Choosing Your Role on the Team

Published: May 24, 2018

When Seth Godin endorsed Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams in 2009, he stated, “This book made me think hard – really hard – about what it means to join or lead a group of people.” Whether joining or leading, everyone has a role. Often, your role on the team is not defined by your job description. Usually, it’s determined by the way you choose to interact with your teammates during key moments in the team’s lifespan.

Think hard – really hard – about what it means to join or lead a group of people. There is a covenant woven into the fabric of the team’s values that shapes culture with every exchange.

Whatever your role on the team, every day serves up tests of mission alignment, trust, accountability, and adaptability. How you respond to these tests, small or large, alters the DNA of the rest of the group. We exist only in the context of our environments and every single interaction in that unique ecosystem matters.

Most days, the majority of these culture tests pass by unnoticed. Big breaches of mission alignment, trust, accountability, and adaptability get obvious attention but the little contributions every teammate makes to strengthen or weaken the culture are usually subtle. The cumulative impact of these words and actions quietly steers the team toward or away from its vision. Consider these options:

  • Mission Alignment: Make a case that the words you are about to speak or the actions you are about to take will move the team closer to its goal.
  • Trust: Measure the impact your words and actions are likely to have on every other teammate. Will they be more or less inclined to lean on you in the future?
  • Accountability: Determine how your words and actions will communicate the integrity of your commitment to your teammates.
  • Adaptability: Choose a coping style that enables movement from tension to resolution, especially when the pressure of the situation makes you want to resist change.

Choose your role by intention. Both engagement and disengagement are contagious. Whether under normal or stressful conditions, be deliberate about the behavioral answer to the question, “Who do I wish to be today?” Regardless of your pay grade, your decision will alter the team’s direction.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.