Here are the essential qualities of team players, courtesy of dozens of comments we received in response to this question:
For managers and those who have succeeded in a team, what do you feel is the primary quality of a great team player? Great if you can share a personal story or something that most people may not consider.
I have published and summarized the best responses (in my opinion) to this question below. Click the links to jump to the full comment.
- Good team players admit when they’ve made a mistake, and take accountability and responsibility
- They are people the whole team can depend on and deliver on promises
- They can adapt to changing circumstances and are flexible
- They understand the system they are working in
- They’re willing to entertain other ideas
- They actively listen
- They place the team’s success above their own
- Similarly, they are selfless and shine without causing jealousy or resentment
- They are willing to share
- They embrace diversity
- They are optimistic and have a positive attitude
- They act and think like a leader
- They have emotional maturity
Can you think of anything else that makes a good team player? Make a submission here and we’ll add it to this article.
I believe that the greatest quality of a true team player is to be able to admit when they make a mistake. I've hired a lot of people during my time, some of which were truly bright, capable, and hardworking.
On paper, they sounded like perfect candidates and members of the team. However, what I realized is that they were so driven to succeed that they were incapable of admitting when they made a mistake. This lead to denial, blame, and making the same mistakes over and over again. Eventually, we had to let him go from our company.
I learned then that making mistakes is natural - in fact, it's unavoidable. It's only by owning our mistakes are we able to move on from them and become a great team player.
During our interview process, we now ask our interviewees to tell us about a time they made a mistake, and we carefully judge their answer. This allows us to build teams of great players!
--Graham Cooke, Cafe Last
As a CEO, I'd say a good team player is someone the whole team can depend on. They deliver on promises when set projects and take the lead when necessary, especially when going through rough times like this year. While they’re excited to provide ideas that may help the project, they can keep an open mind when it comes to their viewpoints and incorporate others' feedback. A great team member's primary quality is to be willing to take on additional tasks that may not necessarily be outlined under their job description. Flexibility is often necessary for targets to be achieved.
--Rhett Lewis, Gemstone Well
The recent pandemic has emphasized the importance of adapting to circumstances—the #1 quality that team players should have. Team players should have an open mind when it comes to learning new concepts, applications, and strategies while making sure that they’re not falling behind in the learning process. An open mind, patience, and smarts will make adapting to situations easier. Once one masters that, they will never be left behind in such a fast-paced industry.
--Simon Elkjaer, avXperten
A business and the teams in that business are systems. Systems are made up of their component parts. Two things will help anyone stand out as a great team player:
1. An understanding of the role one plays on the team, that is to say their role in the system.
2. An understanding of how the system works.
It's not enough to just be competent at your role as a team member. Great team players understand the system in which they are operating. They can adjust their role to changes within the system so the system still works. They can also offer their input into making the system better.
For instance, we had a large medical group client we were advising and they brought on a new operations director who excelled in her role. However, she also understood the system operating within the medical clinic. This understanding allowed her to negotiate better contracts with vendors. One contract alone saved the company $95,000/per year in vaccines. This one deal more than paid for her first year salary. She continued to optimize the system during her tenure instead of merely performing her function within the system.
With another client, an IT person was working on the CEO's computer one day and happened to hear him complain about the marketing budget. Because the IT person had an understanding of the marketing system (due to his familiarity with the IT infrastructure of the marketing department), he was able to suggest a change the saved the company tens of thousands of dollars per year.
It's not enough to be a skilled team member anymore. You need to understand how the systems work in which you operate. An understanding of how your systems work, that is to say, how your team works, allows people to bring new ideas and possible solutions to common problems. Even when those ideas come from unlikely team members.
--Anthony Babbitt, MS, MCSE, Babbitt Consulting
As a business owner, I know for a fact that a great leader has to also be a great team player. I have met and worked with a lot of people but I believe the main characteristic of a great team player is being flexible. As teams may experience problems and conflicts along the way, being flexible can get the work done. Being flexible in a team means you are also able or willing to perform other people's tasks too.
In a team, conflicts are inevitable especially when we have to collaborate and make decisions, when one member leaves the team due to a conflict, someone has to cover and fill their position.
--Rishi Chawla, Premier Brains
As a CEO, I believe that a good team player is someone who is not afraid to entertain ideas from his team. Working in a team will be successful if everyone works harmoniously with each other, and this is the first thing a great team leader has to keep in mind. He should be open to the idea that some people might know more about something that will make their team succeed. Being intimidated about the idea will not help you grow. Think of it as a way to increase your knowledge because you get to learn more from these people without exerting so much effort.
--Chris Norris, Sleep Standards
As for me, the best characteristic of a great team player is their ability to actively and effectively listen to every member of the team. You should be able to respect and consider each idea that his team member has and this allows them to create more diverse ideas. Great team players are effective listeners that usually come up with ideas based on other ideas. That’s one of the things that you can and will notice with an employee that will turn into a great team player.
--Sarah Graham, QuikCamo
For a great team player, the team's success is more important than personal recognition. I find it the most impressive when team players can genuinely enjoy a team's achievements even if they haven't performed that well individually. Such behavior shows their maturity and a strong focus on common goals rather than individual benefits. That's the core of team spirit that many leaders need to learn to manage their teams successfully.
My advice is to contribute individually the best way you can but also see the big picture. Remember that beautiful puzzles are created out of many single pieces that perfectly match together. Don't let your own struggles stay in the way of effective teamwork and the joy you can get from working collaboratively on a common goal.
--Dorota Lysienia, LiveCareer
I manage a team of salespeople. And over the years have seen both very good and very poor team players. The primary quality in a good team player I have found is the ability to shine subtly, but to do so without blinding your team mates. By which I mean, performing - or even over-achieving - as an individual, but without causing jealousy or resentment within the team. Keeping in mind, that the objectives are for your employer and the team and not just for yourself. So I guess, I'm saying selflessness and tact are vital ingredients in a good team player.
--John Peterson, Safe Drive Gear
A willingness to share is what makes someone stand out as a great team player. It can be sharing knowledge, resources, or simply their time. I recall when I was at University and we were assigned group projects, there was this one student who always came up with novel ideas, and instead of just keeping them to himself and taking all the credit, he was happy to share them with the rest of the group. I think it shows a real sense of self-confidence, maturity, and community spirit when someone is happy and willing to contribute instead of solely focusing on their own success!
--Gina Harper, Harper's Nurseries
I see the ability to embrace diversity as one of the strongest qualities of a great team player.
As human beings, our innate instinct is to gravitate toward those who are like us and consequently sideline those who are not. In the workplace setting, this mindset creates a lot of tension, inertia, and adversariness, which keeps teams from moving forward and doing great work.
Diversity continues to be a goal in most modern workplaces today. Numerous studies show that diverse teams perform better and contribute significantly to the business bottom line. Therefore, a great team player is someone who is able to not only genuinely respect others who are different from them but have the capacity to identify common goals, anticipate areas of conflicts, successfully navigate these differences and conflicts, and collaborate with others to achieve the greater goal.
So being sensitive to other people’s differences; being comfortable with diversity is what I see as an important quality of a great team player.
--Darrell Rosenstein, The Rosenstein Group
In my experience, the foremost virtue a great team player can bring to the team is optimism. Businesses face numerous challenges on a day to day basis and individual teams are charged with the responsibility of finding feasible solutions that will give the company a competitive edge; solutions that meet the customer’s needs. A healthy dose of optimism is required in the face of such an enormous responsibility.
Unfortunately, not many team members are deliberate about bringing optimism into the work they do. Being optimistic is not about blind positivity or burying your head in the sand. It is believing in the mission of the company and being motivated to work towards that mission together with your fellow teammates.
Without optimism there is no motivation to do anything of value and therein lies the demise of many teams.
--Paul French, Intrinsic Search
I feel that a great team player's primary quality is that they take accountability and responsibility for their actions. A good team member understands that whatever step they take will be followed by some kind of consequence; positive or negative. So, they make a decision wisely. Moreover, they accept their mistakes instead of putting or blaming them on other members. A worth it team player is open to constructive criticism and feedback is a good listener and understands their mistakes. To know where a person went wrong, they need to be open listeners; only then is it possible to improve their weak points.
--Daniel Demoss, Dumbbells Review
It may seem like the team only needs one leader, but I'd say everyone on the team needs to think and act like a leader because all good leaders know when it's time to follow. Good leaders are excellent team players because they are always keeping the ultimate goal in mind and they aren't overly focused on themselves, their role on the team, getting their own way all the time, or advancing their careers. Good leaders communicate effectively and are also active listeners. They are great at helping those who fall behind or coordinating someone else to help them, etc., and communicating issues up the chain so that the manager can make the necessary adjustments. Strong leaders are great team players because they know what it's like to be in the hot seat. They understand what they would want from their team members if they were in charge, and they can deliver on that level reliably, time and time again.
--Andrei Kurtuy, Novoresume
From my experience - both as a team member and as a team leader - emotional maturity (aka emotional intelligence, aka EQ) is the primary quality of a great team player.
Emotional maturity comes in two forms:
- Knowing our own emotions and having the capacity to properly manage them. This means being able to acknowledge our feelings, accept them, learn from them and respond/react to them in a manner that is - at minimum - not destructive... and ideally, productive.
- Respecting someone else's individuality and having the capacity to respect their emotions, responses and choices. This is especially important when the emotions, responses and choices of others inconvenience us or we feel our feelings, responses and choices would be different if we were in their shoes.
For many team members/leaders, this concept can seem a bit abstract or ephemeral - but the problems that result from a lack of emotional maturity can quickly tear apart a team during difficult times.
Case in point: I worked many years for a large digital publisher that was attempting a much-needed business-model pivot. During my entire time there, it was well known that a number of individuals on our team lacked emotional maturity. For my first few years there, layoffs were happening on other teams and within other divisions... but the emotionally mature members of the team managed to overcome the problems created by our low EQ team members and we were able to consistently accomplish our goals. All along - the team-members that lacked emotional maturity created unnecessary problems and friction - but since the team was winning, this went unnoticed and/or unaddressed my senior management. Over time - however - savings could no longer be found in other divisions and lay-offs started making their way into our division and our team. These added stressors caused the aforementioned team-members to exhibit ever greater levels of immaturity (lashing out, arguments, belittling of others, deception, stealing credit) - adding further toxicity to the environment. Because of this added levels of toxicity, the ability of the team to function decreased precipitously - which drove an exodus of the more talented and mature team-members. These factors conspired to drive an even speedier demise of the team, division and larger org.
--Glen Munoz, glenmunoz.com
Positive attitude. We have a great team made up of people with a variety of talents and abilities, but the one trait each member possesses is a positive, can-do attitude. Jobs exist because problems exist. Where there are no problems, there are no jobs. So regardless of their role on our team, all members are tasked with problem-solving. Often that means tackling new tasks, learning, and working together against the odds. To successfully do that, team members need to show up with a good attitude. When we approach challenges with optimism and encourage each other, we have the best chance at success as a team.
--Lee Marbet, The Rock Place
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