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How to Be a Team Player in Business

“The Last Dance,” an HBO documentary about the Chicago Bulls, tells us a lot about teamwork. When Michael Jordan first joined the Bulls, he was the star of the team. He was excellent at his craft and they won more games because of it. But they never won the NBA championship. That is, until Phil Jackson became the coach. Phil stopped centering plays around Michael Jordan and began working with the players as a unified team, rather than letting the best player on the team be the hero. With Michael Jordan on the team but not at the center of the team, the Chicago Bulls went on to win the NBA Championship three years in a row and six times altogether. There’s a valuable work lesson here for other organizations and leaders: Heroes make bad team players.

We’ve all been on teams that had that one person who wanted to be the hero. Maybe we’ve even been that person. It’s the person who wants to be right, who wants to save the day, who wants all the good credit and none of the bad. Oftentimes, this person can seem untouchable, unstoppable and can be the object of envy for other team members. After all, who doesn’t want to be the star? But while heroes might seem shiny and cool, they’re actually an inhibition to achieving business results and prevent the development of other team members to become effective leaders.

Why You Shouldn’t Try To Be a Business Team Hero

When heroes fall, it’s a long way down. 

The hardest thing about being a hero is having to maintain your heroic image. But an important part of being on a business team is having the opportunity to fail. This is key, because, without failure, you can’t learn, and while you might do great for a while getting win after win without having to practice adjustment and learning, you’ll be in a worse position when things do actually go wrong — and they will. This could be due to an internal mistake, but it could also be an unexpected change in the market, a brand-new technology or a business merger. In business, things are always changing, growing and shifting, and being able to pivot and adapt is incredibly important. A hero who has to maintain their image is less likely to take risks and is also less likely to be accountable if something goes wrong because they don’t want to lose their image as the hero.

Heroes don’t like to be wrong.

When someone plays the hero, their image is based on being great, and this includes being right. Needing to be right is a problem because there’s no possible way to be right all the time. People who need to be right tend to ignore opposing viewpoints, resist learning new perspectives and ignore reality in favor of their opinion. This is extremely detrimental to a team, which needs to constantly be responding to real-life change and feedback. This can bottleneck team execution by causing arguments, or if everyone goes with the hero’s opinion, the whole team could miss out on better, more creative solutions. When a hero puts their need to be right over the desired outcomes of the team, they put the whole team at risk for failure.

Heroes make it all about them.

Heroes need to be the center of attention. They need to be the one who saves the team from failure, who thought of the best idea or who people turn to for all the answers. A hero centers themselves rather than the objectives of the team. When building a team, it’s important to keep your focus on what you want to achieve. A team’s goals, purpose and desired outcomes are the north star. No one is in business just to stay stagnant; we are always trying to get better, to expand our role as a team, to operate more efficiently or to transition with the culture as it naturally shifts. So, when we put all of that aside in favor of one team member — in this case, the hero — we lose sight of what’s important. This can cause distraction, a breakdown in coordination and a stalling out of the team as they put the hero’s need for attention and approval above their true purpose as a business team.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Business teams get good results when they’re inclusive and consider diverse perspectives that optimize critical thinking, innovation and solving problems collectively to minimize unintended consequences. When one person takes the role of hero on a team, the other team members either favor the hero’s opinions and perspectives or resent them. Either way, it suboptimizes the strengths of other team members and limits the ability of the entire team to effectively make decisions together using their unique skills, experience, history and ways of thinking to drive business outcomes. Diversifying team execution creates better, more creative solutions, reduces points of weakness on the team, prevents breakdown and improves execution.

How To Be a Team Player in Business

Learn how accountability increases your value and income as an employee.

Be Accountable To Your Teammates

When you’re on a team, your teammates are counting on you to play your part, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. A team player is accountable to their teammates, taking responsibility for agreed-upon outcomes. When you’re on a team, your teammates are counting on you to play your part, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect.Accountability could look many different ways, including doing what you said you were going to do, surfacing problems before they become crises, supporting a teammate in getting their work done, helping a teammate improve a necessary skill, or communicating clearly and with purpose.

Value Diversity of Experience & Thought

One of the greatest things about being on a team is that the more diverse the team, the stronger it becomes. Diversity of experience, skills, and thought process on a team means greater creativity when deciding and executing on team outcomes as well as in problem-solving. When you let yourself or another person on the team become too dominant as the leader or hero of the team, it dilutes the power of team collaboration, making the team more limited, rigid, and less able to adapt to change or solve problems quickly. Being a team player means actively valuing and advocating for diversity, inclusion, and equal team contribution.

Keep a Positive Attitude

One of the greatest things a team player can do for their team is to be positive. Nothing erodes a team like negativity and gossip. Stay focused on team outcomes, assume positive intent from your teammates, surface interpersonal issues when necessary with the intent to resolve conflict, and stay positive when possible. Positivity breeds hope, camaraderie, and creativity.

Communicate Clearly with Purpose & Compassion

Communication is incredibly important for any team. To be a good team player, communicate clearly and with purpose. When delegating tasks, it’s important to communicate not just the task itself, but also the outcome so that your teammate or direct report knows how to evaluate the success of their efforts. Each team must develop habits of communication that make sense for the outcomes and constraints of that team. For example, nurses in an emergency room will need to communicate differently than an HR department. Whatever team you’re on, communicating intentionally, rather than reactively, and being willing to ask questions when needing clarity will get you a long way in being a good teammate.


First Published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.

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