Team Thinking

Life is full of teams.

Of course, we all immediately think of sports.

But aren't teams more ubiquitous in the human experience? I believe they are.

Team thinking occurs more than we realize--that is, if we're not paying attention. 

Whenever you are attempting to accomplish something with another person or group of people, you are on a team.

You might not have matching jerseys.

You might not have a mascot or logo.

There may be no contracts or agreements on paper.

Yet, team thinking is important for your success.

Like many children, I began playing on teams when my parents signed me up for little league baseball. I had played baseball for a long time by myself in my backyard, but now things were different. I had other kids out there. I had to depend on them. I had to talk to them. I had to put up with them. At that age, I didn't realize they all had to depend on me, talk to me, and put up with me too. Most six year old kids aren't very empathetic.

Over the years I've played on dozens of different teams, mostly baseball and basketball. Of course, many other team situations have arisen over the years as well. Sometimes it's a board game, a card game, a Foosball game, or a trivia game. 

Sometimes the teams are at work, and it's not a game at all.

And then there is the big one. If you're married, you and your spouse are a team (or you ought to be). Both of you ought to be working together toward the same goals and helping each other along the way. 

But life is not always so ideal, is it?

Whether your team is athletic, academic, political, familial, religious, or otherwise, the same principles apply. 

If you don't think about your team and for your team, you will be a detriment to your team. If, however, you support, encourage, and facilitate your team, success is in your team's future.

Here are some basic ideas for how to be a (good) team player:

#1 Be dependable.

If you don't show up to practice, you're a bad team player. If you are tardy to or absent from games, you're useless. 

This is not about being mean--it's about being pragmatic. How can you swing a bat or score a goal if you're not there?

The same is true for your family, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood action group, or your academic collaboration.

#2 Focus your attention on your own performance.

Unless you are the team coach (who is NOT a team player, FYI), it is not your job to tell everyone else how to play. 

Unless you are the supervisor or president of the company, it's none of your business how everyone else is performing. 

Put your head down and do your job.

I understand there are times when your team members' performance can affect you. Then you need to appeal to the boss/coach and get something taken care of. But otherwise, pull your part of the rope and keep your mouth shut.

When I watch sports, I observe players and their reactions to stressful situations. If they absorb the stress and turn around to encourage their teammates, they might be on the path to victory. But when I see them snapping at each other and bickering, I see their demise coming quickly.

Sports are a microcosm of life. Take that last paragraph and apply it to your marriage. Boom. Same principle.

#3 Don't criticize. Help.

As an extension of #2, I would be stupid to ignore the fact that teammates are dependent on each other. If one or more performs poorly, everyone suffers the consequences.

So then, team players do need to pay attention to each other.

But your goal should always be to help.

If your goal is to mock and point out failure, you are a bad team player. And most likely, you're doing that to distract people from your own poor performance; or you might just have an inferiority complex. Either way, it's bad mojo.

If it is your place to do so (and that's a giant "IF"), kindly approach your teammate about their problematic performance/behavior. Remind them you're on the same team, and you want what is best for them. 

If you don't want what's best for them, you need to grow up and develop some self-discipline. 

What good reason do you have to not want what is best for them? 

Whatever reason you're thinking of, it's not a good one.

#4 Teach.

When you were a rookie, you were ignorant and inexperienced. Then someone taught you. 

Once you've learn something, share it with those on your team! It seems so simple, but I'm often shocked by how poorly this gets executed.

If you or someone on your team does something stupid, try these steps. 

(1) Clean up the mess as best as possible. 

(2) Kindly tell them what they did wrong (see #3) and help them learn how to avoid it. 

(3) Teach them how to do it better next time.

But here's how it often plays out.

(1) Clean up the mess as best as possible while broadcasting to everyone else on the team how moronic the person was for creating this mess.

(2) Don't tell the person what they did wrong. Just expect them to figure it out for themselves. The more they fail, the better it makes you look, right?

(3) The next time the situation arises, expect them to improve their performance even though you did nothing to help.

#5 Acknowledge the positive.

When someone does something right or good, say something about it! Pat them on the back. Write them a thank you. Post something on Facebook. Tell them thank you. 

However you manifest it, acknowledging your teammates' success publicly will boost their confidence and make your team stronger.

Failing to do this doesn't mean you're a jerk. I think most of us just forget to do this. It slips our mind--well, at least until we do something good. Then we're like, "Where's my 'Great Job' banner?"


But seriously, the best players in any team sport have always been the ones that help their teammates raise their performance by supporting them, encouraging them, and teaching them; and it is exactly the same way on your team.

Image credit:
People pulling boat ashore from
Kids baseball team on bench from
Mr. Dependable LLC image from
'Do your job' image from
Job training image from
'Who's awesome?" puppy image from


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