How to be a great team player when you aren’t with your team

Marguerite MacRobert

Whether you’ve got the flu, you’re on maternity leave or your entire country is in lockdown (hello 2020!), sometimes you just can’t be in the same place as your team. Your business could also be like Namibia Planners’, in which your team work remotely and seldom physically get together. Here are Namibia Planner’s 5 tips on how to be a team player even when you aren’t in a shared space.

1. Communication is the name of this team game.

Communication is always an essential business skill, and it becomes even more important when you are not in close proximity to your team. Clarity and professionalism are super important to avoid misunderstandings, as well as communicating your boundaries, so people know when you are and are not available to reply them (working remotely or from home doesn’t mean you are available 24-7).

It helps to be very slow to anger or get annoyed. Without the many micro-expressions and body language hints we get from interacting with someone in person, misunderstandings can happen really easily. Before you dash off a sarcastic or blunt retort , see if there isn’t a friendly way you can clear things up with a follow-up message or phone call. Try to remember that the misunderstanding could be just as much caused by your wording as by the other person reading your email in a hurry.

2. Be a good sport

If you are going to be late with your part of a team project, or you’ve made an error in your work, be upfront about this as soon as possible and take full responsibility for making it up to the team. Even if one of your team members is the one to let everyone down in some way, try to look at ways in which your own behaviour might have affected that outcome.

Perhaps if you had communicated more clearly, or sooner, that you had a hunch something was wrong, or you had realised the person had other responsibilities too and sent a friendly deadline reminder for your project, this might have had a different outcome? After all, a sports team try to help each other succeed, rather than all working alone and then placing all the blame for failures on the goalie or the referee. Acknowledge that your time management might be impeccable, but your colleague is less good at it and still has something of value to contribute. If they might need your help to stay on task it means you use individual strengths and compensate for individual weaknesses to build a team success.

3. Always remember the work in team-work and pull your weight

That said, it won’t make your team-mates respect you if you just shrug off deadlines and miss meetings with a cheery ‘Oh, but I’m terrible at time management!’ or ‘I’m good at figures, not report writing, so you know I always put it off.’ You do need to take responsibility for your own weaknesses as well! If you struggle with staying productive at home, try our previous post on this topic.

4. Wear your team colours with pride

You need to stay loyal to your team and your brand message even when you aren’t together. We might all have a good rant about a project to our spouse or best friend from time to time, but it isn’t appreciated if you are all working on a really tough project and you vent your feelings all over the town or online. Teams need trust and loyalty to be able to work together successfully.

The public image of your brand is also really important, so if you go around complaining about the team creating some aspect of your brand, don’t expect the rumour mills to do you any favours when it comes to your product launch later on!

5. Play straight – be honest and fair

If you know the rules of your type of work, then it is important to stick to them, be honest about problems or ethical dilemmas and call out ‘fouls’ in your team mates. If you go along with dishonesty in others, you might superficially look like a good team player, but you may actually be losing the respect of others on the team who you most admire.

The same goes for any dishonesty on your part. You may think your team’s silence means they agree with or admire your filching artwork or information from an unacknowledged online source or taking credit for someone else’s idea, but in reality you are more likely to ruin your reputation and get everyone else into trouble to boot.

If you have any stories to share with us about you experiences of working in teams remotely, please share in the comments. Namibia Planners would love to hear from you!

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