When you’re in your twenties, you are likely working at your first or second job full-time job.
As a newly minted young professional, you’re more than likely just trying to get your feet underneath you. In other words, you’re in survival mode.
You will find yourself learning more than your leading. During these years, you may not have a lot of control over your schedule, work environment, or what you’re tangibly doing day-to-day.
But you do have the power to develop the core skills and competencies that will allow you to thrive as you continue to grow in your career or business.
This process is a delicate balance. If you want to be great, you must have the competency to prove you can make an impact.
Yet, if you neglect your character in light of your competency, you’ll end up skilled but shallow, and you’ll likely burnout after you burn one too many relational bridges.
Developing dual-dimensional skills
Over time, you will discover that some tasks or skills overlap these two dimensions, focusing both on competency and character. I call these dual-dimension skills.
Mastering these skills is what will truly set you apart, as they will be vitally important in the understanding and execution of any role you decide to take down the road.
Of these dual-dimension skills, learning to be a great teammate is perhaps the most beneficial skill that you can develop when you are a young professional.
Mastering it will affect both the way you lead and the way you follow others. Understanding how to be a great teammate allows you to cultivate great teams, which go on to sharpen productivity, catapult leaders, and change the overall culture and tone of organizations.
If you are anything like me, you find being a teammate isn’t always the easiest or most natural skill to practice. I’m a type-A, achiever, with a lot of ambition and self-confidence. When I was younger, I was the “do the whole group project by myself” kind of person, which seemed to work great. My skills were adequate to get me through most circumstances.
Yet, as I grew up and the work I was focusing on got harder and more comprehensive, my self-focused strategies began to stretch, and in some moments, snap.
When I started working after college, I realized that there was no way I could succeed in the business world without being able to work with others. In my first year out of college, I did a year-long internship with five others.
On this team, I was not the smartest, the strongest, funniest, or most relationally gifted.
That year taught me a lot. Most significantly, I learned that the best way to leverage my skills and the team’s skills was by working to become a great teammate.
The first step in this process is identifying the essentials qualities of such a person.
Since my internship year, I have studied and researched what makes a great team player, and I have narrowed down the list of qualities to seven necessary characteristics.
These seven qualities are listed in a specific order that I believe will maximize your impact to become the best possible teammate. They are meant to be read and practiced in order.
1. Express genuine interest in others
Being a great teammate almost always begins with selflessness and taking a genuine interest in other people.
When everything in your professional and likely personal world is pushing you to care more about yourself than others, highlighting your self-interests over your teammates’ interests, this simple thought becomes a radical commitment to being the best possible teammate.
Expressing genuine interest in others means working past the boundaries that keep so many office-relationships relatively surface-level.
It means asking good, intentional questions and remembering the details of your co-worker’s lives. It means foregoing the transactional nature that can quickly become second nature.
2. Develop Trust
Once you embrace the first quality of taking a genuine interest in the people you work with, you are ready to move towards the second quality of building foundations of trust.
People will be slow to trust those they feel are not interested in them. When you cultivate an attitude of being interested in others, you create the bedrock that, over time, leads to trusting relationships.
In Pat MacMillan’s book ‘The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork,’he describes trust in this way:
“Trust is somewhat like a thermometer, reflecting the current state of a relationship. Unlike a thermostat, a thermometer can’t be used to set a desired temperature level; it merely displays the current level. You can’t mandate the level of trust; you can only attempt to create an environment and opportunities that will facilitate its development among the members of a team.”
Trust inherently cannot be demanded — you must earn it. Better yet, you must deserve it. If you want to be a great teammate, you must focus on creating an environment and opportunities that develop trust.
3. Be an intentional listener
Which leads directly to our third quality: great listening. One of the best ways to create opportunities in your professional relationships for trust to develop is through intentional listening.
Listening is a lost art. Many young professionals have inverted the percentages of how much time they should speak compared to how much they should listen. With shorter attention spans and a higher personal value on our thoughts, great listening can be a difficult skill to implement.
Here are a few tips to help you become a great listener: keep eye contact, make lists of conversations to remember what’s been discussed, stay humble, and understand the difference between urgency and importance.
4. Professionally respect your peers
Listening well strengthens the foundations of trust within relationships and creates a culture of healthy professional respect. A great teammate understands that fostering respect within their professional relationships is a crucial aspect of supporting each co-worker.
Respecting your teammates can be done in a variety of ways. Welcoming new or different ideas, recognizing expertise, and asking the people around you for help are all small steps that you can take to demonstrate your respect for the men and women you work with.
5. Display wise goofiness
A great teammate can operate with wise goofiness. This quality is seen best when professional people know when not to take themselves too seriously. This can be a tricky line to walk.
There is a time and a place for both goofiness and work. The best teammates utilize both and don’t neglect one for the other. Instead of being the funny one or the serious one, aim to be the person who knows the difference and can step into either circumstance with ease.
6. Broadcast hope and belief
If you have positioned yourself to care about people, built trust, listened well, respected others, and have connected with others with a wise goofiness, odds are you are a great teammate right now. But what will continue to set you apart, transforming your learning today into leading tomorrow, is your ability to hope and believe in your teammates’ future.
Daniel Coyle writes in his book Culture Code that successful cultures and teams do three primary things: build trust, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.
Without a future direction, people wander. Aim to be someone who sees more for other people than they may even see for themselves.
7. Agree to mutual accountability
You’ll never really be a great teammate without this last quality. Mutual accountability is necessary because no one gets the whole scope of teamwork right on their first or even second try.
Actively seeking out mutual accountability means that you are first willing to hold yourself accountable. Without that, you can’t practice accountability for others. Once you are on board with self-accountability, you must be willing to keep those around you accountable as well.
Hopefully, by practicing qualities 1–6, your teammates trust you to help hold them accountable.
Even though accountability is hard, it’s the only way to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction in your professional career.
The great reward of a dual-dimension skill is that it is both inward and outwardly focused.
Becoming a better teammate to those around you will require an internal focus on your character and an investment into your habits, thoughts, and tendencies. But as you work out your growth, you are also sharpening your competency as you connect with and intentionally pursue friendships with your co-workers.
Being a great teammate is not easy, but mastering this skill will change your professional career direction in a way that few other skills can.
This article first appeared on Medium.