Are you sure you’re a team player?

Are you sure you’re a team player?

“Team player” is probably one of the most used descriptors on CVs and cover letters. It’s something every one seems to boast that they are good at – a skill set every person claims to possess.

Last week as part of a workshop on project management and leadership I led an exercise which involved a teams working together to complete several tasks in sequence in a way similar to a relay race, competing against other teams.

One of the tasks required every single team member to successfully throw a tennis ball into a bucket from quite a considerable distance away. The team could only move to the next task when each member of the team managed the feat.

Participants like me who have limited or no hand-eye coordination were obviously going to struggle with the task – and with feelings of inadequacy about keeping back their teams. But how would their team members (who all said they were definitely team players before the exercise began) react to their struggle?

I observed behaviour like:

  1. Eye-rolling (behind their team member’s back of course!)
  2. Audible sighs
  3. Visible frustration like walking away, burying their head in their hands or exclamations
  4. Snide comments, often couched as banter
    By this I mean statements like “I mean did you ever play sports when you were a child?” or “I bet you got picked last a lot for teams in school”, which while they could be meant in jest do not boost confidence or help get the desired result. I watched faces crumble after these comments.
  5. Unhelpful coaching
    This is made even worse when there are multiple coaches all trying to be heard at the same time – “Try an underarm throw”, “No, let it bounce in”, “Lean in”, “Step back”, “Aim for a spot”. More often than not it made the situation worse, frustrating and overwhelming for the team member throwing the ball.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, I also saw some amazing teamwork as part of the session. There was a participant who had to attempt about 30 times before the ball made it into the bucket.

There was a cheerleading squad behind her the entire time “Don’t worry – you’ll get the next one!” – “So close!” – “Keep trying!” – “Come on – you can do it!”. They never ran out of steam! And when the ball finally made it in there was high-fiving, back-slapping and celebratory hugs. It was amazing!

On another team, in the midst of group coaches talking over each other, someone walked up to the team member taking the shot and said “Is this helping you or would you prefer quiet?” and then followed up with “Is there anything we can do that would actually be helpful?” Another great moment!

I also loved it when in response to a snide comment, a team member replied with some degree of snark “Is that supposed to be inspiring or motivational?” I  had to bite back my smile.

I thought I would share this as being a great team player is not just about the words. It’s about what you do when the chips are down and how you support your team and help them deliver. And I hope you remember some of the attitudes and behaviours outlined above,  both positive and negative when you’re on your next team project. Tone down or eliminate the bad behaviours if you can – and focus on being really earning the “team player” badge by displaying positive team behaviours and really thinking about what your team and its individual members needs and what you can do to help the overall team win.

By | 2017-04-11T16:22:10+00:00 August 17th, 2015|Blog|21 Comments

About the Author:

Dana is THE Trainer! She is passionate about learning, coaching and development and is in possession of over 10 years’ Training and Learning & Development experience. She has a proven track record of developing and delivering aspirational and engaging learning content – and now blogging about it. Check out her website


  1. Hayley Haynes August 23, 2015 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Hello! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to look it over.
    I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting
    this to my followers! Terrific blog and terrific style and design.

  2. Michael Polanco September 9, 2015 at 2:55 am - Reply

    After looking at a few of the blog posts on your web page,
    I seriously like your technique of writing a
    blog. I added it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back soon. Great job!

  3. Victoria Matzen November 4, 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

    I value the post. Will read on…

  4. Pauline Shigemitsu November 7, 2015 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I liked this post.

  5. Brad January 4, 2016 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Great post Dana The Trainer!

  6. C. Braxton February 7, 2016 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content.
    Please let me know. Thank you

  7. Lucio Elleby March 2, 2016 at 4:19 am - Reply

    Greetings from Ohio! I followed the link to this article from Twitter and am glad I did But I noticed you don’t have a subscribe option. That’s something you really should look into as I am sure you would have regular followers. Just my 2 cents…anyways, awesome blog!

  8. Wendy March 31, 2016 at 6:51 am - Reply

    Really informative article. Keep writing!

  9. Laci April 25, 2016 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Dana! I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve re-blogged this to my site, as I have been trying to write something similar, but you have all the right words. I’ve sent my e-mail details through your “Contact” page in case there is any issue. Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  10. Andre Moan July 10, 2016 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Thanks Dana! Great post!

  11. Lucila M Chen July 23, 2016 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    I’m starting to suspect that I may not really be a team player, but I tell everyone I am. LOL!

  12. Lana August 3, 2016 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your great posts. Great job Dana!

  13. Irina Oldman August 17, 2016 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    I liked this article. I found it very helpful. Carry on posting Dana!

  14. Noah Boyd August 20, 2016 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    Where’s the next post Dana? It’s been ages!

  15. Reginald Bunton August 24, 2016 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    Hi Dana I’ve sent you a message through the website and included my e-mail above. I’d love to find out more about this and find out if a course could be built to address it. Let’s get in touch.

  16. Danny Keenan October 4, 2016 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    An easy read Dana. Very well written. Great style!

  17. Perry Marcel October 13, 2016 at 6:29 am - Reply

    This really made me think and I have come to the conclusion that I may not be a team player … Now I feel bad about myself. Thanks Dana! J/K I really enjoyed this one. More soon please it’s been a while …

  18. Ned Q Orosco November 15, 2016 at 4:51 am - Reply

    Hi Dana – Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and love your writing style. Where’s your next post?

  19. Minna Dalgety February 24, 2020 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing. Good food for thought here.

Leave A Comment