Below is installment #2 of three in "Epiphanies in the Real World: How What I Knew to Be True Has Been Dispelled."

Before: Being a great team player = supporting your colleagues in their success

After: Being a great team player = setting up your colleagues for success

Nearly 100% of the time I ask a candidate in an interview to describe a time they learned to work in a team, the candidate will launch into a story about an experience in a group project, a club, or an athletic team.

Some examples I’ve heard:

  • "I had the most experience using excel so I took over analyzing the data."
  • "One of my E-board members was swamped with finals that week, so I took over planning the event."
  • "I was recruited for and enjoyed the forward position the most—but when the coach gave the spot to someone else and I was slotted to a defensive position, I was happy for my teammate because it was best for the whole team."

Being a great team player in the workplace, however, isn't about just supporting successful results; rather, it's about enabling a successful process in others. That's one of the major distinctions between academic and business environments. At work, you need to always be "on", as opposed to in a group project or short-term presentation. Because business is fluid and ever changing, a team’s success is suspended on the framework you establish to keep the process moving.

Make sure your notes are legible and deductive for when others need to reference them. Actively frame your analysis so that you can relay the important points to others. Don't ask good questions—ask the right questions. You'll often be catching up with colleagues that are literally on the move or in between meetings—you can't waste time with unnecessary questions. Learn how to poke holes at ideas and strategies to find pain points fast, and administer even faster solutions.