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Don't Be a Team Player. Just Don't.

Yes, yes, you’ve been taught since elementary school that team players are good. They’re great. Everyone should try to be a team player.

And to that I say, nope, nope, nope.

There’s nothing worse than a team player. In fact, I’m quite certain team players are ruining the world. Allow me to explain. In my experience, there’s two kinds of team players. And they both suck.

1. The Self-Designated Team Player

These are typically the unmotivated, non-courageous employees to go-along to get-along. How many times have you heard this in the office: “Yeah, I knew it was a bad idea, but I supported it because I’m a team player”. You see them a lot in political office, corporate boardrooms and pitchfork toting mobs.

Doing stupid things because everyone else is doing them is, well, stupid. As your mother would say, “If everyone was jumping off a cliff…”

If you’re a self-designated team player, knock it off. You’re better than that.

2. The “Why Can’t You Be More of a Team Player?” Team Player.

Threatened, authoritative, non-innovative leaders often implore their best employees to be team players. They do this because the need to suppress any and all challenging ideas, lest their fragile egos be injured.

Ineffective, frightened, just-holding-out-until-retirement leaders also demand that their employees be team players. Thus, they avoid all conflict and risk. This allows them to keep their heads down, lest they appear on the chopping block.

These team players become frustrated, angry and if nothing is done about it (i.e. they quit or are fired), demoralized and depressed. You’ll recognise them as the angry guy muttering to himself in the cafeteria line. Or the woman who sits in the boardroom, arms crossed, silently cursing her co-workers.

Do not be a team player because someone demands it of you. Because here’s what it really comes down to. When someone tells you to be a team player, they’re telling you to lie. They want to you lie to them, to your co-workers and worst of all, lie to yourself.

Just. No.

So what to do?

Be a Team Contributor

Team contributors, who are awesome by the way, speak up when they see something stupid about to happen. They speak up when they see a great opportunity. They speak up when someone does something great. They reach out when someone is struggling. They are truthful and reliable. In short, they make the team stronger and more effective. Now that’s a valuable co-worker.

But to be that valuable, sometimes we have to make a team uncomfortable.

And that’s where most of us run into trouble.

My guess is that most people who fall into being team players do so because they suck at the art of influential communication. You can learn more about how to do that in my next post.

The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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