If you have ever passed a group of serious cyclists on the road, you might have seen something called "drafting." The group rides in a line, very close to each other's back wheels so that only the first rider needs to overcome significant air resistance. Everyone else drafts behind that first bike -- using much less effort to go much faster than they could alone.
The group can speed along this way, but the lead rider will eventually get tired. So for this tactic to work, each cyclist needs to take a turn riding in front. And that takes coordinated communication and mutual support -- it takes teamwork.
But teamwork at our jobs can be elusive for many. Gallup's 2017 "State of the American Workplace," which surveyed almost 200,000 American employees, reports that only three in 10 employees believe that their co-workers are committed to doing quality work. Only two in 10 said they have a "best friend" in the office.
Doing meaningful work with people you respect is not impossible. It just takes effort.
This effort starts at the company level. Leaders need to provide a clear vision and shared goals for everyone to rally around -- working together towards a common goal helps teams develop a sense of fellowship.
This is something I see first-hand with our Aha! team. We had a clear vision from day one -- we imagined a world of lovable software built by happy product teams. Since we are an entirely distributed team, it was especially important for us to set clear goals for the business and transparently share them with the team. Everyone knows our mission and understands their role in helping achieve our goals.
But perhaps the culture at your company does not have clear goals, which makes it difficult for people to collaborate well together. Or maybe you feel that you do not have frameworks in place for how to best engage other co-workers or those across groups.
Here are four proven ways to be a better teammate:
Focus on a goal
If you start the day dreading your long list of to-dos, it can actually hurt your productivity. Professors at Penn State researching this concept found that this negative early-day mindset lowers working memory, which you need to learn and retain information. Instead, start the day focused on a clear goal. Ask yourself, "What is the most important thing I can do today to move our team forward?"
There are certain indicators of how successful an organization is -- individual curiosity is a key one. This trait has been proven by behavioral scientists to help teammates listen more and fight less with each other, leading to better team performance overall. Being curious at work shows that you are invested and that you are dedicated to solving every tough problem.
When you are heads-down working, you might feel frustrated when you see a new email or instant message pop up. You do not want to be interrupted. But you need to be open to solving tough problems no matter when they happen. Recent research from Harvard shows that intermittent collaboration actually helps the entire team achieve better results overall.
When you accomplish great work together, gratitude follows. And expressing that gratitude makes more of a difference than you might realize. Psychologists have found that people are often hesitant to show appreciation, falsely believing it will not make much of an impact on others -- when in fact, gratitude is essential for your own happiness and the well-being of your co-workers.
No one wants to be unhappy at work and we all want to work on something meaningful.
And the key to meaningful, satisfying work is serving others well. When you put in the hard work of being a great teammate, you will start seeing changes -- in yourself, your co-workers, and your accomplishments.
What do you do to help your team do great work?