• David Strittmatter

How to be an active team member

A sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have
Photo by Antonio Janeski on Unsplash

Summary:

  • I need to enjoy working and thrive in my role 3 things: (1) Being proud of my work (2) solving exciting problems (3) working with inspiring teammates

  • Thereby, being an active part of the team from day 1 is key to make myself proud of my work

  • It allows us to actively shape the solution space, boosting our desired learning curve.


Practical advice:

  • Particularly, in the beginning, listen well and make notes

  • Even if we don't know anything about a topic, we can contribute methodically, e.g. create an agenda for a meeting or asking for next steps

  • Simply doing our work isn't enough. Always think of the next steps, how a problem could be solved faster, cheaper, or better, and take full ownership of our work


Dear friend,


This week, I started working on a new project, became part of a new team, and got new problems to solve. The project is definitely a topic of the future. Without companies like our client, a transition to a carbon-free world won't be possible. Working on this kind of challenge is thrilling.


The newness of all these aspects - team, client, topic - is always a little overwhelming but vital for our development as strategy consultants. The more experience we gather, the better we can deal with more complex and unstructured problems, ultimately better helping our clients to create impact.


Despite being new on the team, project, and in the topic, it's always been crucial for me to be an active part of the team from day 1. Today, numerous projects later, I know how to do so. However, as a new hire, I often asked myself how I can proactively contribute to the team and don't feel like a burden in the beginning.


In today's article, I will talk about what I need to enjoy working, why we should aim for being an active part of a team early on, and how we can do so.


What I need to enjoy working


Before joining my current employer, I had contemplated what I need to enjoy working and thrive in my role. It comes down to 3 things: (1) Being proud of my work (2) solving exciting problems (3) working with inspiring teammates.


(1) To be proud of my work, I need to work on something that is meaningful to me, and I need to have a significant contribution to it. It's important to me to make a difference.


(2) For me, exciting problems lead to exciting insights and bring me forward on my desired learning journey when solved.


(3) Inspiring teammates are great team players on the one hand, and on the other hand, they have a personality trait or skill that makes me look up to them.


When selecting a new project, I carefully look for these 3 aspects. Luckily, the vast majority of projects fulfill criteria (2) and (3) - the main reason why I love working in consulting. The be proud of my work (1), though, it's much more about myself than the project.


Why be an active part


Thereby, being an active part of the team from day 1 is key to make myself proud of my work. To be an active part, we need to make a (meaningful) contribution to the team. It allows us to actively shape the solution space, boosting our desired learning curve.


In the right team with the right project leader, we then have much more fun and feel appreciated.


When working in a team, particularly at the beginning of our new job, it can be tempting to sit back and let the other team members do the work. Often, we are bothered by a lack of self-confidence - the reason why it's difficult for us to speak up, raise questions, or bring in our ideas.


As a new hire, I often had the feeling that my colleagues were much more experienced than I and hence I couldn't make a meaningful contribution. But that's not true. Being an active part doesn't mean to know it all, actually, we don't have to know anything to contribute. Asking questions, pointing out logical flaws, and applying fundamental concepts, such as defining the next steps after each meeting, is more than enough to be an active part in the beginning.


Be an active part in the beginning


What greatly helps me to make a meaningful contribution from day 1 are 3 things:

First, I read up on the subject and note down questions. Imagine you worked for a company producing copy paper and you didn't understand how many and what kind of production sites they have since your company split its production to multiple sites. Raising these kinds of questions will not only help us to faster understand the basics but also make our teammates think about the problem from another angle.


Second, listen well and make notes. No matter the type of meeting, it's crucial to understand the dynamics and content of each one. By listening well and making notes, we can better identify flaws in our own thinking, raise questions, and build upon our knowledge by revising our notes.


Third, contribute methodically. Even if we don't know anything about a topic, we can contribute methodically. For example, set up an agenda for each meeting, ask for the next steps after a meeting, make notes for the team, check ideas for fundamental logic, understand and provide the context of our role and the project, etc.


Once the team is formed and I found my role in the team, I focus on 3 additional factors to actively contribute:


First, accountability. Accountability is fundamental to being a great teammate. It implies to do deliver our results in time and in quality. It's crucial to communicate realistic results in a realistic time frame. We need to take full responsibility for our work and deliver the promised quality on time. If we can’t meet a deadline, we need to inform those who are waiting for our work as soon as possible.


Second, pro-activity. Simply doing our work isn't enough. Always think of the next steps, how a problem could be solved faster, cheaper, or better, and take full ownership of our work. I always imagine what I'd do if there's no manager, no one supervising me and my deliverables.


Third, team engagement. As a team, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Hence, we should look for opportunities to help our teammates. For example, if a member of our team has trouble with a technology tool that is easy for us, we should offer to sit down with them and show them what we know. That also implies speaking up if we think we have an idea that can help our team.

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