For the past few decades, we have conducted an activity with teams we consult, train, and coach called “Ideal Team Member.” Over the years, leaders have shared the attributes they look at when selecting team members and what characteristics they appreciate most in teams they are a part of. As work is increasingly completed in a team setting, developing your teaming skills is a critical leadership skill at all levels of the organization. Whether you are an individual contributor or a senior executive, your ability to function as a productive team member is essential to accomplishing the strategic goals of your organization.
Nine traits have had a consistent presence on the “Ideal Team Member” lists since we began the project - despite all of the changes that have occurred in our work environments since we began collecting the data. As you work on building your teams and strengthening your own teaming skills, consider these key traits as critical for effective team members to build and strengthen.
Self-confident team members share their ideas and positively contribute to conversations, taking an active role in problem-solving and moving the team forward. By contrast, a team member lacking self-confidence doesn’t believe that their voice matters and so they sit passively in meetings, often having great ideas that they are too timid to share.
Team members with self-confidence are not afraid to set reasonable boundaries and they consistently hold themselves accountable - so their leaders and fellow team members don’t need to.
An ideal team member is also humble. They adopt an attitude of learning and are open to challenging their own assumptions. These team members are always willing to consider that they might be wrong about something instead of dogmatically insisting that their expertise ensures they have the best answer. They understand that always being right is impossible which helps them quickly move on.
At this level being humble is about growing and learning, and this also relates to the notion of failing fast. Teams with members who are humble can take an agile approach, quickly prototype new solutions, and learn from them. These teams can thrive in periods of constant change.
A resourceful team member is a flexible team member who does not assume that the leader has all of the answers. Instead, they seek to identify all of the different available options for solving problems, and their mind is open to what those could be. As a result, creative and innovative ideas are brought forward.
These team members keep an open mind about all of their possible resources including thinking about tapping into the talents of people you may not instantly think of, gaining an understanding of industry best practices, and learning what competitors (and non-competitors) do.
When a team member is direct it means they clearly express ideas helping to then manage the inevitable disagreements, potential conflicts, and tense discussions. As with self-confidence, a direct team member understands their voice is important and thus they strive to give accurate and helpful information for others to act on, reply to, and build on.
Another aspect of this attribute is that a direct team member doesn’t sugarcoat bad or uncomfortable news. Instead, they have the courage to share things and work to resolve challenges rather than sweeping them under the rug and hoping they will go away.
A dependable team member matches what they say to what they actually do. They can be trusted and counted on to deliver consistency. They clearly communicate what they can deliver and people can take them at their word, knowing that time and time again this team member follows through and is reliable - even amid uncertainty.
An added component to dependability is self-awareness. A dependable, consistent team member understands their limits which prevents them from over-committing.
Stemming from the belief that the time the team spends together will produce something good, optimistic team members have faith that the work they put into the team effort will make a difference. They bring a positive attitude, reminding others that choices for moving forward exist - even when it is hard to see them. Their optimism creates a future-oriented approach to solving problems that assumes the future is not written and the team has the capability to make it better than what it is today.
The commitment to be able to say, “yes, I am all in! I am willing to invest my time, my mental capacity, and my energy to this project,” defines a committed team member. They fully support team goals and jump in to help whenever they are needed.
Committed team members are present and engaged. They understand the team’s purpose and dedicate themselves to achieving the desired results. This commitment extends beyond themselves and they support everyone on the team to help the team achieve something better by doing whatever it takes.
A supportive team member is one who is always on the lookout for opportunities to recognize and build on the contributions of others. They bring a collaborative approach to the team which enables them to see the needs of others and respond whether or not it helps them personally. Side conversations focus on building up others to make the whole team stronger or looking for ways to help the whole team grow closer.
This can also take the form of celebrating and recognizing great things - whether they are small, medium, or large. Supportive teams understand that honoring the contributions and successes of each member, as well as the team, encourages future success.
In order for everyone on the team to succeed, the team needs to be staffed by people who can do their job well. Competent team members are trustworthy and capable of performing the work. They actively engage in their field, keeping up to date on current trends, further developing their expertise, and contribute in helpful ways that move the team forward.
You likely noticed the interconnectedness of these traits. A dependable team member is generally a competent team member as it would be challenging to depend on someone who cannot deliver the needed work. An optimistic team member is generally a supportive team member because their belief that the team will produce something good includes the idea that individuals on the team will produce great results.
As organizations continue to tackle increasingly complex problems, the role of teams will continue to expand. In addition to understanding what great teaming is, and the phases required to achieve it, leaders in your organization must look for individuals who demonstrate these nine traits in their hiring and promotion decisions.