Business is a team sport. If the growth of your company depends on one person, you'll likely suffer in the long run. Leadership in today's world must inspire collaboration among your team members.

One way to look at teamwork is to analyze what's happened in professional basketball. For every LeBron James who's considered the superstar propelling his team, there are five teams like the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. Teams can't rely on one superstar to "carry" the team -- even James agrees that one person can't run the show. The 1990s Bulls were successful for that very reason: While it was clear that Jordan was the focal point, the other players all contributed to the same goal. The Bulls weren't thinking they were helping Michael Jordan win an NBA title -- the title belonged to every member of the team.

Business teams sometimes struggle to gel this well on a regular basis. Occasionally, it's an issue of a superstar pulling rank. Other times, teammates have so many competing ideas they can't agree on a single one. Team members even split on things like how often they should communicate with each other. But there are certain things that can bring teams together -- and ensure teammates help each other grow. Here are three traits all good team players have:

1. They question teammates when it matters.

Being too cooperative can lead to being so open-minded that you don't have any opinions or insights of your own. Great team players spot potential problems or bring up details they think others may have overlooked. They ask how one change may cause another. They look into whether they can adjust an existing process to implement an idea or need to create a new one. This is how teams catch problems before they snowball. Excellent ideas, after all, can bring just as many complications as really terrible ideas.

That doesn't mean teammates bully or downplay others' contributions until they stop participating. If you hear condescension or thick sarcasm, that's not playing as a team -- that's wilting a team into submission.

I once coached a CEO that struggled with this: A high performer who scoffed at others' techniques, making them scared to discuss their sales progress at team meetings. The team decided to shift feedback so that every question began with "Have you considered..." That pushed the team back to problem-solving mode and eliminated snark.

2. They're willing to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability at work doesn't refer to sharing childhood memories or listening to an employee wax poetic about a great first date. While there's a time and place for that, vulnerability at work refers to people having an intimate understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness -- of both their most amazing skills and their limitations -- is essential for team success.

I interviewed a leader who said his teammates came up with an exercise about their "success buckets." Each person had a "great," "maybe," and "yikes" bucket. The things they could immediately contribute toward went into "great," while the areas they had struggled with for a long time were "yikes." "Maybe" was an in-between option to capture the things they hadn't yet tried or were still in the process of mastering. It helped everyone be open with their teammates about how they could help without feeling judged.

3. They're the same person in the front and in the back.

Nothing will ruin a team's camaraderie faster than broken trust. Some "team players" are known for saying whatever they think other people want to hear. They agree to take on projects they don't want. They eagerly sign off on overflow work. They applaud a boss's idea at a team meeting. But when they complain about these things behind closed doors, it ensures people won't trust them.

Positivity is great, but keep in mind that someone who resembles Pollyanna all the time is likely festering some longstanding resentment (or is a robot). Negativity shouldn't be an all-the-time occurrence, but someone who diplomatically airs grievances or sets boundaries is doing you a service: being honest. Teammates who mean what they say are trustworthy, and they can even help you see things from customers' and partners' perspectives.

The business world, just like the NBA, is full of LeBrons. To build a great team, you need to look for strong team players to fill your roster -- and they aren't the doormats you may have been primed to expect.

Published on: Apr 24, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.