We have all seen the add-on to job postings “able to work as a member of a team” or “applicant must be a team player.”  Nearly 60% of all current job postings on ClearanceJobs.com reference “team” in the job description or requirements.  So how important are teams?  How yow can you, as an employee, increase and make the most of your strengths as a team player?

Working as part of a team does require individual performance just like any other position.  However, the important difference is that team goals and objectives take priority over individual accomplishments.  The same thing holds true in professional sports.  If the goal of the basketball team is to win a championship, then it does not matter if, in game 7 of the series, the star player has a triple double, yet the team loses by 12.  In the business world and in intelligence, some objectives require a team working together.

Do Your Job Well and Know the Jobs of Others

How can you be successful in this environment?  Do your own job well, but keep one eye on the goal(s) and another eye on your teammates.  Provide help to your team when it is needed – a System Admin helping the Network Admin, a Software Engineer helping the Software Test Engineer, etc.  Every position has its primary set of tasks, but again, the ultimate goal is achieving those important team objectives.

Successful teams need three things:

  • Unselfish team members who know and perform their jobs well.
  • A clear vision and understanding of team objectives.
  • Agile, trusted managers who clear the multiple paths to success.

As a team member, focus on knowing your job well.  Investigate innovative ways to perform your job and nudge the team towards those important end goals.  For example, I once worked as part of a large team to maintain the systems of an entire site.  Our goals were to maintain the site systems and keep them running at 100%.  As a System Admin, we did all the typical SA tasks that contributed towards that goal.  But we also sought to improve.  On our own initiative, we pieced together a system of monitoring and reporting on system functions – commonplace now, but back then it was new.  If a system failed or was in danger of failing, we notified ourselves rather than wait for the customer to notice that a system had failed.  That way, we had a better chance of restoring the system before any mission loss incurred.  Look for innovative ways to achieve your group objectives.

A Manager as a Team Player

The team lead or manager has two tasks, often in addition to contributing as a team member.  The first task is to ensure the entire team understands and is committed to team objectives.  Work with each member or section and listen to how they plan to contribute.  Keep in mind the Deming principle which states, “those closest to a problem are more likely to come up with a workable solution.”  Each team member needs to know how the overall goals translate to daily tasking, assigned projects, and individual contributions.  It is the leader’s job to ensure everyone understands this and maintains the proper focus.

Second, the team lead needs to identify obstacles that could keep the team from succeeding and work to remove them.  This requires a good understanding of the mission, each role played by team members, and a confidence with the management skills needed to develop new procedures or deal with customers or other managers.

At your next interview, when asked about your ability to work as part of a team, be prepared to talk about the times you put team goals ahead of individual performance.  Describe how you helped team members succeed in their roles and how this contributed to team success.  After all, some goals are very important, and it takes an entire team, working together, to achieve them.

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Todd Keys is a Program Manager at Cantada, Inc. He has been in the intelligence Community for 30 years, as a member of the military (USAF), and as a contractor for top 100, top 10, and small business federal defense contractors. He has held multiple roles, CONUS and OCONUS, ranging from technician to executive, providing site O&M, system administration, engineering, supervision, contract management, and Capture/BD for the DoD and multiple intelligence agencies.