Becoming an Effective Team Member

Increasingly due to the complexity of today’s research problems, science and engineering research projects both in industry and academe are being accomplished through group rather than individual investigator efforts. Single investigators may not have the time, skills, and/or expertise to accomplish the various tasks that must be carried out successfully in order to successfully tackle the problem of interest. Working with a team requires a different skill set from that required in traditional single-investigator based research efforts. To be an effective team member it is essential to have good people skills and effective communication skills in addition to a strong technical skill set.

Some useful guidelines for being an effective team member include:

Respect Your Colleagues

If you are new to team-based projects, it is important to understand that everyone on the team brings with them unique technical expertise, knowledge, and experience that should be valued by all of the team members if the team is to be successful. This means that you should make a good effort to listen to other people’s ideas and suggestions respectfully. In turn, you should expect the same from your colleagues. Note that this doesn’t mean that you must become “best friends” with everyone on your team, i.e., you don’t have to eat together, socialize together, and/or share any personal information with your colleagues unless you choose to. However, it is important that you are personable and that you make a good effort to pleasant when interacting with everyone.

Be Responsible

Be proactive. If you notice that there is a task that needs to be done and you have the skills to accomplish it, speak up and take on that task. Be dependable – do your fair share of the work and strive to accomplish any assignments in a timely fashion so that the team can meet any deadlines. Be accountable. If you agree to take on a specific task, it is important for you to follow through on your promise and if you encounter technical difficulties in meeting your obligations to bring this information to the attention of your group as soon as possible so alternatives can be explored and any goals met.

Communicate Effectively

Good communication skills are essential in teamwork. This means you should strive to be open to other people’s ideas. Listen thoughtfully and be enthusiastic in your support of their ideas if warranted. Take the initiative to share your own ideas and do so respectfully. A good guideline to follow in dealing with others is the “Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Bottom line: Assume the best of your teammates and in turn give your teammates your personal best.

Conflict is Inevitable

Whenever you work with people, conflict is inevitable. Each of us brings with us different views on just about everything. So, it should make sense to you that if the team is to be successful, members cannot simply ignore or complain about problems that threaten the accomplishment of the team’s goals. Team members need to identify roadblocks to productivity and bring these in a helpful, positive way to the attention of the team to ensure its success. Being able to deal with emotions and emotional issues in a productive way for all involved or emotional intelligence is a critical skill in team-based work. Managed poorly, conflict can stymie creativity, impede teamwork, and even cause the team to fail to meets its goals and/or deadlines. If members have problems, it is important for them to bring these problems out in the open for discussion by the group without assigning blame, which does little if anything to solve a problem. Although tempting, gossiping with colleagues about difficult team members only creates tension, may get back to them (creating more tension), and erects barriers that won’t get the work done. In concluding this section, it is useful to recognize that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conflict, managed productively, can lead to new ideas, more thoughtful decisions, and superior results.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Team efforts are also different in terms of how credit is apportioned. Consequently, it is important to support good ideas, to give credit where credit is due, and to assertively speak up when you have made a significant contribution that merits recognition.