by Ofer Vugman
How to be a team player in the tech world
These tips will boost your relationships and your team’s efficiency at work
When I landed my first job as a junior developer, I felt I had reached my ultimate goal: get paid for doing what I love most.
It was exhilarating to get recognition for my skillset, especially after years of theory and academia.
I was super hyped.
Shortly after, I learned my first hard lesson in this new world of mine. Turned out, there was a huge difference between what I was taught during my computer science degree, to how things work in the real world.
It was a nasty free fall from, “I know a lot” to “there’s so much more for me to learn.”
From understanding the frameworks, to the patterns and workflow, I was literally miles away from where I had to be.
I realized that if I wanted to strengthen my coding and improve as a developer, I had to keep on learning. It hit me that the learning process would, in effect, never end.
Fast forward a decade later and I’m still learning new technical things every day, and it’s awesome.
But my biggest lesson has been that technical skills alone just don’t cut it.
Technical skills are only half the story
We spend a lot of time sharpening our technical skills. We learn new languages, frameworks, methodologies, and patterns. We invest so much time that we sometimes forget another aspect of our day to day work: our human team members.
Whether as a developer, team leader, QA engineer, designer, or product manager, most of us work in teams. We share moments of epic releases and frustrating debugging sessions.
For a group of individuals, coming with their own baggage (experience, opinions, and expertise), it’s not always easy to work and collaborate efficiently. Each individual must adopt specific skills to be the most valuable team member they can be.
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson
So while technical skills are crucial, they’re only part of the equation. The other part is becoming the best team member you can be.
How to be a better team member
Honestly, it takes a lot. But let me lay down four of the most crucial requirements you can adopt pronto.
1. Leave your ego at the threshold
We live in a competitive world. As such, over time, we develop habits we believe will make us stand out and survive.
We want to show we’re smarter, stronger, and better than the rest. We want our strength to be acknowledged by our teammates and managers.
Our ego is often used as a survival skill to help us stand out, and we often blindly believe our solution to a problem is the best one. We categorically reject everyone else’s opinions and suggestions.
In the worst case scenarios, we even make our colleagues feel as though they don’t know what they’re talking about.
This behavior, while it may feed our ego and make us feel better, is destructive. It sucks the air out of every conversation, and creates frustration and a poisonous working environment.
“The ego can be the great success inhibitor. It can kill opportunities, and it can kill success.” — Dwayne Johnson
For a team to work and collaborate efficiently, its members must respect one another, allow other’s voices to be heard and accept their opinions, even if we don’t completely agree.
By doing that, we encourage a safe environment. And when we feel safe, our ego becomes irrelevant.
2. Embrace feedback
Continuous feedback, whether positive or negative, is key for personal growth, as well as for teamwork. Without it, we’ll never know our weaknesses or how we can improve.
Receiving negative feedback is hard. We tend to get defensive and may push back, trying to reason our behavior or actions.
Giving negative feedback is equally hard, because we’re scared of how the other side will react. We’re concerned it could come off as patronizing, and so we often avoid it altogether.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” — Bill Gates
But feedback — giving it and receiving it — is the most powerful tool we have to understand what we need and how we can improve.
So while we should learn how to give constructive feedback, we should also work on accepting criticism. That way, you can implement changes in your every day, and become a more valuable team member.
3. Be accountable
When we release a kick-ass feature, fix an elusive bug, or give an inspiring talk, we expect to get recognition for our efforts. It’s easy to be accountable for the good things we do.
But we’re humans and we’re prone to make mistakes. We might introduce a critical bug in production, say something that was misunderstood, or act in a manner that offended someone.
Being accountable for our mistakes is never easy. It feels like we’re walking around with a big ‘I was wrong’ sign and a lady behind us yelling ‘shame, shame, shame.’
The first thing to understand is that it’s OK to make mistakes. Rather than reveling in the mistake itself, see it as an opportunity to grow.
So be accountable. Accountability implies maturity. It is a key factor for building trust within a team. When something you said was understood differently, or something you coded caused a bug in production — stand up to that failure and be accountable.
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” — Benjamin Franklin
You’ll build trust among your team members and they’ll know they can count on you to be there in even the most challenging situations.
4. Don’t be a knowledge hoarder
We’re in a constant process of learning. Whether reading over an answer on StackOverflow, an online course, or teaching yourself a new framework, your brain is consuming knowledge nonstop.
We acquire a lot of knowledge over the years. We become experts in our field, and if we’re really good, we become the go-to person for that topic.
It can easily fool us to believe that the amount of knowledge we have makes us so valuable to the company - we’re irreplaceable. So we hoard that knowledge.
But knowledge hoarders are destructive for any team.
When we deny access to the knowledge we acquired throughout our career, we not only harm our team’s productivity and efficiency, but we create an ‘every (hu)man for himself’ culture.
When you share knowledge, you empower others. You take an active part in their personal growth. You encourage conversations and creative thinking.
The best part about sharing knowledge is that it encourages reciprocity: others will be more likely to share their knowledge with you. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn from the person sitting next to you.
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” — Margaret Fuller
Being an expert in your field doesn’t necessarily make you a great educator; spending time teaching and learning will make you a much more valuable team member.
Make Time for Teamwork
While you need to hone your technical skills continuously to step up your game, make room for your teamwork skillset. There’s nothing worse than having a team member that may be good technically, but is the absolute worst when it comes to working together.
It’s not only about creating a positive environment — curating the perfect team with individual team members that embody these four requirements will bring you better technical results, and extraordinary efficiency.
And that’s something that works for everyone.