Are you a team player?

You read it in the job adverts. It appears it the qualities necessary for the post and it's often an interview question. Are you a team player? The honest answer would be no but you say yes. You're good at what you do. You have a track record to back up the claim. You're a leader, you're decisive, determined, persuasive, creative and industrious. When you are in charge the team delivers. Trouble is when you’re not in charge. In the structure you both lead a team and are a member of a team. You are the service head but you are a member of the senior management team. The qualities that got you the senior management post were your outstanding individual talent but your chief executive and your colleagues expect you to be a team player.

The individual who is not a team player is the one who doesn't do their fair share, you need a member of the senior management team to open and close the conference their too busy unless it directly relates to their service, you need a member of the team to represent the department on a corporate working group they don't think it's relevant to them, you need a member of the team to speak at the service users forum they don't think it's the best use of their time. You receive a request to address a cross section of voluntary groups about the work of the department and they reluctantly agree then on the day they send a substitute. Another service is struggling and asks for a short term secondment of a couple  experience managers the request is turned down because they can't be spared. The whole organisation is going for Investors in People status but one service thinks it involves more work than is justified. And then there is the special pleading around the budget cuts.

What's best for the individual manager and their services may not be best for the rest of the organisation. The star player may resent others for being ineffective, lacking imagination and having limited abilities but it's a team and you can't just do your own thing. The team puts up with this behaviour because they recognise the talent, they admire the ability and they also bask in some reflected glory. That is until things go wrong that's when team spirit is most needed but when those lacking it are most likely to disassociate themselves. Seeking to protect their own reputations they move to a better team, assuming they have not already been shown the door.

Senior managers are by nature not good team players but they recognise that on occasions they need to do their bit so perhaps a better analogy is a choir and every choir has it's soloists. 

Blair McPherson author of equipping managers for an uncertain future publish by Russell House

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