After 12 years Together We Part

We’ve been through a lot together. It was approximately 12 years ago that he was walked over to where I sat, extended his hand introducing himself and sat down. Coming from outside the organization, I knew nothing of him prior to that moment; well nothing beyond my office mate was male.

“Hi I’m Trevor, nice to meet you.” Are those his exact words? Truth be told my memory isn’t that good! However, it was something like that. Now our office isn’t that large. In fact, the Supervisor that occupies the office next to us has the same square foot space all to himself. We’re so close to each other we can lean back in our chairs and high five each other if we want. In short, it’s the kind of space where you’d better get along with each other because once you add the two chairs, tables, a lateral cabinet and one chair for a guest, you don’t have a lot of free space to move around.

Our time together is soon coming to an end, as Trevor has made a decision to take a lateral move and work on one of the other teams in our office. That move necessitates a relocation and thus it is that as the longest serving partners in our office, we’ll each get new office mates. While he’s leaving, the change isn’t reserved for him alone though. Spend a dozen years working alongside anyone and when that time is up, both of us will be impacted. Whether I remain in the same space or get relocated myself to a space new to me is as yet unknown, but it will represent a change for me even if I don’t physically pack up and move.

If you’re in a similar situation to me, having shared your workspace with someone else for a long period of time, you know how you work things out together. Over time you get to know how you work best together. For example, I found that being sensitive to light and getting headaches as a result, he appreciated it greatly when we had the overhead bulbs removed from our lighting. That leaves our office darker in the a.m.; so much so that I have two small lamps on my desk which exudes a warmth until the morning sun through our window lights the place up sufficiently they aren’t required.

We’ve come to respect the other guy a lot too. I’m so much better for his wisdom, support, kindness and his generosity. I hope he feels the same way about me too; in fact if I’m honest, I know he feels the same way. We’ve always had great care for each other, especially when we’ve vented, been stressed over something or wanted to pitch an idea. It’s curious that over all that time, we’ve actually done very few workshops together as co-facilitators. We’re both very adept at sole facilitation, and as we’ve grown to a dozen of us on the team, the times we’ve been paired up to co-present has waned. Ah, but everyday we talk with each other about our groups, how the people are coming along, those that shine and those that struggle.

We talk sports with each other too; him with his college football team out of Alabama and me with my Alouettes out of Montreal. Yesterday he told me just how much he’s going to miss our sports conversations. It’s not that we can’t get up, walk around the office and have those chats, it’s just that they won’t happen on the spur of the moment, natural like. And of course we’d have to be mindful of the other person sharing that space; be it in his new location or the office we currently share with someone else sitting where he sits now.

As much as we’ve got along so well, it’s time he left. We’re at different stages in life and he’s destined for new challenges, new responsibilities and perhaps down the road a promotion. Diversifying his experience now puts him in a better place to make such a move, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

So one day this week, I suspect there’ll be an email go around announcing the pairings to come. With 3 new staff in our office arriving this week, and some staff in addition to Trevor on the move, we could have as many as 20 people impacted with those changes. With these moves, change is going to impact the entire office. Knowing someone and sharing a space with them are two different things. You have to find the boundaries all over again; music no music while working? Lighting or none? Who gets the lateral cabinet or do you share it? And of course the personalities of the two people in such a small space have to gel in some way. That adjustment period can be short or long depending on care, styles, attitudes and respect.

As for speculation, I’m not really doing that. I don’t have any guesses really, and I’ve other things to think about beyond whom the next office mate is. I do hope the two of us hit it off and if we come even close to the relationship Trevor and I forged together I’ll feel fortunate indeed.

You don’t go into a job thinking about developing a strong relationship with someone but it can happen. Thanks Trevor; for everything.

Teamwork As A Valued Trait

Looking at job postings these days, teamwork is one qualification that shows up fairly consistently; the ability to work cooperatively and productively with others. It’s a highly valued commodity; an essential quality that employer’s want more and more in the people they bring in from the outside to join their existing workforces.

It’s more though than simply getting along with others. When you work as a member of a team, you’ve got to understand and act differently than you would if you were working independently. A member of a team comes to rely on others and at the same time be relied upon by them to complete assigned work. Good teams trust each person to show up when scheduled, pull their own weight and go about their work in such a way that fits the other employees. When you’re the new hire, you’re being assessed by the employer and your new co-workers to see how you’ll fit in with the existing workforce; everyone is hoping you’ll contribute in such a way that doesn’t disrupt the way things are. This is true unless of course you’re part of an overhaul of how things have been done and the company wants to shift the culture from the way things have been to something different.

Long ago, many job applicants had similar skills and backgrounds. When an employer advertised an opening, they found that the people applying shared common work histories; people didn’t tend to move around much, and people were interchangeable without much need for teams to adapt to new people. These days, things have changed. Because it’s easier to move around the globe, often employees are showing up not just from different parts of the community, they’re coming from different countries altogether; sometimes from different continents, speaking different languages and having different ways of doing similar work. People aren’t as interchangeable as they once were, and now need much more orientation to local methods, specific procedures and company practices.

You find too that friction is inevitable for some when bringing in new people. Whereas in the past the new hire had to assimilate themselves into the culture of the teams they joined, now you find that many existing workers have to gain an awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the person hired as well. This is a good thing, but it requires effort on the part of the existing team in a way that long ago wasn’t such a priority. Employers too have learned to be culturally sensitive to the needs of their individual workforce members. They go out of their way now to train people on how to work better together – and by better, they ultimately mean be more productive.

Many workers are now cross-trained; they learn not just how to do the job they were initially hired for, but they also learn how to do the job of others. When a person is cross-trained, they become more adaptable, can work in two or three different roles if need be, they become more valuable to the employer. For the person, they are increasing their own skills and doing everything they can to stay hired.

Communication skills are essential when working together. It’s more than just being able to talk and write clearly though. It’s all the non-verbal interaction that’s going on too. Even when working side-by-side with someone, it’s anticipating what they’ll do next, knowing when they’ll need to interact with you and knowing when you’ll be interacting with the next person on your team. Doing your work and being counted on by your teammates to be reliable and dependable goes a long way to fitting in.

The thing about a team environment is that each member should understand and buy in to the same end goals. These can be quotas and targets to hit on a daily basis for example, or they can be how a product is delivered to the customers or end-users. Many teams take a lot of pride in what they do, and if someone – a new hire in this case, threatens that mood or feeling, it will need to be addressed.

Sometimes an organization will actually hire more employees than they plan on keeping. What they are doing in fact is having an internal competition to see who among the new employees will fit with the existing chemistry the best. Or said another way, they are determining who is the most disruptive, performing more independently than gelling with others, and who then to let go.

In a job interview, it’s not enough to say you’re a team player. Too many other people are making the same claims. What is absolutely critical is to give clear examples from your past or current work experiences where you’ve thrived working cooperatively with others and been highly productive. When you show or prove you’ve worked effectively as a valued team member, you make it easier for the interviewers to envision you performing similarly for them. This is where many applicants fail miserably; they make statements with nothing to back up their claims.

Teamwork is about recognizing the strengths of each person and putting everyone in a position to contribute towards the common end goal. If you don’t know what your teams purpose is, this is something you should immediately ask. And while you don’t need to be best friends with your team, show some interest in them.

A Valuable Workplace Activity

Passing on ideas to each other in the workplace is a pretty easy activity that accelerates learning and does so quickly and at relatively low-cost. The fact that its quick is important because reducing time increases savings, and if others already know information you’d have to hunt down, it can make you more productive in the short as well as long-term.

Over the next week one of my fellow employees and I are co-facilitating a workshop on building a virtual tool box. What’s in the toolbox? Cartoons, quotes, videos, articles, Prezi’s, speeches, lectures and more. Facilitating the process of collaboratively building our toolbox is the method we chose to go about it, and not presuming to be the only experts in the room and sharing only what we know.

By way of example, here is what we’re doing. We’re bringing together hosting 6 groups of about 20 staff each who hold various job titles; seating no more than 5 people at a table. On each table we have a laptop with internet access and MS Word. If you haven’t got access to Word, you don’t need it specifically; but you’ll need some word processing program to copy and paste to that will allow everyone to save their work on.

The first thing you should know is that we’re gathering these people together for in our case, an hour and fifteen minutes. While the time could be longer, its sufficient time for people to get into what we’re talking about and then end the session while interest is still peaking. The last thing you’d want I imagine is to drag out an exercise to the point where the audience is bored, ready to move on but the facilitators don’t seem to be in sync and what was fun and new turns into something akin to tooth extraction; painful.

First the two of us introduced the idea of the virtual tool box which one can carry wherever there’s internet access and computer availability. Carry a phone around with you and it could work, but ideally we’re talking laptop, desktop, large fixed monitors or I suppose tablets etc. In other words, large enough a group of people could see a screen without too much straining around a tiny screen.

In our presentation, we shared the idea of what we were doing and that in the end there would be a real tangible benefit for each participant. Each person receives no handouts during the presentation, but will in the end get the total of everything the 6 groups produces. Think of that; in our case we have six groups of 20 people – so 120 people’s collaborative work produced in a unified document and available to all. If 2 heads are better than 1, imagine the impact and value of having 120 people come together! Not bad considering everyone is contributing just over 1 hour of their time.

We begin with inviting each group to think of an audience in their workplace; will it be their colleagues at a team meeting where they are making a presentation, a client group, customers, maybe a management team. Wherever you work, think of those you might come into contact with; don’t neglect to think of yourself too. After all, you can benefit from watching a video, being drawn to a quote, finding meaning and relevance in a speech, being motivated by someone’s story etc. as much as anyone else.

Now once those at the table agreed on a potential audience for this exercise, (giving each group 30 seconds to decide on one), everyone is ready for the next stage; thinking about what you’d like to share with that target. So are you looking to motivate, help them problem solve, dress appropriately, work better together, understand a concept, aspire to consider possibilities etc.?

With your audience and what you want to communicate with in mind, each group is then turned loose on a single laptop on their table to explore the internet and find things having to do with what they want to share with the audience they selected. Maybe they find a TedTalk, an image with a quote, a cartoon or still image that is the inspiration for a conversation; anything that will spark dialogue, start a conversation and help deliver a point.

Now the MS Word document I referred to near the beginning is really for each group to copy and paste the URL’s into; noting the subject of the link as well. At the end of the hour and 15 minutes, each group may have 3 – 10 links which they’ve found, settled on and saved in the document. With 6 groups of people contributing, we could well end up with 18 – 60 links to ultimately share to the collective participants in the coming days after the last group participates.

We are encouraging each person upon receipt of this to spend some time opening up the links to see what’s there. Some will speak directly to them and they’ll find them helpful, while others won’t strike a chord. The ones that are helpful would be good to save in their personal, ‘Favourites’ on the internet. Why? These can then be accessed when wanted and quickly, grouped by topic in folders.

Now they have tools to use for the next team meeting, their own training events, working 1:1 with a client or customer, participant or a management group.

Feel free to copy our example, change it for your own workplace. Shared knowledge is a good thing.

Tolerance On The Job

If you were to say you are a tolerant person, would you be casting yourself in a positive light or unintentionally exposing a character flaw?

I don’t often come across this word on too many resumes, nor hear when I listen to most people describe themselves in interviews; particularly with the, “Tell me about yourself” question. However, I have come across this word several times in the last week when reading some LinkedIn profiles, and in correspondence I’ve received from job seekers. Each time I read the word, I became aware that I was conflicted reacting to the word. I knew the writers using it intended to be speaking positively about themselves, so why then was I unsettled with the choice of the word?

Tolerate: Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of things one does not necessarily like or agree with, such as opinions or behaviour, without interference.

So I started to imagine myself in my workplace; I imagined all sorts of people in their workplaces too. I conceived of situations we all might have where other people held opinions that we didn’t like or agree with, where people were behaving in ways we didn’t like or agree with. Finally I imagined myself allowing the existence and practice of those same behaviours and opinions.

Somehow, I find myself accepting of others opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with much easier to accept than I do behaviours. I’ve no right to impose my opinion on someone else with the expectation they change theirs to mirror my own, any more than that person has a right to expect me to change mine to match theirs. I have no qualms with this part of what it means to be tolerant. In fact, it is in differing opinions that I – that we – learn. When exposed to the differing views of others, we are afforded a chance to perceive something from a differing view, and with that new information re-evaluate our opinions or behaviours.

When we outright dismiss another person’s point of view, we run a risk of dismissing the person who holds it, and every experience in their past which has led them to hold the view they now have. Opinions we hold are after all, the summation of all our experiences to date. We shape our opinions based on what we’ve seen, read, heard, felt, tasted and experienced. With everything we experience we either solidify our opinions or we adjust them. So it stands to reason when someone or some group holds a differing opinion, we have a chance to hear why, learn and then choose to maintain our view or modify it.

Allowing the occurrence of behaviour I don’t necessarily like or agree with however, is something I find harder in some situations. Here I believe I’ve hit upon what rubs me the wrong way when I read others describe themselves as tolerant.

In most organizations, there is a person or group at the top that hold a common belief system. They refer to this as their values. It is their expressed objective to bring people on board who share or develop similar beliefs in order for those beliefs and values to be consistently experienced by end-users. When consumers experience the same behaviours with each interaction no matter the representative of the company, that consistency brands the company and reinforces the view the consumer has. They come to expect – be it positive or negative in their mind – to be treated a certain way, to experience service a certain way, and come to know therefore the company in the same consistent way. This is branding.

When an employee holds an opinion that varies from those of the larger company; they may choose or not to make that opinion known. However, behaviours and actions are observable, and when those behaviours appear to fly in the face of the values the company purports to uphold and believe, the consumer is conflicted, the brand weakened. This is one of the biggest fears organizations have. Too many people acting and behaving in ways that differ from the organizations expectations, and the brand loses its strength and becomes muddied.

When you observe a co-worker behaving or acting with a client or customer in a way you know contradicts the beliefs or values of your organization, tolerating such behaviour may not be best advised. Tolerance here may become a flaw. The real challenge is to correctly identify which differing behaviours and opinions to respect and leave unchallenged, and which behaviours and opinions to openly address and how.

Not all of us are comfortable addressing the opinions and behaviours of others any more than we are comfortable having our own opinions and behaviours discussed.

In the workplace, sound advice is to identify the behaviour (not the people themselves), that is at the crux of any discomfort you experience, and assess if it flies in the face of your own opinions and behaviours and/or those of the organization. It’s a fine line allowing individual expression; thought and behaviour while at the same time having everyone pull in the same direction.

Tolerating behaviour and opinions sometimes is the thing to do. Other times, those opinions and behaviours need to be challenged and discouraged; especially when those opinions and behaviours depart from the organization expectations, or when the people stating them demand your conversion to their views. Knowing which is the real test of good judgement.

So Was It A Poor Or Good Use Of Staff Time?

Lest you think I don’t know the answer to the question above, I do; the time was well spend and I’d do it again exactly the same way.

So here was the situation yesterday at work. It was day 1 using a new computer system. There were additional staff in the workplace to help everyone adjust to the new technology, and there were some fun things going on to keep the mood positive when problems arose.

Of course from a clients point of view, the world doesn’t stop just because Social Service’s Staff have something new at their workplace. So the schedule called for myself and one of my colleagues to run workshop on interview skills. As it turns out, only two people turned up for the workshop; a workshop that typically would run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Now I’ve run this workshop many times, but the colleague of whom I speak has never done so. Given an opportunity to share how he’d like to proceed before we knew our numbers for the day, he opted to have me run the workshop and observe more than truly co-facilitate. With only two people attending, he first asked if we shouldn’t just take one each and work 1:1 with them. Then when I nixed that idea, he wondered if he shouldn’t skip it altogether and do something else for the day. After all, there’s only two people and I can comfortably handle a full class of up to 25 in that workshop should those numbers appear.

If you look at this day in isolation he’s correct. The salary of two staff working with two clients is a poor trade-off. However, factor in that this fellow has never ran the workshop before, doesn’t know the material covered etc. and it’s a different equation. So I ran the regular workshop and had the consent of both participants to do so. After all, in my opinion, aren’t the two who showed up entitled to our very best?

You see the way I look at things, I had two objectives for the day and three ‘students’. Objective one was to give each of the two participants all the help I could to better their interview skills through instruction and practice. But my second objective was to teach my colleague how to run the workshop; what’s covered, what’s handed out, what multi-media do I use etc. and experience it so he can then run it independently in the future and still cover the core content.

I was quite pleased with how the day played out. My colleague and teammate injected his own experiences and ideas throughout the day from time to time. And when it did come time to do a mock interview, it was his idea to have each of them interviewed by each of us one on one and then switch and do it again.

What I found most pleasing and satisfying is that when the workshop concluded, one of the two participants said, “Well I’ve got to tell you I’m impressed; quite impressed really.” And he was genuine. I think he got more out of that day than he ever expected. The other participant realized she needed to work on her stories; the examples she would draw upon during an interview to prove her stated skills and experience.

Now you’ve got to realize that voluntarily showing up for a day getting help with interview skills is not something a lot of people would do. As many people don’t enjoy interviews in the first place, why would they come by choice? So with only two people, I admire them even more because during the day, it’s not like they have anywhere in which to hide amongst a room full of people. Every time I’d ask for input, there would only be two of them to answer. Some other people would have walked out right off the bat if they were one of only two people there. But these two stayed and instead of leaving at 2:30 p.m., they stayed an additional 20 minutes because they wanted to and asked for more.

And here’s another thing I liked about the two of them. Given the option of an hour lunch or a half hour lunch, guess what they chose? 30 minutes. So while my colleague opted to take his full hour lunch, the two of them and myself reconvened after half an hour and resumed the session, with him joining us later. And that worked out well, because both him and them got what they needed over that period.

From a mentoring perspective, I really hope that my colleague got everything out of the day he needs to run this workshop competently and independently. He’s got experiences and skills accumulated from his past employment and volunteer background. He’s welcome as is every member of our team, to add to and delete some content in the workshop as long as the overall integrity and goals of the workshop are covered. The benefit is that he now knows what I personally do in the workshop. He’ll take what will work for him and add things that he’d like to incorporate to truly make the workshop his own. That’s expected.

Was it a good use of time to have us both there? I think so and so too does our mutual supervisor. He just became more valuable and the overall team stronger.

“Sorry, That’s Not In My Job Description”

You should know your job description of course, because it spells out what your are expected to do in exchange for the position you hold and the salary attached to it. It’s not a bad idea to actually pull it out from time to time and look it over and see if in fact there are things you should be doing but aren’t, and things you are doing that don’t show up in it.

This exercise can be very beneficial for a couple of reasons. Of most interest to you personally, it could result in an examination of the remuneration you receive from the employer if your position is graded anew, and you move up on the salary grid without necessarily having anything new added to what you are currently doing. Wouldn’t that be a nice recognition for the work you do? You bet.

Of course it could also be advantageous if you are feeling overwhelmed with your workload and can’t really figure out why, and then you discover that your workload has quietly increased and now includes significant responsibilities that have been slowly added. If there is no financial extra’s forthcoming, it may be that the person you report to hasn’t recognized either until you point it out that your daily workload includes things not on your job description. The result could be some of the things you have been doing are reassigned to others, and you are more than capable of handling what is left to you without any drop in pay. That could have the positive impact of making you happier and less stressed.

However, knowing what’s in your job description also reminds you what isn’t. And telling someone that what you are being requested to do falls outside or beyond it should be done with caution and care. So for example, suppose you and your co-workers are getting the place ready for a visit by your CEO who seldom makes it out to your field office. Everybody is pitching in and sprucing things up when your immediate boss spies a bag of garbage mistakenly left behind by the night cleaning crew. As the nearest person, your politely and respectfully asked to remove it behind public viewing and you snap, “Sorry, that’s not in my job description!”

Technically you are correct in your assertion. However, the impact of the words you’ve used and the tone in your voice may come as a shock to those around you, and even though you are right, you may be revealing more about your willingness to do something above and beyond your responsibilities, your commitment to teamwork, and if nothing else, it will strain the moment for all. So it becomes a question of you deciding whether the task being requested is worth standing on a principle of work for pay or standing on a principle of doing what would be most helpful when it’s within your ability to do so regardless of your responsibilities.

Imagine if all employees did only exactly what was in their job descriptions and nothing more – not one iota. (And let’s forget the famous, ‘other duties as assigned’.) Wouldn’t, “I’m sorry, that’s not in my job description” become pretty irksome! All those workers insisting on their 15 minutes breaks, 30 or 60 minute lunch breaks and not lifting a finger to do anything that impedes on THEIR time? Can you picture people posting their job descriptions at their workstations and checking it every time they were asked to do something to see if that piece of paper had it listed? Why give an 8 1/2″ x 12″ paper more power than it’s due?

Many times it is critical to not work beyond your job description. You may for example expose yourself to unwanted criticism and even legal liability if you do things beyond what you are required. Should you be trying desperately to fit in with your co-workers, doing more than you are expected to will backfire if what you actually being paid to do suffers. They may not appreciate being asked to pick up the mess you’ve left behind while your off blissfully doing something that isn’t what you were hired to do.

You know when a young, ambitious youngster is called up to a major sports team for his first game, the best advice he often gets from the veterans is to work within his capabilities and not try to win the game all by himself. You see the veterans know that if everybody contributes what is expected of them, the entire group has a better chance of winning. That same idea works in the world of everyday work. You do your job, let others do theirs, and if they don’t for some reason, it’s their supervisor’s job – not yours – to point that out and correct the action.

And that last point is equally important; know YOUR job description, and don’t make a point of thinking you know other employees duties. Quite frankly, knowing one’s own responsibilities should be more than enough.


Naughty Or Nice?

At the start of December, my co-worker came in to work one day to find the office completely transformed with Christmas decorations. Now this isn’t anything new, as they were bought at a local dollar store last year. There are gold Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling, gold tinsel over our workstations, small foil wrapped boxes tied up with string dangling from overhead storage areas, and small coloured boxes taped to the monitors and on our outside door. We even splurged last year and hung two Christmas stockings on the door; and that’s where things are different this year.

One of those stockings reads, “Dear Santa, I have been a good boy” and the other reads, “I’ve been very very naughty”. Last year we each just put something in one of the stockings for the other guy and took them home on the last day of work to open under the tree Christmas morning. For some reason, we started a conversation yesterday with other co-workers who were asking us which stocking belonged to which of us. At that moment, an idea came to Trevor, my co-worker.

“We should have a contest and let staff decide”. What a great idea I agreed. So I hastily put together a page that was titled, “Naughty or Nice!” On it, I explained about the two stockings on our door and that we were both throwing it out to our co-workers to decide who would claim ownership of each stocking so ol’ Santa wouldn’t be confused. I even searched and found two images of the words, “Naughty” and “Nice” on the internet and put them on the sheet with instructions to cut them out and put our names on whichever they felt was appropriate. Staff then put one slip of paper into each stocking when we aren’t around. On our last day of work, we’ll tally them up and in go the presents we buy for each other – small items.

This is more than just goofing around in the office. This is an example of some social interaction between co-workers that creates bonding, levity, some inexpensive stress relief as people laugh over how they’ll vote. When people come together in a positive way it often translates into positive working relationships and of course some good memories.

So why share this with you and what’s it got to do with job searching or getting ahead in the world? Well, sometimes it’s important to do the lighter things in life. At work, if you can find small ways to bring happiness and laughter into the lives of those with whom you work, it can make both your work lives enriched. You may find yourself less stressed about interacting with others, they may be more open and approachable to you when opportunities arise to work together on projects and assignments. You’ve heard of team spirit, this is akin to creating Office Spirit – much more powerful and much desired. Get a number of people all together who truly enjoy each others contributions, personalities and strengths and you’ve got one powerful organization.

Now if you want to steal this idea, by all means you just go right ahead. On the other hand, I suspect what may happen is that you yourself may find other ways to have some fun in your office that won’t necessitate memorandums from Management curtailing activities that may actually detract from productivity and make itself felt on the organizations’ financial ledger. That’s the beauty of a small idea that is essentially low-budget, big return. Goodwill and happiness can be contagious, and you may find that other employees do little things that make your workplace a better place to be.

You know what? Things like this have a way of spreading even beyond the specific workplace. Workers go home and tell spouses and friends small things in conversation that spark other ideas. Maybe some colleague at work takes a picture and you find yourself in the company newsletter under the heading, “Christmas joy in the workplace!”. Hey, wait a minute….again with the job search and getting ahead stuff….you, in a newsletter? Pictured creating merriment and happiness with other workers? Getting credited with instigating some workplace positive energy? What would that be worth to you in the long haul? Priceless. You can’t buy that kind of reputation, but you can earn it.

Think about what you yourself can do not just during the month of December, but in other ways throughout the year to create good relations with your co-workers that doesn’t distract you and them from the work at hand, but rather enhances working relationships and brings energy and enthusiasm to your workplace.

All the best.


Knowing Your Role On The Team

On any team, whether it’s a professional sports team, a team of construction contractors, a team in a factory, or an office team, there will always be the same group dynamics. Someone will inevitably either be assigned or take on the role of leader. Does that automatically relegate everyone else to the role of follower? Of course not.

If you were to observe a groups interaction with each other, or indeed if you think back to your own experience when working with others, you will see that there are other roles that people assume. There is the Peacmaker for example; the person that tends to get two opposing people or sides to see commonalities, areas of shared opinions, and they diffuse hostility and are usually the person to suggest a break, a time out, a cooling off period. They have a usual role to play that reminds the rest of the team that there is a greater good to working productively with each other.

You’ll also find the Negotiator. This person is skilled at discerning areas where there is give and take, and gets the group past barriers that threaten to derail progress. A good Negotiator can get both sides to feel that what they have achieved outweighs what they may have given up.

There’s the Thinker. You know this person probably the least unless you are tuned in. This person is the one who tends to hold on to their thoughts without expressing them to the rest of the group until discussions have been underway for some time. This allows them to have a unique perspective, In their mind, they are weighing information, sorting out what is posturing, what is relevant, what is essential, what is desired and what is workable. While they don’t talk a great deal in a group, when they do, others are usually smart enough, (or surprised enough) to stop talking themselves and consider what has been shared.

The Researcher is a person who comes to the table with factual evidence, reports, summaries and data that the group could benefit from knowing in terms of making informed decisions. While they may not necessarily be advocating a course of action, they supply the raw input that the group needs in order to move forward with confidence.

The Socializer is the person who provides the icebreaker games, the plans for lunch, the chit-chat that occurs from time to time that can act as a stress release for the group so things don’t become overly bogged down with strong emotional reactions. They bring perspective to the group, reminding everyone that there are other things going on outside the group that are important.

The Taskmaster is the person who keeps the group focused on the job at hand. They usually position themself in front of the clock, agenda in front of them, allocating so many minutes to a topic or discussion and serve to warn the group when they are off topic for too long, or in danger of not ticking off all the items to be discussed.

There is the Delegator, who assigns roles to everyone or see’s that people volunteer to take on roles before the group breaks up. They are most determined to make sure that when the group meets in the future, everyone will have a firm grasp on who was to do what.

Sometimes, there’s even the Freeloader. This person usually flies under the radar for a long time. They sit in the group, comment here and there, appear interested and involved, but when you look back, they often have little accountability on a personal level, their input is marginal, and they can find themself excluded from future groups if they are deemed excess baggage.

You may be well advised to consider yourself and the role or roles you play on teams you are currently part of. Perhaps you have a certain role in one group, and in another group you take on a different role, or you may be one of those people who tends to take on the same role again and again either by choice or election. It’s important for you to know your role and to tune in to this. Think about the skills and attributes of these positions. Can you learn from these? Can you for example bring them up in an interview, explaining to the interviewer the skills you have, the role you can play in their company, and how the company can benefit from your inclusion? Not everyone needs to be a leader, nor does every company require one. Maybe they need a Researcher, a Negotiator, a Thinker.

A good leader will recognize that there is value in every one of the roles described above, and that a productive team needs all the roles. In some groups, some people will shift from one role to another and assume several roles depending on the task at hand. I myself have been a Leader, a Peacemaker and a Negotiator all in the same meeting. In another working group, I know I am the Socializer and Taskmaster simultaneously, and the two are not in opposition to each other. There is an appropriate amount of time bringing levity to the group and getting people to connect personally and at the same time I’m committed to checking off all those agenda items before we break up.

So instead of saying, “I work well in teams” or, “I’m a team player” which just sounds so flat and commonplace, try in an interview to say something like, “In a team, I often take on the role of Negotiator, brokering deals and compromises between people that allows the entire group to move forward with important decisions and creates progress toward achieving goals.” Then give an example of this and you’ve just made yourself stand out from every other person out there who sounds like a broken record.

I’m pulling for ya!