Being an Innovative Team Player

What does it mean to be a “team player” in your company? In some organizations, it’s a test of loyalty. Are you prepared to stand by your partner, colleague or boss and back them up, no matter what?

In other corporate cultures, it means not making waves. Some things you don’t question. Some people are always right.

It may mean knowing your place, following all sorts of unwritten rules, getting along.

In some companies, it’s simply a vague standard for working well with others, or just being likable.

In an innovation culture, being a team player should say something a little different. In an innovation culture, teams aren’t about leveling lines of authority, although that may be one result. They’re not just about collaboration, even though that’s a necessary piece. In an innovation culture, teams are about more than bringing together a variety of talents, expertise and perspectives. They’re about candid communications and a frank exchange of ideas, for the purpose of finding new and better ways to do things.

Whether the team is created to implement a specific project, or as a way to foster ongoing improvements, an innovative team makes links that might not exist otherwise, gains fresh insights, and musters the courage to implement them.

Being a team player in an innovation culture doesn’t mean playing along to get along; it means asking the tough questions and carefully considering the questions raised by others. It means challenging the sacred cows and unwritten assumptions that too often impede progress. It means making connections for the sake of making connections, because that’s the essence of creativity and no one can predict what new insights might result. Sometimes, it even means courageously challenging authority, when there’s a legitimate reason to do so.

In other words, it’s almost the exact opposite of what is frequently meant by “being a team player.” If being a team player is an important value in your company, it may be time to clarify exactly what that means.

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