Escaping the Mediocrity trap- Become the Preferred Co-worker - Build Collaborating Skills for Success!

While the value of Teamwork and Collaboration has been much hyped and there is a great social sanctity around being a great Team player, sharing the credit and hard work, supporting Team synergies and espousing the 'We' is better than 'Me' spirit, Teamwork remains the most difficult and elusive to get right within organizations- Ask your Managers! While we glorify and pay tribute to Team Work and acknowledge it’s importance especially when absent, there appears to be an almost delusional belief among Leaders that the Team will sort out its dynamics on their own in the interest of common goals, work around differences on work ethics and use their maturity to work around differences to finally celebrate the outcome as great Team Work! 

To make matters worse several Team Building programs involve off-sites and activities completed under observation which when delivered play out the best of what people may demonstrate in a Team Building program (barring a few slip ups ofcourse which occur in any human transactions in adverse conditions-however artificially simulated they may be).

However, the real bugs bear plays out in real Teams when the Teams come “Unstuck’’ on real jobs, where Teamwork appears invariably less smart than the sum of the talents of individual Team members. To escape the Mediocrity Trap, the first Learning Block on developing Team skills is to explore how You can become a Preferred Co-worker in a Team!

Let’s begin by describing What 'Not to be’ while contributing in a Team which becomes toxic because of  the behaviors of the Least Preferred Co-Worker. The Least Preferred Co-worker is:

  • Non-transparent and insecure
  • Predisposed with a Trust deficit towards others
  • Is a work Shirker/Escape Artist and has excuses galore on why the work can't get done
  • Is negative/ reduces the energy of the Team, can demotivate other Team members to do the task
  • Has Passive aggression towards Authority/ the Boss and instigates covertly or otherwise/ other Team members on the Futility of the assignment, the unnecessary hard-work involved etc.
  • Demonstrates Poor Work Ethic and is not committed to the task getting completed 
  • Can slow down Team performance greatly if counted on to contribute
  • Camouflages/ hides Incompetence behind excuses, aggression towards the task on hand
  • Inhibits Significant Team members who are committed from succeeding
  • Uses conflict to create Cliques/ inhibits progress of the Team

While these may be mild variations on these behaviors, many of us may have experienced in bafflement and dismay Team members who are not only non-contributors themselves but also prevent the Team from Succeeding!

I was Chairing the Emerging Markets HR Summit in London a few years ago where one of the Speakers spoke about doing business in India and cautioned the participants about the challenges of Teamwork he had experienced and the Passive Aggression he believed those doing business from other countries must amply watch out for, while facilitating Teams to deliver in India.

To Escape the Mediocrity Trap and develop Preferred Coworker Behaviors, here is the Preferred Co-Worker Mindset you need to develop: 

  • I have some information so do other people 
  • Each of us see things that others don't
  • Differences are opportunities for Learning, Teamwork is opportunity for learning new skills/ access the resources of others who maybe more experienced and knowledgeable than me
  • Generosity to give and share - believe that knowledge grows when you share it!
  • ‘We’ is better than ‘Me’! 

These Mindsets are a good starting point to prepare for great Teamwork! The Preferred Coworker Acts by doing the following:

  • Demonstrates respect for all Team members
  • Asks questions rather than assume especially in the context of different Working Styles
  • Behaves in a responsive manner to queries by Team members 
  • Offers their own strengths to the assignment
  • Acknowledges resources available in a transparent manner
  • Addresses the shortcomings of Team members by leveraging team synergies and strengths 
  • Uses Conflict to build understanding/ confront to address differences and include members
  • Responds by following through on the promises made and enable the Team to Win
  • Celebrates wins and breakthroughs to keep the spirit of the Team alive and motivated
  • Does not hesitate to share credit when it is due and uses Teamwork to build relations for future contributions

Here are some great quotes that further reiterate the Preferred Coworker mind set: 

 -The Nice thing about Teamwork is that you always have others on your side

- Alone we do so little, together we can do so much individual commitment to a group effort- that is what makes a Team work, a Company work, a Society work, a Civilization work!

-You don't inspire Teammates by showing them how amazing you are, you inspire them by showing them how amazing They are!

- Team work makes the Dream work!

And finally, to summarize here's a poem that captures the true spirit of the Preferred Co-worker perfectly:


It's all very well to have courage and skill

And it's fine to be counted a star,

But the single deed with its touch of thrill

Doesn't tell the man you are;

For there's no lone hand in the game we play,

We must work to a bigger scheme,

And the thing that counts in the world to-day Is,

How do you pull with the team?

They may sound your praise and call you great,

They may single you out for fame,

But you must work with your running mate

Or you'll never win the game;

Oh, never the work of life is done

By the man with a selfish dream,

For the battle is lost or the battle is won

By the spirit of the team.

You may think it fine to be praised for skill,

But a greater thing to do

Is to set your mind and set your will

On the goal that's just in view;

It's helping your fellowman to score

When his chances hopeless seem;

Its forgetting self till the game is o're

And fighting for the team

-         Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)

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