The Courage To Be A Team Player

Being a fully effective team member requires that we find ways to contribute our whole selves to the betterment of our team.  This means contributing not just our qualifications but our life experience, our strengths and our viewpoints.  These are the soft skills we bring that allow us to operate our qualifications in a meaningful way, and this ability to operate effectively is an individual responsibility.  We know how to update our qualifications, but when was the last time you thought about refreshing and updating your soft skills? 

Our soft skills are things like how we communicate with our teammates, how we practise self-leadership before assuming someone else will close the gap, how we manage time and solve problems, and how much attention we pay to solving the things that “irk” us.

That each of us is different is what makes us valuable.  Those differences mean that each of us brings variety and diversity to a team that would otherwise be one dimensional.  Yet, it’s against our basic human nature to stick out and thus many choose not to speak up and speak in.  We choose not to contribute when we could be valuable.

Our basic human nature is to safeguard our security within our “pack” and so we avoid doing anything that may cause us to be outcast.  This instinct is hardwired into the most ancient recesses of our brain, and it governs how we respond on a daily basis.  We outwardly agree with things we don’t agree with inside.  We aim to please people in ways we wouldn’t otherwise choose to do.  We make decisions and take actions that benefit others, but not always ourselves – or the other way around.  When we make mistakes, we’re reserved about highlighting them, and if those we’d like to please make mistakes, we’re even more silent.  When we see things that may impact our team negatively, we wait to see whether anyone else has noticed and is going to say something.

In aviation, we recognise that this approach kills people.  That allowing our own errors and those of others to go unnoticed, uncorrected and unlearned-from is defeatist in the extreme – and that whilst it may ensure we’re not ejected from the team in the short term, it may eventually result in the whole team being taken down together.  We also recognise that dealing with the improvement of our contribution and those of our teammates is a skill within itself.

Speaking up and speaking in requires that we all work to create a safe space where the contribution of our team members is encouraged and supported.  We seek to highlight the value that the varied viewpoints our team members bring.  Our strength lies in making full use of the fact that we see things differently to question and cover each other.  Speaking up and speaking in requires courage and is the honourable thing to contribute as a team member of a powerhouse team. 

Creating this freedom of contribution requires the support and encouragement of the whole team, and yet if it doesn’t already exist, someone has to go first.  It’s also part of our human nature to protect the rest of our pack because we recognise that we are stronger together.  Generally, this means that if you have the courage to speak up about where you feel you could improve yourself and your outcomes, and ask for the input of the rest of your team, the team will move in support of that effort.

Speaking up is not about handing over responsibility for your outcomes to someone else – just the opposite.  Speaking up is about taking responsibility and ownership for what you have on your plate, explaining your viewpoint and asking for input from the rest of your team about what you’ve already tried, and how you could do it differently.  What is powerful about finding the courage to do this is that it encourages others to do the same.  It may take some time, but if you’re willing to demonstrate that you’re open to having a conversation about becoming a stronger team member yourself, you create the space for others to join that conversation too.

It’s human nature for us to be more able to identify where others need to improve or change more readily than we can see it in ourselves.  You may be burning to let others know where you’d like them to do things differently.  The problem is that having those conversations can be confrontational at best, and unconstructive at the least.  It’s difficult to point out other people’s perceived inefficiencies without creating more of a problem than we solve.

However, if we’re able to volunteer our own willingness to examine where our own processes and thinking could be improved or broadened, and we do so by asking others to tell us what they see and think, we may learn about their perspective and how it can help us all be a more cohesive team.  This learning is far more valuable than pointing out someone else’s faults.

When we are willing to start conversations that invite others to share their perspective with us, everyone involved gains better awareness of the big picture and how you can all contribute to the outcomes we’re aiming at.  Only when we speak up and speak in do inconsistencies in the picture people see become apparent.  Only then can we test whether we’re all seeing the same thing, or whether our different viewpoints are complementary or contradictory.

When we create an environment where inviting and honouring communication and contribution is encouraged and supported, we rewire our survival instincts toward the protection of the team, rather than just the protection of self.  Creating this environment is up to each of us to find the courage to do so.

It’s our responsibility as valuable team members to speak up and speak in in ways that make others able and prepared to hear us.  It’s our responsibility to create environments where effective contribution is encouraged and supported.  Testing and improving our own soft skills encourages others to do the same, at the same time as resolving differences we may not have been aware were there without confrontation.  We are stronger together, and each of our contributions is valuable.

by Christen Killick

May 18th, 2021

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