Team-Players Come Out On Top

team-playersEleventh-grader Bryan plays percussion in the school band. For years, he has been competing with Sam, another percussionist in the band. Both of the boys want to outperform the other, which could create a problem if they let their personal struggle interfere with the band’s mission. Bryan, however, sees it as a positive for all the members of the band. “The competition actually makes us better because we are continually motivated by the thought of the other person gaining an edge,” says Bryan. By playing to their highest potential, the boys help the band reach its goals while motivating other band members to excel.

“Teamwork is the ability to work with others in a group,” explains Sharon Williams, teen specialty consultant for the YMCA of the USA. “It is not simply one person leading and others following, but it is truly a group working together, using the variety of skills that each team member possesses to achieve a common goal, dream, wish, or desire.”

Put any group of teens together and there is bound to be conflict. The trick to working as a team is figuring out how to get along well enough to accomplish the team’s objective.

Your Emotional Tank

“Groups can be threatening to people because they can make us feel embarrassed or stupid or left out,” says Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization based at Stanford University. “Kids recognize the risk involved in joining a group, so they may hold back.”

Everyone has to be made to feel psychologically safe before contributing effectively to the team. “If someone’s ’emotional fuel tank’ is low, he or she tends to be suspicious and won’t give or accept feedback,” explains Thompson. “Team members have to fill each other’s emotional tank by expressing praise and appreciation as well as by listening. Once everyone feels safe and accepted, the focus can turn to the team’s mission.”

Talk It Out

One of the most common problems faced by teams is when individuals aren’t given the opportunity to share their skills and talents. Another problem is setting unrealistic goals. “Not that it isn’t important lot the group to challenge itself, but some teams set goals so high they are impossible to reach,” Williams says. “This frustration could lead the team to break up.”

Good communication and planning help prevent misunderstandings and problems. As a team player, you also should understand your role within the group. Williams identifies the following roles you might find yourself playing:

* The Visionary keeps the group moving toward different and more challenging goals.

* The Troublemaker actually can be a positive force because he or she keeps the group on its toes so that no one becomes too comfortable with the same routines.

* The Timekeeper makes sure the group stays on track with goals and tasks.

* The Observer learns how each member is feeling in the group and makes sure that everyone is heard and included.

* The Communicator acts as the voice of the group.

“Who is the leader?” you’re probably asking. According to Thompson, the role of leader is actually an activity, not a title. “Leadership is shared,” he says. “The role is rotated depending on who knows the most about what needs to be done.”

Thompson says team members are attracted to the person who has the most emotional commitment. “To be a leader, you need to be committed to getting things done,” he explains. “Instead of being self-oriented, you are focused on the larger goal that brings the group together.”

Teamwork Tips

Once your team is together, follow the advice of Sharon Mann, an organizational expert, to get started on the right track:

1. Plan your approach. Decide exactly what needs to be done and who will do it.

2. Establish a schedule. Make a timeline that lists what needs to be done–and by what date–so that the team has something concrete they can work toward.

3. Assign responsibilities. Decide what each team member’s individual tasks are. “Writing down a short description of the specific duties will help to ensure that the project is finished on time,” Mann says.

4. Check status regularly. Set up scheduled meetings to discuss how the task is progressing. This will help identify potential obstacles that could delay the project.

5. Give credit. It’s important to compliment each other’s contribution. Doing so provides a sense of satisfaction as well as the incentive to work on the next project.

During your lifetime, you’ll have the opportunity to be part of many teams—in school, work, and play. As a team player, you’ll have experiences that can enhance your understanding of others and yourself. Give it a try!

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