Episode #6: How to not be a shit teammate

This is Part 2 of the millennial leadership series – last week was about being a good leader for young people, this one is about being a solid team member.

Excuse the low-effort cover photo I made for this episode – I recorded this in the middle of the night because my neighbor’s dog wouldn’t stop barking and didn’t have energy to find a nice picture of myself to use.

In this episode I talk a little slower and take my time more – hence it’s almost 45 minutes long! If you prefer this type of format, drop a line below and let me know. 🙂


  • I’ve lead a bunch of teams but I’ve also been apart of quite a few over the last few years
  • I’ve had quite a few bad teammates over the years – and I say bad in the most objective manner I can
    • There were the teammates who I loved working with – they were awesome
    • The teammates who did their job and nothing else – they were okay
    • And then there were the shit ones, who I never want to work with again
  • We’ve all had classes with people that didn’t contribute shit to a project, group mates whose only contribution was to print the paper and hand it to the teacher, group mates who refused to do any work early and crammed all of it in the last second
  • I’m no saint – I’ve had several instances where I was a pretty shit team member too from time to time.
  • What constitutes a “bad” teammate? This is highly subjective of course, but to me it was someone that talks a lot, does very little and is universally complained about by other people
  • I’m going to attempt and highlight the characteristics, habits and strategies you should foster to get along well with your team, get all the shit done that you need to  as a team and leave a long-lasting impression as a solid teammate along the way

What is a good teammate?

  • When I think about the best teammates I’ve had, there were several characteristics that I always observed in the people that did the best:
    • Professionally:
      • Communication – in the context of work, progress and team issues
      • Honesty – with themselves and you
      • Proactive – always looking for opportunities to do more, contribute more and help the team move forward when they’re free
      • Timely – in delivering work, showing up to meetings and getting back to you when it’s work-related
      • Enthusiastic – in approaching their work – this is the kind of attitude that can’t be taught
    • Socially:
      • Available – to the team to bond and develop a relationship with
      • Inclusive – avoids cliquish culture by being open and inclusive to everyone in the team

How do I become a good teammate?

  1. Start with assessing the things that you personally hate in teammates. Most of you will have suffered from having bad teammates before – note down the things that piss you off and do the exact opposite of that.
  2. Do expectation setting. This is one of the most valuable things I learned in AIESEC – every team should have very clear expectations from day 1. If you’re joining a team that’s already established, you need to do an expectation setting with the whole team and with the leader individually.
  3. Get a reality check of the team. Ask everyone on the team that’ll directly work with you for a quick 10-15 minute meeting so you can check-in with them on what they’re working on, what their experience has been like as part of the team and if they have any important insights for you
  4. Slowly build relationships – one at a time. Most teams start out kind of awkward. You guys don’t know each other, so it’s going to take some time to get to know them – but you will have opportunities to get to know your teammates, so when those arise, take them. Someone’s staying late, and so are you, so grab a bite to eat together and make small talk.
  5. Communicate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to share knowledge. Don’t be afraid to pitch in – just don’t be a smartass.
  6. Offer your help to others whenever you can, even if it’s not your responsibility or job to do so. That’s how you build rapport and trust – and most of the times, the things people need help with are either quite straightforward once you get two brains working at the same time.
  7. Show up. Be prepared. Be on time. Repeat.

How do I integrate into a new team?

  1. Research. You need to understand the team you’re joining – so do a little digging into the team, its boss and its members. What do your colleagues know about them? What have you heard about them, if anything?
  2. Learn everyone’s names as soon as you can. When I meet with people I’ll write down their names in the first line of my notebook, so I can remember who I met with – this makes it easy to recall names quickly. There’s lots of strategies you can use to remember people’s names and faces, look one up that suits you and apply it. Remembering everyone’s names early and using it with meeting with them shows that you cared enough to remember their name, and plenty of research shows that humans love hearing their own name being said back to them.
  3. Expectation setting. As mentioned, sit down with your new team lead and teammates, and get some insight into how things are running – what’s the team culture like, what are the goals, the big challenges, the statuses of everyone you’ll be working with? This is also a great space to let your new team know what your strengths are and what you’re hoping to achieve as part of the team.
  4. Find your point person. When you meet everyone, see who’s most open to working with you and feels the most approachable for you – ask them if you can ask them questions about the team here and there. If they agree, they’ll be your go-to to ask questions about team dynamics, structure, the boss, etc. A mini-mentor of sorts.
  5. A smooth integration can only happen when you’re working on making it happen. Use what I said a while ago – build relationships slowly, take opportunities when they arise, and become great at communicating with your teammates. Become a sponge and absorb as much information as you can and use that to your advantage in contributing to the team.

How do I deal with toxic teammates?

I approach the topic of toxic coworkers and bosses in pretty much the same way.

  1. You need to confront them. You’d be surprised how many people are unaware that their behavior is toxic and negatively impacting the people around them. Giving them some honest, candid feedback on their actions that are negatively impacting the team will normally result in two types of responses: positive or negative.
    1. If they react positively, be nice and offer tips and an open ear to help out with.
    2. If they react negatively, it’s time to look for other avenues of attack.
  2. Only escalate it to a higher authority if confrontation didn’t work – your leader isn’t your mom, so only go to them when you’ve exhausted options.
  3. If your leader won’t do anything to help the situation, you have two three more options:
    1. Rally the team and go up another level to submit a formal complaint.
    2. Leave.
    3. Ignore the toxicity and make the decision whether you can live and work in that type of team environment.

How do I deal with toxic bosses?

The same way you deal with toxic teammates, but you’ll need more courage. If you’re in a situation where your boss is a dick, you need to first realize that you failed in vetting whether you and your boss have good working chemistry.

  1. Confront.
  2. Escalate or decide to live with it.
  3. Leave.

Those are your 3 major options. It’s tough, but that’s the truth. It’s not your job and responsibility to fix a company culture. “Managing up” – as in, managing your boss, is one of the most exhausting and shitty things you can find yourself doing. If you reach this stage, I recommend you fire up LinkedIn and start looking for a better job.

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