members to communicate openly and constructively with each other. This can help surface any issues or conflicts within the team and normalise the humanness of being part of a team.
Provide feedback: Encourage team members to provide feedback to each other in a clear and constructive way. This can help the individual understand the impact of their behaviour on others and motivate them to make changes.
Set clear expectations and boundaries: Work together as a team to set clear expectations for behaviour and collaboration, and what is not acceptable. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.
Encourage teamwork: Foster a culture of teamwork and collaboration within the team. This can help the problem person or people understand the importance of working effectively with others and motivate them to change their behaviour.
Provide support: Offer support and encouragement to the problem person or people. Sometimes being a critical friend is the support people need. They need honest feedback to know what they need to work on. Let them know that you are there to help them succeed and that you believe in their ability to change.
Gain commitment: Where personal development is required, ensure you gain a clear commitment from the person and/or people on the specific things they will be working on to close any behavioural gaps. Hold back from telling people what to do here. Ask them what they intend to do to improve, why they are doing it, and when they will do this by. This encourages responsibility and taking ownership.
Celebrate: Have a peer vote on the team member of the month or quarter based on who the team feel is modelling the right behaviour. Asking the team why they have voted for this person will provide insights into what that person has done or is doing that makes them a great team player. This encourages the behaviours you are looking for and help others see what good looks like.
Deal with the deviants: Based on the experiences from the journey with the above steps, some people may refuse or be unable to make the behaviour changes needed to align with the team. Take corrective action to address the situation. This may include disciplining or removing someone from a team. And if you do find yourself at this stage with people, take the learning and amend any processes or policies to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.
Our ultimate goal should be to work towards a high performing team, but accept the human element to this, and that nothing will ever be perfect. By working together as a team and taking a proactive approach to addressing problematic behaviours, you can create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone. However, it’s important to remember that ultimately (no matter how much support is given), everyone must make a commitment to being a team player and take responsibility for their own behaviour.