In Action, Change, Leaders

“A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player.” – John Wooden

One of the things we say we value in our organizations is great team players.  We talk a lot about how much we appreciate them, how things get done because they always pitch in, about how we’re grateful for them, etc.  And I think we mean it.

Unfortunately, there are too many times when we take those team players for granted.  We just assume that when we need someone to help on a project that they’ll volunteer every time.  When we’re in the middle of an emergency we assume they’ll help put out the fire.  And after they’ve helped, we don’t always remember to say thank you.

We also tend to assume that our team players are always happy to be part of our organization.  So much so that we will sometimes treat them worse than the people who aren’t great team players.  Let me explain.

Virtually every organization has one or more individuals who are great at their “official” job, but horrible team players.  A salesperson might be great at sales but also be horribly unprofessional.  An engineer might be great at engineering but also be rude and disrespectful to their co-workers.  An accountant might be great at bookkeeping but also flat out refuse to follow company policies and procedures.

As leaders we can be quick to overlook the flaws of those people because we’re thrilled about the other aspects of their performance.  And, as leaders, quite often those flaws aren’t a major issue for us.  Even lousy team players can put on a good face when one of the bosses is around.

The people who really suffer when you tolerate that kind of behavior are your great team players.  They bear the brunt of unprofessionalism.  They are the ones being treated disrespectfully.  They are the ones who have to clean up messes when others don’t follow the rules.  And we too often let those things happen.

Think about your organization.  Who are your great team players, the ones you’d hate to lose?  Then ask yourself what you’re doing to make them want to stay.  Are you making sure they know how much they’re appreciated?  Are you dealing with teammate issues that make their lives miserable?

Or are you just assuming that they’d never quit because they just must like it so much that they’ll put up with anything?  I’ve seen too many leaders who are shocked when their best team players leave.  Those leaders shouldn’t have been surprised – they’re the ones who allowed it to happen.

Don’t push your best team players out the door.  Take care of them, and they’ll take care of your business.

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