Don’t Be The Office Ball Hog: Lessons in Professional Team Work

Coworkers, like basketball players, perform better when their colleagues are team players. Don’t be the office ball hog: follow our strategies to ensure your group interactions are productive and efficient.


Teams Defined

Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith defined teams succinctly in their classic book, The Wisdom of Teams, saying, “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”


Katzenbach and Smith found that the best teams are small (think 5 to 10) and are staffed by people with a mix of skills and disciplines, each of whom uniquely contributes to the success of the team as a whole. When you are asked to be a member of a small team, your contribution really matters, so always bring your A game. And take time to understand what your teammates can contribute.


Team Charge

When you join a team, the first question you should ask is, “What’s our charge?” A team’s charge lays out its purpose and performance goals. If these aren’t clear, you can make them clear. Ask: “What is our assignment?” and “What does success look like?”


Most managers know that these are critical questions to answer at the start of a team’s work life, rather than at its middle or end. But many managers are so busy that they neglect to pause and give it much thought. So you may have to take the lead in seeking clarity on your charge from your manager.


You can also ask:

– How much time does our team have?

– What budget, information, and administrative assistance does our team have?

– What parameters bound the work of the team?


Team Sponsorship

Teams often need executive help in getting access to resources or assistance. It is helpful to know who, at the highest level, is sponsoring your team, and also when, in the team’s work process, it is necessary to update the sponsor or gain his or her approval before proceeding further. Lastly you can ask:

– What tools or techniques might be helpful?

– Is there anything else we need to know?


Team Approach

Katzenbach and Smith stress that effective teams share a “common…approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” This quality reveals something of the magic that emerges in great teams. Teams may be given their purpose and goals by their managers, but once they accept them, the team’s work process to achieve them is largely up to its members. They are free to adopt whatever approach works for the team’s leader and his or her members. Yes, ultimately they are accountable to their executive sponsor, but first and foremost, they feel accountable to each other.


A team’s common approach may include a shared understanding of how change happens in your organization, how to analyze and solve problems, how to work well together in meetings, how to deal with conflict, and how to communicate and share information. Helping a team articulate and adopt its shared approach helps it become more productive more quickly.


Team Success

A team’s strong start is the seed that yields the final fruit of its success. Invest time up front in any team you join to clarify its purpose and performance goals. Know what your executive sponsor wants, and how and when he or she wants to be involved. Understand what each team member offers, know your role, and be sure you always give your best. Help the team settle into a shared approach that ensures its work makes a satisfying, productive contribution.



Jay W Vogt is an organizational development consultant, and author of Recharge Your Team – The Grounded Visioning Approach.  Learn more at

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