Being a Team Player: How Do You Define It?

I am probably the wrong person to be writing this. As a corporate employee I was not always seen as a team player as defined by my managers. That can be a problem, especially at review time.

My definition of “team player”

I was (and remain) focused on the work when I’m in the workplace. In my 20-something or 30-something mind, that meant doing my job, helping my coworkers when asked or necessary, and generally being a productive citizen. However, sometimes this was insufficient.

My managers’ definition of “team player”

If I didn’t like the job I had–which happened a few times before I got full-time writing work–I was sometimes less than diligent. I’d arrive and depart exactly on time. Or I’d find whatever assignments would require messenger duties to keep out of sight of management for the maximum amount of time. In short, I did the bare minimum.

I can’t say I was easier for managers to deal with once I did like my job. Then, all I wanted to do was the job. I was diligent, thoughtful, thorough, and enjoyed my work. The problems arose when managers wanted me to appear at meetings, mandatory random training, or office social gatherings (birthdays, engagement celebrations, etc.). At that point I’d start pushing back because I had a deadline or, in my biased opinion, something more important to do.

Lesson learned the hard way: Managers don’t like to hear that.

Once in the meetings, I could be difficult, too. In one office I got so notorious with my questions that on one occasion “the Bart hand” went up and the manager just saw me, shook her head and said, “Yes, Bart. This is necessary.”

Lessons learned

I settled down eventually. I learned that if I wanted to reduce the amount of friction I experienced with my managers, it was better if I just did what they asked me to do rather than ask “Why?” all the time. Call it a little bit of playing the game.

Another thing that helped was talking with my peers and managers about how management defined being a team player. That’s usually the best route up front as you’re starting a job or even while you’re interviewing. Even if you think you’ve got your priorities straight, your managers might have other ideas. And like it or not, if you’re in a corporate environment, they’re the ones who have the authority to decide what your priorities are.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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1 Response to Being a Team Player: How Do You Define It?

  1. “it was better if I just did what they asked me to do rather than ask ‘Why?'” Your words resonate with me. I always ask “why” to get the understanding behind the task so I can tailor my writing towards that goal. One time, I got a stern “I just need you to do what I say!” Needless to say, that wasn’t a good fit. Like you suggest, ask the hiring manger in an interview how they define team player so you can make an informed decision about joining that organization.

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