Becoming a More Effective and Influential Team Member

We often use the word “team” to describe just about any combination of people, but a true team is not simply a set of individuals. A group of individuals still has personal ego concerns — there’s a primary focus on self, while true teams remove that element. A team’s work is focused on a larger goal or purpose, with everyone understanding the greater good to the work being performed.

Real teams can be difficult to create and don’t last forever, often being designed for a specific project or objective. If you recently watched the Tokyo Olympics, you likely saw this in action. Teams that won gold medals in basketball, soccer, and relay races will almost certainly not be composed of the exact same individuals for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

The good news? A group of individuals can become a team, no matter whether the individuals are all working in the same physical space, remotely, or in a hybrid set-up. Your attitude about, and approach to, being part of a team can have an impact on the entire team’s success. Read on for key strategies you can utilize to become a more effective team member.

You Can Make the Difference

Regardless of your role on a team, there are ways to develop into a better team member. Not only does this lead to a more successful team, but it can ultimately make the team experience more productive and even enjoyable for you as an individual.

  • Set the tone — What’s the current mood of the team? What’s your current mood toward the team? What kind of mood do you want to set? Notice any differences and set the tone for the team in ways that can help shift the team to be closer to the desired state.
  • Develop and maintain a positive mindset — Although sometimes easier said than done, focus on the benefits of working on a team. Concentrate on team members’ positive aspects. Accept mistakes, learn from them, and then move on.
  • Be proactive — Identify opportunities for action. Be sure to gain approval or acceptance from the rest of the team.
  • Demonstrate respect — Acknowledge others’ rights to hold differing opinions. Use nonjudgmental, objective language.
  • Work collaboratively — Share pertinent knowledge with the team. Consider the team’s needs, not just your own.

Being a Good Virtual and Hybrid Team Member

Virtual and hybrid teams have become more and more common and can present unique challenges to working together as a unified team. Working from various locations requires each member of a team to possess a specific set of skills and characteristics that allows the team to function effectively. It’s important to develop and consciously improve these skills and traits so that you can contribute more effectively as a team member regardless of where everyone on your team is located.

  • Be independent and disciplined — It’s up to each team member to be accountable and professional. Plan and confirm daily goals and stick to deadlines. Think ahead, anticipate needs and make sure you have what’s needed to complete tasks with minimal support.
  • Learn to manage complexity and uncertainty — You may also face greater uncertainty regarding roles and responsibilities. Strive to be tolerant, flexible, and ready to take the initiative to get what you need to complete your work. Stick to designated workflows and established processes, and be able to discern when to make independent judgments and when to wait until a next move is approved or specific information becomes available.
  • Be proactive, cooperative, and able to network — Take the first step, communicating with others as soon as problems arise and seek advice, insight, information, and consensus on solutions. Working in a different space than your teammates makes it easier to ignore issues or put off responses, so it’s especially important to be proactive and follow up. Form good team relationships and participate in regular virtual or in-person meetings, even when work is going smoothly.
  • Be comfortable with technology — You’ll generally rely more on a wide range of tools to communicate, share documents, and collaborate — for example, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, cloud storage, and internal file-sharing and project management platforms. All team members must be able to use suitable tools to present and share information.

Although we often have no choice of who’s on our teams, there are always strategies we can use to be an effective and influential team member. Learn more using the self-paced elevateU resources below and contact Organization and Professional Development at prodev@hr.msu.edu regarding individual and department offerings that can lead to greater team success.

Recommended elevateU Resources

Leadership Blog Series: Unmasking and Addressing Unprofessional Behavior

Written by Sharri Margraves, HR Associate Director for Organization and Professional Development

Unprofessionalism often masquerades as interpersonal conflict. Left unchecked, this disruptive behavior can destroy relationships, create a toxic environment, reduce productivity and increase errors. On a personal level, unprofessionalism can be career-limiting for the individual and demoralizing to the whole team if not handled well or left unresolved.

As a leader, when you have a challenge with an individual regarding unprofessional behavior, you must address it. The behavior you tolerate becomes the culture. Many times, the person is unaware of the effect of their behavior, and the issue can be resolved with a conversation. Often, though, the thought of confronting the person can induce fear. It can be hard to summon the courage to take the first step, and we often excuse the behavior or hope it will go away on its own — even when we know it likely will not.

People are counting on you. If you don’t address unprofessional behavior, you simply promote more of it. So, take a deep breath and lean into it. Use the following ideas to successfully navigate these conversations.

  • Envision success. Think about the benefits of resolving the issue.
  • Check your conflict style using the Conflict Management Styles Quiz.
  • Choose the right time.
  • Be calm. Keep your voice even.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Write them down. Practice what you want to say.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • State your intended outcomes.
  • Be compassionate. What might be happening you don’t know about?

It can also be helpful to analyze the patterns of unprofessional behavior to determine your response. Consider the following scenarios.

Was it a single incidence?

Have an informal conversation as close to the situation as possible, in private. Ask open-ended questions and invite the individual to offer their version. Acknowledge it as an isolated incident and that you trust they are aware that unprofessionalism is detrimental to the team and their own career.

Is this a pattern?

Use data to help illustrate to the person what is happening. Your goal is to raise awareness and invite them to help solve the problem based on facts. State the pattern. When does the behavior arise? Are there discernible triggers? All of these can invite the employee to be reflective and cognizant of the issue. State the impact on the team, colleagues and you as the leader. Ask the employee for their solutions. Follow-up with a letter acknowledging the conversation. This is not a disciplinary process or even a hint of further action — it is simply a way to capture what you talked about and the agreements going forward.

Does the behavior continue to persist?

Despite our best efforts, additional support and intervention are sometimes necessary. At this stage, you will be documenting the conversations and likely engaging with your dean, HR professional or Employee Relations for further guidance. Remember, the goal is to correct the behavior so that your organization can create an environment to achieve great things and not be distracted by the few.

It’s important to remember that if the individual also intimidates others by shouting, being disruptive, blocking their path, or touching another person, this heightens the seriousness of corrective action and must be dealt with immediately.

Channeling the positive energy of conflict that focuses on problem-solving can foster innovation, creativity and greater engagement. Utilize the ideas above to help build a culture of trust where issues can be raised and resolved and in which all members of a team are valuable to achieving success.

Sources

Adkins, R., 2006.  Elemental Truths blogspot. https://facultyombuds.ncsu.edu/files/2015/11/Conflict-management-styles-quiz.pdf

Hickson, Gerald, B., Pichert, James, W., Webb, L. E., Gabbe, S. (2007). A complementary approach to promoting professionalism: Identifying, measuring, and addressing unprofessional behaviors. Academic Medicine. November 2007. Volume 82. Issue 11. Ppg 1040-1048. https://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/FullText/2007/11000/A_Complementary_Approach_to_Promoting.7.aspx

Tremper, K. K., How to manage disruptive colleagues. RCL Papers. Department of Anesthesiology,   University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. http://iars.org/wp-content/uploads/15_RCL_Papers_F.pdf#page=46

How to Build a Strong Remote Work Culture While Working in Virtual Teams

Written in collaboration with Kathie Elliot, MSU HR’s Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist.

As the pandemic persists, many employees will continue working remotely in virtual teams with their coworkers for the foreseeable future. During this time, it is not uncommon for the culture of a workplace to change as the shared set of values, social norms, goals and practices employees have already established by working together in person are now drastically different. Successful collaboration with coworkers can be challenging while working remotely, but it is still possible for employees working in virtual teams to develop a positive and inclusive remote work culture that ensures the same level of quality and productivity as if the team was still in person.

Why is Remote Work Culture Important?

“The 9-Step Definitive Guide For Building Remote Work Culture in Virtual Teams” describes remote work culture as an unconditional feeling of connection coworkers experience when they’re bonded by similar priorities, interests, and attitudes (Bell 2020). When people are not able to see each other on a regular basis, this feeling of connection can dwindle. Strong remote work culture is equivalent to how strong your workplace culture already is. By creating a strong remote work culture in addition to what your virtual team might already have had in person, employees can continue to feel united around a shared sense of purpose while being on their own.

Your team’s culture is surely different than it was six months ago, and with the continually unexpected changes COVID-19 has brought into the world, it might continue to change rapidly. Even if you are unaware of it, your team does have a culture that is influenced by the work you do, your work location, your team’s composition and your individual team members’ histories. Having a strong remote work culture doesn’t require team members to be in the same location if you are aware of the priorities, interests and attitudes that your team shares.

How to Develop a Strong Remote Work Culture

There are many ways to go about developing a strong remote work culture, but one of the most impactful ways to do so is through effective communication. It is easy for misunderstandings to occur while employees are working together virtually, often causing the quality and timeliness of the team’s work to suffer. By practicing methods of effective communication such as these, you can strengthen your individual relationships with your team members in hopes of creating a unified and cohesive remote work culture with your team as a whole.

  1. Frequently inquire about your employee’s social and professional needs. Knowledge and information sharing may be inconsistent due to business, lack of attention, misunderstanding what info is valuable to the team (and why). And information sharing may be imbalanced (for some) due to such factors as work style or personality differences, supervisor or co-worker preferences or bias toward certain employees (whether or not consciously known), or technology access and skill differences of the team members.
  1. Ask specific questions using multiple formats. Frequently ask specific questions, using multiple formats. “How is it going?” is not going to get a fulsome response from many employees. But, “Do you feel the communication you receive from me is frequent and thorough enough, timely, and helpful? What can I do to improve my communication with you?” is very specific.
  1. Discuss and set standards for scheduling meetings, work hours, time off, etc. What sort of communications require visual meetings, phone, text, email, messaging? Is there a priority or urgency assigned to the methods? For example, is a phone call only used when an immediate response is needed? Do all messages need to be acknowledged? Within what period? Are there “blackout” hours or days when you won’t send work-related communication unless necessary. (Use the delay send feature in an email if you think you may forget.)
  1. If something isn’t working, try something new! Whether it’s approaching a work task differently or planning a unique social event, mix it up and look for ways to keep things fresh and use this time to grow as a team. Look for ways to build in relaxing or fun team activities; identify other units or colleagues that might appreciate support or outreach “just because”.

Sources:

Bell, Ashley. “The 9-Step Definitive Guide For Building Remote Work Culture in Virtual Teams.” SnackNation, 2020, snacknation.com/blog/remote-work-culture/.

“The 2020 State of Remote Work.” Buffer, 2020, https://lp.buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2020.

Tips for Creating an Effective Remote Work Schedule

Whether you’re now working from home during this time period alongside your family members, or if you’ve got a furry friend by your side begging for your attention, working remotely can be a challenge. Stepping out of your daily routine at the office may be bringing added stressors to your work life as you try to effectively manage your workload from home while adjusting to new methods of collaboration with your coworkers. 

Figuring out what works best for you during this time is far from easy, but after already practicing working away from campus these past few months, many MSU employees have been able to find ways to bring structure and efficiency into their remote workdays. We asked employees to tell us what tips, tricks, or tools they’ve been using to help them effectively succeed at remote work, and here are some common themes we found.

  1. Utilizing flexible work hours where possible

Some employees have been able to coordinate a flexible work schedule with their supervisors that helps the employees as they work remotely.

“Since COVID-19 and working from home, I start my workday at 7:30 a.m. I also take a 30-minute lunch and these two easy changes allow me to finish my workday at 4:00 p.m… I feel very blessed to have some control over my workday schedule.” – Jackie Hohenstein

“A lesson from this remote work is, work does not necessarily have to be 8-5. Work needs to get done, but depending on your preferences and home situation, perhaps starting at 6 a.m. is better, or resuming at 8 p.m. As long as the work gets done, schedules can and should be flexible.” – Rick McNeil

“I learned in a training that working at your peak performance hours leads to better productivity. For example, if you’re a morning person, you work better and complete more during your peak times. I also found that stepping away from the computer for five or 10 minutes every two hours keeps your momentum going. Overall, I like the new things I have learned becoming a remote worker.” – Natasha Williams

  1. Build Breaks Into Your Schedule

As Natasha mentions above, taking breaks keeps the momentum going. Other employees agreed that building breaks into their schedule helps them work remote more successfully.

“Working from home means that when I’m working, that pretty much means I’m looking at a computer screen. In the office, meetings used to give my eyes a break but now most meetings are on Zoom or Teams so I’m looking at a screen even then. I try to give my eyes a break by getting up from my seat and away from the computer for at least a few minutes every hour or so…I make myself take a lunch break every day where I’m not looking at my computer or phone screen. I also still take notes and brainstorm in a notebook, so that also gives me a screen break.” – Courtney Chapin

  1. Continue Your Regular Morning Routine

“One thing I have done to combat “quarantine fog” is to try to stick to my normal work schedule while also integrating time to care for my child and animals every couple of hours. Sometimes this extends the workday, but I have found I am better able to focus on my work after I have taken the dogs outside and played with them for a little bit. In addition, my 10-year-old daughter and I have been using our time in quarantine to have some good quality ‘talks.’” – Mary Keyes

  1. Keep Track of Your Workload

“I keep a document that I plan my work for the coming week on Friday. During that workweek, I keep track of the things I accomplish and the new things that come up that need to be done. I leave future action items on the list. I find this to be more effective than a paper list.” – Renee Graff

  1. Limit Distractions in Your Workplace

“Set aside a work area and leave work in the work area.  Don’t invite it into other areas of your home life.” – Jayme Miller

After hearing from other MSU employees, it is clear there are many ways to navigate remote working schedules. However you go about working remotely, looking to other coworkers or your supervisor for guidance can be one of the most helpful ways to ensure future success for yourself and your team.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This is a guest post written by HR Accommodations Specialist, Cherelyn Dunlap.

Michigan State University is a leader in cultivating a diverse and inclusive campus environment.  During the month of October, we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.  Held annually, this observance aims to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many contributions of workers with disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities add significant value to the workplace, offering diverse perspectives on how to tackle challenges and achieve success.  This year’s theme “The Right Talent, Right Now” interconnects with the university’s core value of inclusiveness.  It highlights the unlimited possibilities that occur when barriers are removed for individuals with differing abilities.

What can you do to observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month?  Strive to make all employees feel like they belong and are valued for their unique characteristics and perspectives.  Also, realize that October isn’t the only time we can engage and promote awareness of disability employment issues.  We all play an important role in fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for their abilities – every day of every month. It is of the utmost importance that the university community is one that is welcoming, recognizing that the talents of all people are a critical part of building an inclusive work culture.

For more information on National Disability Employment Awareness Month please visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s website