It’s at the core of what teamwork is all about; first and foremost. Caring for others on your team with whom you work from the time you greet each other until you part for home.
Teamwork is so essential to working productively and successfully that it’s almost a given in every job posting you’ll read these days. Oddly enough however, when it comes to providing an interviewer with concrete, specific examples of teamwork, many people I speak with struggle. Many tell me that they don’t really have experiences working on major projects, taking the lead on initiatives where they delegated responsibilities etc. While those are examples of working on teams, they are but two ways to demonstrate teamwork. However, there are other, and I will argue much more significant ways to demonstrate your effectiveness as a valued team member.
Just yesterday, one of my colleagues was off work unexpectedly. In addition to her absence, our team had two people on vacation, one working at a second location and we’re currently short one person on our team until a replacement is hired. With our supervisor off for the day, it fell to those of us working to shore things up. As it happened, another colleague and I had a scheduled meeting in the morning on-site, which meant for us both to attend, we’d need a co-worker to staff our Resource Centre for an hour or two with our placement student alongside.
So up stepped one of my valued colleagues; happily and willingly able to set aside the time she’d counted on to do some planning. After our meeting was over, I returned to take my place. While the meeting had kept me away for an hour and half, all had gone smoothly for my colleague. Except, honestly…we’re all stretched a little thin these days, and we’ve been over-extending ourselves for quite some time. As it turned out, that time she gave up to cover was really needed to regain a measure of control and feel prepared for what she had going on later in the afternoon.
As it happened, my colleague started sharing with me just how stretched to the limit she feels. Not only was she stretched thin at work, but a prolonged home renovation is also going on, and I immediately knew that this meant there was no place for her to relax and recharge; what home should be. As she talked, I could see the visible signs of stress; talking rapidly, nervous laughter mixed with big gestures and just venting. This is good; this is healthy, this is sharing a burden and reality with a listener that cares.
Aside from listening, I could really empathize with her because as I say, we’re all feeling stretched and I’ve been through reno’s at home. Throw in the emergence of the Christmas season, decorating a home, taking on a responsibility at work I’m aware of, and I could immediately get a feel for what she was feeling. By allowing her to share, she actually started to feel better. Then she did something I found intelligent and kind. She asked if I wouldn’t mind allowing her to go to lunch when I’d planned to, meaning my own lunch would be set back an hour. How is this kind? It gave me a chance to do something tangible to help.
While gone, I spoke with our placement student; a smart, aspiring young woman who has her own sights set on working in the field and with whom I can see myself working alongside. Here was a teachable moment. Having seen and overheard much of this interaction, I pointed out that this is exactly how to demonstrate care for one another as teammates. It’s funny how many of us are comfortable saying we love our jobs, we love our work, but the thought of saying we love our co-workers sounds odd if not just plain wrong. Well, it’s little things we do like letting each other vent, putting the needs of another ahead of our own etc. that demonstrate care and love for one another. It was important to put a label on this. “Loving” your co-workers isn’t likely on the University curriculum.
While sitting there awaiting her return so I myself could go for lunch, I got a text from my colleague. It was a picture of her lunch, with the words, “Feeling relaxed. Thank you”. I grinned and felt a measure of happiness for her. That’s all it took to bring control back. When she returned, she brought a tea for me, a coffee for our student and I even got a hug of thanks. That too is love and care reciprocated.
Now this isn’t monumental teamwork that saved the company thousands of dollars or brought some new client onboard. This is an example of everyday, small but significant interactions where you can either step up and support one another with genuine care for your coworkers, or you can say, “Not my problem – I’ve got my own problems. I’m going for my lunch now. See you in an hour.”
It’s the little things we do – you and I – throughout a day that over time become our reputation. When you pitch in, cover, listen, empathize, extend help, support each other, encourage each other – these I argue are the testaments of your teamwork.
On every team, some will get it and some won’t. Be one who does.