There is no shortage of literature on leadership. Being a good leader means supporting, equipping, and galvanizing a team to fulfil its potential. But given that the potential of a team is so much greater than the sum of its parts, it is strange that we rarely talk about being a good co-worker.
Ernie Smith’s recent piece gives us even more reason to find this strange. A “toxic employee,” he tells us, can cost an organization both culturally, as the negativity permeates into the fabric of the team, and financially, racking up a bill of $12,500 in employee-flow costs. On the flipside, a positive character in a team can bring financial health to a department, as well as contributing to the rising tide which, as we know, lifts all boats. The position of co-worker and team-mate, should be taken as seriously, and considered as deeply, as any leadership role.
There has even been research into the collective intelligence of teams, which purports that teams may well have their own brand and level of intelligence – increased by a variety of factors including the emotional intelligence of its members. This means, of course, that if we aim to do meaningful work, it matters hugely what kind of co-worker we are.
What does it mean to be a good co-worker? How can we contribute proactively to the success of our team – and beyond that, our organization – as one part of a larger whole?
Here are ten marks of a good co-worker, which includes characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that signal a healthy and positive team player:
1. Address Problems Directly
At some point, there will be a challenge at work. It may be with a person, a work process, or maybe even that coffee maker that just won’t quite work properly. When you have a problem, it is best to take it up directly with the person who can correct it, or your direct supervisor. This allows the problem to be addressed quickly, and reduces the spread of negative talk. Chances are, if there is a problem with a company process or equipment, it is affecting others in the office. It is best to address those issues as quickly as possible. In a conflict situation with someone else, being a good co-worker means resolving a problem for the greater good of the office environment, but also, frankly, so you both can have a more pleasant work day!
2. Ask For Help
You have heard before that, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” You know why? Because it is true! Leadership does not know what you don’t know. Sound a little complex? Your organization wants you to do your best in your position and help your fellow co-workers along the way. If you don’t know something, ask someone that may. Every office has a go-to person that is known as a resource. Seek that person out. If that person doesn’t have the answer, he or she will know who does. Asking questions does not indicate a lack of intelligence or experience, it highlights your desire and ambition to do the best job. The same goes for your co-workers or new hires. If someone has a question, offer your assistance whenever possible. It should be easy to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand that questions are a good thing!
3. Acknowledge Others Assistance
William James once said, “The deepest principal in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Appreciation comes in the form of acknowledgement: “Thank you for your help.” A “thank you” can be delivered outwardly and loudly or in more simple ways like a hand-written card placed on the associate’s desk. Just the act of taking time and putting in effort to acknowledge someone’s help can have a much longer lasting impact than you may realize. “Gratitude,” according to an article in Psychology Today, “can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle.” There are physical and mental triggers that naturally occur when giving and receiving gratitude. Work environments that encourage gratitude as a part of company culture have a proven history of more engaged long-term employees, and higher profits. Be an active participant in acknowledging others for their help, which will encourage fellow employees to do the same. You have the power to create a more uplifting environment for your co-workers. Thanks for your help!
4. Clear Communication and Active Listening
Every day, you have the opportunity to set the stage for success for yourself and peers. When speaking with someone about a task or challenge at hand, clearly communicate the goal. Ensure the desired end result is understood. You can do this by asking questions or even asking the individual to repeat the task and details back to you. This helps save time on clarification or having to correct mistakes. Often there is someone other than your peer at the end of the task. Keeping that in mind can be pivotal in the urgency you show and priority you take in trying to achieve a goal as efficiently as possible. Part of communication, and maybe even the larger part, is actively listening to others. Active listening includes verbal and non-verbal signs of attentiveness: smiling, eye contact, body posture, reflecting expressions of the person speaking, or limited to no obvious distractions. Be that go-to person for your co-workers: communicate, listen, achieve.
5. Be a Trend-Setter
When you first started in your role, wasn’t it great to have that thorough, step-by-step guide on how to be the best in your role? Don’t we all wish that were the case! Here is your opportunity to set the trend and standard when it comes to onboarding, and sharing with others the best way to do your job. Take it upon yourself to start detailing exactly every step you take to complete a task. This will not only show you just how much goes into each task, but will allow you to recognize opportunities to improve efficiency. These are called Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs. When hiring new employees, cross-training existing employees, or if you get sick and someone needs to step in, you have a contingency in place to allow the work to still get done (and to your specificity at that!). Keep in mind our note on #4, clear communication is key to the success of a task. Don’t hesitate to add screenshots or snippets, remember 65% of people are visual learners. Take some time to set the SOP trend in your office. Upper management will greatly appreciate it. Should you move onto another role or company, you will have left your legacy behind and contributed to the greater good of the organization for years to come. Don’t wait for upper management to request this from you. Set the trend, let others follow and benefit from your good work.
6. Short-Term Long-Term Thinking
It is always recommended that you dress for the part you wish to have in your career, but you must still aim to raise the bar in your current role. To get to the next stage in your career or life, you need to prove you have what it takes in the role you were already given. Do your best with every assignment, even if it seems minor. Help your team along the way. Every team has different personalities and dynamics that may pose some challenges from time to time. You will encounter challenging personalities at all levels of your career. Keep in mind, if you do well and get promoted, those same personalities may end up reporting to you. As you move up in the ranks, you become more of an influencer rather than a doer. It will be your role to inspire and influence others to complete tasks. If your goal is to become the lead of a department, start working on some of those challenging relationships now. Don’t get too ahead of yourself on where you want to be in your career that you forget all the great things you can do right now. Plan for tomorrow, but be present today and remain opportunistic.
7. Celebrate Others’ Success
We often have co-workers who do a great job, all the time, and don’t really get much attention. When was the last time you saw a company email celebrating when the IT department got you back into your emails after you got locked out, reconnected your computer to the only color printer, or protected all of our members’ information by making sure we had the best cybersecurity measures? It does not take upper management to initiate good will. If you see a fellow employee doing a job well, especially new hires, take it upon yourself to share it with others. You could send an email to the individuals direct supervisor, hand write a note expressing gratitude and to keep up the good work, or maybe download and fill out a certificate template off the internet and give it to the individual in a staff meeting. There are so many ways to show others appreciation that may not cost anything, but will add so much value to your co-workers job experience. It just so happens these are also actions exhibited by a true leader (apply short-term long-term thinking).
8. Be Open to Change and Criticism
Adaptability is key to staying competitive in any environment. Change is inevitable: expect it, plan for it and learn to adapt (as quickly as possible). The better you are at this, the more easily you will be able to evolve as the needs of the organization evolves. One way we measure our performance is through feedback from others. Feedback or criticism are tips to help you achieve the best end product. It allows you to see things from a different light and also lets you know that you are a valued associate. People will not offer criticism if they did not feel you were worth investing the time and energy. Now apply this to your peers. You may see co-workers struggling with change: help them along by applying active listening and identifying ways you can ease their transition (without negatively impacting your workload, of course). The whole team functions optimally when everyone is on the same page. Do your part as a good co-worker to get where you need to be and make sure your team gets to the finish line with you.
9. Stay Far Away From Gossip
Participating in and spreading gossip is like poisoning the communal water – it spreads and can cause harm to many very quickly. If you hear anything that may be provocative or cause you to question something, take it to the main source or upper management. By doing so, you eliminate the possibility of spreading unverified information, harming anyone in the process, or maybe causing others angst if it is a work process you are scrutinizing. Additionally, you will send the message to upper management that you do not engage in gossip. When you hear others involved in it, avoid the conversation or if possible, put an end to it. An easy way to deflect gossip is with this key phrase, “That is not my business to tell. You can ask ______ directly.” This is a challenge that is present at all levels of your career. It is best to get a hold on it now, since as you move up your exposure to confidential (a.k.a. gossip-worthy) information increases. Save the village, don’t poison the water!
10. Check Your Personal Life at the Door
This is something we are all aware of, but can be easily forgotten based on what is going on in your personal life. The workplace is for working, and may serve as a reprieve from the stresses of life. When you come in the door, leave anything non-work related right at the threshold before you step in. Be cognizant of your attitude and body language when you interact with others. If you are upset because of a personal matter, it is not fair to project that onto your co-workers. Utilize your lunch and break(s) to step away and collect your thoughts. If it is a really bad day, take a sick day to get yourself together. As much as your employer wants to have you in the office checking things off the to-do list, if you are not in a productive state of mind, you will not efficiently complete tasks and may even negatively influence co-workers’ performance as well. To be the best team player, you need to be able to give your team 100% effort. You can expect the same of them. Every day you come into work, mentally prepare yourself to take on the day, leave your home life at home, and put that “S” on your chest as you enter as a Superstar Associate!
Every associate has the power to be the best they can be and to help others along the way. As a co-worker, you serve a vital role in the overall success of your organization. When every associate does their role to their best ability, it results in the best product. Do your part to ensure a great final product, and help your fellow co-workers do the same. Implementing the tips above can help you navigate the landscape of your workplace and lead you down the path for personal and professional development. To all the Superstar Associates, we appreciate all that you do and look forward to seeing you at work, every day!
Kat spoke in the “Creating a Culture of Success” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on November 7th-9th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.