How to be a Balanced Team Player

Thank you, Sue Shellenbarger, senior writer, and columnist, at the Wall Street Journal, for a recent post in LinkedIn that directed me to your article ‘You Could be too Much of a Team Player.’ As a former career (SEAL) Team guy, the headline caught my attention right away.

In our society chocked full of instantaneous communication and information overload, it’s easy for anyone to get confused, disorganized, and perhaps even overwhelmed sometimes, or worse, most times…and out of balance.

It’s time to check in with yourself and your resolve, to hold yourself accountable before someone else does…to bring your meter back to a balance point. Find your balance point, know what it is, own it, and use it wherever you are. If you leave it at home, you might as well not show up elsewhere. If you can’t hold yourself accountable, for solid performance and mindset, you might be tempted or fall prey to being too much of a team player, meaning you’re not effective anyway. Good team players know their merit and help the team effectively, not just by ‘being there.’ Once you find your balance point it’s time to acknowledge and adopt the following ideologies:

Know your excellence within. Own it and share it…but with balance. Tap into the best part of yourself like a candle you’d light, which has an eternal flame. Keep that flame lit. Sometimes the flame flickers, but NEVER let it burn out! Never let yourself burn out so badly that you can’t find your way back. Hold yourself accountable to your best qualities, excellence, and by remaining balanced. Curb the excuses, quell the worry if you’re a worrier, and consistently strive to be a warrior of your own excellence.

Resist the temptation to fall prey to instantaneous communication and information overload. At work, just say ‘no’ to time sucks, which you know are time sucks. If you allow yourself to be overwhelmed, you’re marching toward a precipice of nothingness with no way back. True team players will help bring you back once or twice, but they’ll let you fall off the precipice if you fail to respond to their repeated attempts to objectively pull you back to safety and reality.

Accountability keeps you on track in your personal and professional life, to accomplish what’s important, consistently. Without it, you can easily get behind on goals, responsibilities, and everything. Avoid the ‘easy’ of making excuses to take care of something another day or to shortchange the process of getting something done, or by being that team player that is non-contributing. Your life will get harder very quickly, leading to bigger problems down a winding, slippery road full of very deep potholes.

Don’t play the blame game, and don’t give others the ability to cast you as their poster child slacker. Own up to falling short if you do, but maintain your accountability mindset, always. Stick to your excellence and get your work done, even if co-workers or managers ask for your help but you have important deadlines that must be kept. Pass projects or tasks to colleagues if it makes sense or you must. You’ll know if It makes sense. You must when you need to, and a day will come when those colleagues will need your help and you capably reciprocate. The blame game often occurs because deadlines aren’t met, but you’re the fool if you don’t meet yours. Be a team player to get things done, but ALWAYS get your things done on or ahead of time.

Accountability is character. Character is you. Character, like integrity, is knowing who you are and acting accordingly. You cannot know who you are if you do not hold yourself accountable…to have a strong character. Without accountability and strong character, you’re a riderless swing in a bad storm, swaying back and forth between the demands of others and the needs of yourself. That’s no way to live!

Need to develop an accountability mindset? It can be tough at first. You must really look at who you are. You must be willing to admit when you’re not making good choices or performing well. Fix that! The rewards are well worth the effort. If you put in the effort, you’ll grow your character and integrity while developing a solid sense of self, making you stronger and a better team player.

When you’re on solid footing with your character, life is easier. You treat yourself and others better. Life is simpler. Teamwork is meaningful. Time sucks dwindle or vanish. If you arrive at the office early or stay late, it’s more by choice than necessity, and constructive use of your – and your teammates’ – time.


Now that we’ve covered the bases, let’s get back to teamwork.

Teamwork means lots of different things; it all depends on who you ask. At its core, teamwork requires people to check their egos at the door, be humble, communicate effectively, and resolve conflicts by consensus or quorum. Add a positive, get-it-done attitude, keep things light and fun to keep things moving, and your team will adapt, overcome, and succeed, consistently.

Do you know what breakthrough teams are? They achieve the extraordinary, and over time they seem to do it as if it were ordinary and the norm. Think of products that have worldwide appeal. Groups of athletes or teams that everyone admires. Breakthrough teams don’t just happen. They take commitment, high achievement, and endless determination to succeed. They require exceptional collaboration. Those teams have an insatiable desire to welcome and take on new challenges, make important discoveries, and then share them. Breakthrough teams positively impact others and society at large.

At the core of breakthrough teams are people, many are common people with an uncommon desire to succeed. Some are forged by adversity. Humble. Honorable, with uncompromising integrity. Their word is their bond. They are task before ego, team before self.

Members of breakthrough teams are consistently committed to high achievement and success, doing something bigger than themselves. They’re agile, high energy, and extremely resilient. The path to their achievements may be long and winding, but their breakthroughs are often sudden and dramatic, their discoveries life changing.

If it hasn’t happened already, at some point you’ll be on a team. The rewards that come from that opportunity are life-changing and long-lasting. I had the great fortune to experience world-class teamwork for the 20 years I served as a SEAL. Be patient. Your opportunity will come. When it does, you’ll know it. You’ll be part of the solution as an effective team player, discovering what a life-changing, wonderful thing the team experience is.

When you’re in the zone of feeling what it’s like to be part of that cohesive team, embrace it. You’ll find new strength and comfort in yourself and amongst your teammates. Your energy and enthusiasm improve, and the not-so-easy gets simpler over time. You’ll still have time for constructive and essential ‘me’ time too.

As part of the team, and the teamwork dynamic, it’s okay – and should be encouraged – to bring some of that ‘me’ with you. That ‘me’ offers the opportunity for other members of the team to get to know you and understand your contributions to the team.

One of the best and simplest ways to make this happen? Communicate!

Teamwork is a collaborative process. To collaborate effectively, we must have great communication along with a certain amount of self-focus to successfully contribute to the team. The rest of your focus belongs to the team so it’s successful, productive and competent.

There’s a big difference between having self-focus and being self-focused or egotistical. Bring your character-developed self-focus without being self-focused, and use it to contribute to the team effort.

That’s being a true team player, rather than just showing up.