Have you ever noticed that when we want to illustrate how easy something is, we compare it to rocket science or brain surgery? Ok, it requires years of advanced educational study and hundreds of hours of technical experience to master aerospace engineering or neurological surgery. But, truthfully, the average person will never need to become adept at either of these disciplines. Effectively working on a team and getting along with others – those are skills that are necessary for everyone. Unfortunately, embracing the abilities needed to be a good team member and build relationships with others is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult – kind of like rocket science…or brain surgery.
In a 2004 article in the journal Psychological Science, J. Richard Hackman contends that effective team members are people who possess the emotional maturity needed for their roles with their teammates. His research shows that fostering emotional maturity is essential; however, it is a trait that tends to be developmental in nature and cannot be readily taught. Well, you’ll get no argument here. In fact, while many institutions of higher learning offer degrees in neurology or engineering, we’ve yet to see a university that offers a degree in emotional maturity.
So what are those elusive (for some folks, anyway) skills that demonstrate emotional maturity, thus enabling a person to be a good team member? Here’s a list of our top three essential teammate traits:
- Trust – Let’s face it, trust is the foundation of all relationships. Whether it’s with your spouse, your friends, your coworkers or your hair stylist, if you don’t trust the person, you’re not going to be willing to take the risk of being open, honest, and well, trusting. For a good team to work, we need to be able to count on each other. Building trust takes time – and dare we say, it also helps to have face-to-face interactions now and then. Social media and Skype are wonderful tools to keep in touch, but there’s just something about breathing the same air as someone else, and actually spending time interacting together at the very same GPS coordinate that helps to build a strong, reality-based relationship that goes beyond cute photos and 140 characters of type.
- Open Communication – Ok, this seems like a no-brainer. But trying to build a team with a poor communicator can seem like working with a person with no brain. Good communication skills include the ability to effectively and diplomatically express yourself, while quieting your inner voice (and the one resonating from your face) long enough to listen to and understand another person. Honesty, tempered with genuine and sincere kindness, help grease the communication gears, preventing resentment and allowing a shared sense of responsibility to grow.
- Flexibility – Guess what…things don’t always go your way. Good team members know that compromise and a willingness to adapt to change are essential when working with others. And honestly, it’s that combination of ideas – that diversity of thought and experience – that really contributes to building a strong product – and a strong team.
So, creating a good, effective and enjoyable team really isn’t rocket science. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that.
If you want to learn more about how we’ve worked to make our team more successful, check out our June 2014 article in the Journal of Extension, joe.org/joe/2014june/iw4.php.
Becky Nesbitt and Rose Fisher Merkowitz, OSU Extension Educators for Community Development, have worked together for many years, building a strong and effective team focused on providing educational materials related to leadership and organizational development. Take a look at the educational programs that Becky and Rose offer at go.osu.edu/seekexcellence.
(Submitted by Becky Nesbitt, Assistant Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio Valley EERA, and Rose Fisher Merkowitz, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Miami Valley EERA.)