In my early twenties, I worked as a freelance event specialist for a variety of big name festivals, media and sports organizations including Vans Warped Tour, Firefly, Warrior Dash and MSNBC. The projects varied in scope, location and attendance, but they all had one thing in common: teamwork.
I’d fly out to a work site and the first thing on my agenda was meeting my teammates, sometimes even before I picked up my luggage from baggage claim. I rarely worked with the same people on multiple projects due to the nature and scale of the events industry, although some of my colleagues did end up calling me to work when they got director or producer gigs for other events (ah, the power of networking). As a result, I got used to working with new teams every week. Thanks to the constantly changing nature of that lifestyle, I was able to hone my team player mentality and figure out how to work efficiently on a collaborative effort.
Whether you’re a model, a photographer or a lifestyle influencer, no matter how good you are at your job, there will come a time when you have to work with a team. Teamwork sounds easy, but it’s actually a skill— one that can be practiced and developed to improve results of a collaboration.
Genuine teamwork is elusive, but by keeping the following five rules in mind, we can maximize the benefits of working with others and maybe learn a thing or two along the way.
First, trust that your teammates know what they’re doing. Just because you think you may be more qualified than someone else on a project doesn’t actually make you more qualified. That’s your ego talking. Don’t dumb down someone else’s idea because someone may have less experience than you. Just like you, that person has been asked to take part in the project for a reason. Support goes a lot further than criticism.
That said, trust yourself, too. What makes an effective team is the ability for the players to be honest with each other about their strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have to know how to do everything, so let your colleagues take the wheel when it’s their turn, and be confident when it’s yours. By owning and working with our strong suits (i.e. going with the current instead of against it), rather than struggling to mask or improve our weaknesses, we’re naturally more efficient team players.
Second, speak up. Have you ever agreed with someone just for the sake of harmony? It may be appropriate when you’re speaking with your boyfriend’s aunt at Thanksgiving dinner, but artificial agreement has no place on an effective team. When harmony is the goal, rather than a great product, you end up with mediocrity. When your name is attached to something, never settle for “good enough.” You have to do everything in your power to make it great.
We have to get comfortable engaging in constructive debate about what we need to do to succeed. Author, entrepreneur and public speaker Seth Godin writes in The Icarus Deception:
“The unsure employee is putty in the hands of the person seeking to give direction. When you decide you’re not talented enough or not ready to speak up, when you buy the line about not being well-trained or well-born enough to make a difference, you code your power to those in authority.”
The whole point of a team project is collaboration, so one person shouldn’t be running the show. Everyone brings to the table their own passions and ideas, so when you feel moved to say something, say something.
The third rule of working with a team is to commit yourself 100%. Take the project as seriously as you would if it was an independent work. Your professional reputation is on the line. It doesn’t matter if you think that the people you’re working with are unimportant; you never know who they know, or who will be part of the project down the line. Be so good and so committed to the project that your teammates have nothing but positive things to say about you. It can lead to other projects down the line. That said, if you know you can’t fully commit to a project, let the opportunity go. Don’t take part in something just for the sake of being part of it.
That said, when you join a team you have to be willing to hold yourself and others accountable. We have to own up to our mistakes and be willing to fix them when necessary. My business partner and I were working on a building project for a new venture and had hired a contractor to lay down new floors. I’d taken communication with the contractor upon myself, and the day he came to install the laminate, I realized I’d made a mistake with some of the materials we’d purchased. I had two options: to call off the project for another day, or to fix the issue and carry on with our timeline as we’d planned. It took a few extra hours of my time and a little extra money on both ends, but we were stronger as a team for it, because the project was finished as planned and my partner knew I could admit my mistakes and hold myself accountable for results.
Finally, pay attention to results. When I worked as an event specialist for Warrior Dash, a 5k race that travels to 49 cities, we had a routine after every race day, no exception. Once the crowds had left, we’d gather in the operations tent and go over how everyone felt about their particular role. Everyone— from the person who ran the stage/festival area to the person who ran the parking lots— was asked to contribute something. The result? Insight that could only come from experience. That sort of input helped the race garner more than 1.5 million Facebook likes and over 60,000 in yearly attendance, and it also helped me, in the form of implementing that tool on future projects.
When a project is complete, discuss it with your teammates. What did you do well? What could you have improved, both independently and as a team? Regardless of whether or not you plan to work with the same team on a future project, everyone can benefit from discussing strengths, weaknesses, and results.
In short, working with a team requires you to treat your team as humans who have feelings and who want to be successful just as much as you do. Drop your ego, play your strengths, speak up, empower yourself and others, and remember what you learned.