Being a Valuable Team Member

"Take responsibility." Although the team leader is held accountable for establishing and monitoring team performance measurements, all team members are responsible for their team's success. If your prior experience was as a member of a work group, your contribution was to get your work done. Your contribution as a team member goes far beyond the work itself. The notes in this reading provide you with advice about how you can interact with the people on your team more productively and offer you tips on how you, as an individual team member, can facilitate constructive team dynamics.

Your team meeting is your meeting and therefore it is your responsibility to do whatever is called for to make it effective. Team meetings are not something that happen to you; they are something that you make happen. Your team leader, as a participating member, has a piece of the action but he is not solely responsible. And if your team has established a role called "meeting facilitator", that person might take the lead in reserving the meeting room, distributing the advance agenda, or similar tasks, but he is not totally responsible. Every single team member is responsible.

This is a drastic change in role definition for most team members and for team leaders as well. As a team member you can no longer afford to sit back and be an attendee, spectator, or complainer. You must be a full participant/observer, actively contributing to the content of the meeting and at the same time observing team dynamics and intervening when team members are behaving in dysfunctional ways. It's not an easy job but it most definitely is part of your responsibility as a team member.

If you view meetings as an event that someone else plans and leads and that you attend, this will not be an easy adjustment to make. And if your team leader is accustomed to being in charge of the meeting, the adjustment will be even more difficult. The first step in making the transition to this new role of participant/observer requires a major shift in mind-set by all. To behave responsibly, you must feel responsible. And your team leader must also be willing to share the responsibility.

Talk about how your meetings are structured, who decides what the agenda will be, what behaviors are inhibiting the team from accomplishing its intended tasks, and how the team feels at the end of the meeting and why. Then make some decisions collectively about what you can do to improve it.

Don't expect to feel comfortable right away with this added responsibility. It's like becoming a parent for the first time. There's so much to pay attention to. You can't sit back and expect others to make it happen. It's a hard job and it takes an incredible amount of energy.

Check out the following sections: Every Player Contributes to the Process and Summarizer, Orienter, Harmonizer, and Other Helpful Roles. The tips in them will help you to fulfill your responsibility.

Every Player Contributes to the Process

Your team meeting has two major focal points that require your attention: content and process. Content is what your team is working on; process is how your team members are working together. If I asked you to tell me how your last meeting went and you said, "We discussed the consolidation project, put together a plan for year-end closing, and decided to set up a meeting with Quality Team to discuss error rates," you would have reported on the content of your meeting. Content sounds like those items you would summarize in your meeting minutes.

If your response was, "Discussion became very heated and members stopped listening to one another; the energy level was very low, and a lot of time was wasted talking about unrelated topics," you would have described your team's process. In other words, process is a description of how members behaved during the meeting. Another work used interchangeably with process is dynamics.

There may be times during a team meeting when you feel you can't participate because you're not conversant with the topic being discussed. Just because you can't contribute to the content doesn't mean you can't contribute at all. You are in a perfect position to observe and facilitate the team's process -- and that's where teams need the most help. Teams generally do fine with content; they usually have the right items on the agenda and enough contributing experts. Ineffective meetings are usually the result of dysfunctional teams dynamics or process. The entire team is responsible for the success of your meeting so all members should play an active role in facilitating healthy dynamics. When you are not engrossed in the meeting content, you have an advantage of perspective; you can concentrate solely on process.

How do you know whether a team's process is functional or dysfunctional? If the team strikes a balance between satisfying both its task and relationship needs, it has a healthy, functional process going. Members behave in ways that facilitate getting the job done and at the same time make members feel valued, respected, included, and energized. Members leave the meeting saying, "We were very productive and I sure do like being a member of this team." When there is an imbalance between task and relationship need satisfaction, or not enough attention paid to either, the team's process is dysfunctional. If you hear members saying, "We got a lot of things accomplished, but I can't stand the way members treat each other," it's a sure sign that the team hasn't paid enough attention to its relationship needs. And if you hear, "We are so cohesive; just like a family. But we sure didn't get much done," the team has slipped on the task side. And if ever you should hear, "Another waste of two hours--nothing accomplished. Why can't people at least be civil to each other?" you know there is much work to be done on both the task and relationship sides of the equation.

Learning how to observe your team's process and intervene appropriately takes time and practice. If you randomly try to watch everything, you'll see nothing. The key is to train your eyes and ears so that you can focus your observations. A good way to start focusing is to become acquainted with a few specific team facilitation roles, also known as intervention behaviors. Then look for the appropriate situations during your meeting to apply them. In other words, first learn what the helping behaviors are, and why and how they help. Then you will more easily see places where you can be helpful, as explained in Summarizer, Orienter, Harmonizer, and Other Helpful Roles.

Summarizer, Orienter, Harmonizer, and Other Helpful Roles

"Don't forget to take SOFI HAGE to your meeting. Put her to work and I guarantee she will make a significant contribution to your team's progress and success." Exhibit 1 introduces SOFI HAGE. The name comes from the first letter of each of the task and relationship roles.

Exhibit 1. Team Facilitation Roles


  1. Summarizer
  2. Orienter
  3. Gatekeeper
  4. Encourager

  1. Harmonizer
  2. Analyzer
  3. Fact Seeker
  4. Initiator

It's important that all team members understand and employ each of the four task and relationship roles listed in the exhibit.

The Summarizer urges the group to acknowledge consensus and reach a decision. When team members are wound up like the Energizer Bunny, the Summarizer breaks in with, "It seems like we're all in agreement with the parts of the program that need to be changes; can we move off that topic and discuss specific changes to be proposed?" By asking for verbal agreement with the summary, the Summarizer helps the team get past one decision and onto the next decision point.

The Orienter prevents the team from wandering too far from the topic at hand; he or she brings them back and focuses them again when they do stray. This redirecting should not be done abruptly as in, "Hey, we're way off here; let's get back on track," or "David, you just took us off topic again," because you don't want to introduce a negative effect into the relationship side of the equation. A useful and neutral way to intervene is with the question, "Are we off topic right now?"

The Fact Seeker tests reality to make sure the decision the team is about to make is doable. This team member always wants more information and is quick to point out the difference between a fact and an opinion. The Fact Seeker is also very helpful in pointing out when a team does not have all the information it needs to make a good decision. The Fact Seeker will suggest that the team get more data before proceeding. He or she is also good at checking the decision-making boundaries of the team, asking "Do we have the authority to make this decision?"

The Initiator gets the team started on the right foot by always beginning discussions with the question, "How should we approach this task?" Getting agreement on a game plan before starting to work on the task itself is crucial to team effectiveness and is the distinguishing characteristic of the Initiator.

When you plan the Summarizer, Orienter, Fact Seeker and Initiator roles, you contribute to your team's productivity by moving the task along to completion. Play the following relationship roles to ensure that team members feel valued and respected and you will make a major contribution to your team's cohesiveness.

The Harmonizer realizes that conflicts is inevitable and that if left unresolved, it is the biggest barrier to a team's achieving health and success. The Harmonizer called the team's attention to a conflict (especially if team members haven't wanted to acknowledge it), by saying something like, "Let's be honest: we've got some strong conflicting feelings about this issue. What steps can we take to resolve our differences?" The Harmonizer is also able to focus discussion on meeting specific needs as a way of mediating conflict. More help on mediation is given in some of the sections which follow: When You Reach an Impasse, Talk About Needs and `Hey, No Problem'.

The Analyzer watches for changes in the vital signs of the team and brings these changes to the attention of the team. The Analyzer is the team member most likely to ask, "How is everyone feeling about how we're working together?" or "It seems we've lost our energy; what is happening?"

The Gatekeeper is concerned primarily with team communication and participation. This member makes sure all team members are actively listening to each other and understanding each other's messages. The Gatekeeper paraphrases messages to make sure that everyone is on the same wavelength and that every idea is understood by the group before being discredited or discarded. The Gatekeeper invites quieter members to participate and makes sure that more active members don't dominate.

The Encourager builds and sustains team energy by showing support for people's efforts, ideas, and achievements. If the Gatekeeper focuses on making sure the content of team members' ideas is clearly understood by all, the Encourager emphasizes members' participation by giving verbal approval: "Good point--that's a great idea." This is another role that prevents Whack-a-mos and in general helps people to feel valued.

It is extremely important that every member be ready and able to intervene as a facilitator. If you were an eight-member team and each person had a delegated responsibility to wear one of the SOFI HAGE hats and intervene appropriately, you would see a significant increase in your effectiveness. But you can do better than that by having each member wear all the hats and thus provide maximum facilitation coverage.

Learning the eight different roles may seem at first like an overwhelming challenge to you and your teammates, but you'll probably be surprised to find that some team members are natural at orienting or encouraging, or that some easily assume the role of summarizers and gatekeepers. To have all eight roles covered may just be a matter of learning a few more facilitation behaviors. I know you can do it and as a team you'll be glad you did.

Recognize Your MVP

When a sports team wins a championship, they follow a time-honored tradition of recognizing their most valuable player. This is the player who, for that game or series of games, gave a stellar performance. It's a nice touch. The team is also generous in lavishing public praise on their MVP during the post-game interview. In my own experience, no praise pleased me so much as when a fellow teammate would say, "We couldn't have done it without you." Apply this practice to your work teams--it's an important investment in team building.

From time to time, you will have a member (perhaps it will be you!) who puts in extra hours or who applies his or her particular talent to a project to make it a winner.

In a team-based environment, it's management's responsibility to reward team performance. It's the team's responsibility to recognize and acknowledge its stars. Be generous with your praise; it's a powerful motivator and it costs nothing to give.

You Don't Have to Be Best Friends

There's no question that the personal relationships we develop on our team make a big difference in how we feel about our work and our workplace, as well as our team. But, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be best friends to be an effective team. Best friends do not a best team make; best teammates make a best team.

Being a best teammate is all about thoughtful behavior. In a sense, it's about treating a teammate as if he or she were your best friend. It doesn't include socializing outside of work, or sharing personal feelings; what it does include is every kind of behavior you can think of that conveys respect.

Think about the ways you demonstrate respect for your best friend. Do you offer help to your best friend when she needs it? Do you listen to your best friend without prejudging his ideas or opinions? Are you sensitive toward your best friend when he is experiencing personal problems? Do you accept your best friend's idiosyncrasies? Do you arrive on time for engagements with your best friend when you know it will benefit her? Do you share in your best friend's excitement and offer praise when he has achieved something?

I'm sure you answered "Yes" to all of the above questions. And I'm sure you can think of many more ways that you show respect for your best friends. That's what it takes to be a best teammate. Start treating your teammates this way and who knows; you may just become best friends. Stranger things have happened.