Being a good team player is an essential skill in our modern workplace. But while the ability to work well with others and collaborate on projects is a sought-after ability in nearly every position, placing too much emphasis on being a good team player can negatively affect your career growth.
Being hyper-focused on gaining consensus, or being too concerned with the opinions of others can impede your ability to make decisions, speak up, and gain recognition for your individual skills and strengths.
“When we are too subordinate to others’ opinions, too focused on decision consensus, too silent about our own point of view, too agreeable to take things on when we don’t have bandwidth, we build a brand of underconfident, subservient, low-impact non-leaders, and hamper our growth and career progression,” says leadership coach Shefali Raina.
“Collaboration certainly makes your individual competencies and contributions more difficult for outsiders to isolate,” says Rebecca Kehoe, associate professor of human resource management at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor. Because collaborative projects mean you’re sharing the spotlight with others, outsiders may find it difficult to pinpoint your contributions and strengths. This may end up costing you opportunities for promotions or pay raises.
While you certainly shouldn’t ditch teamwork, here are five ways you can avoid the pitfalls of being an over-collaborator.
Strike a balance between team efforts and individual projects
Working in a team can have huge payoffs. If your team has repeated successes and often gains recognition, you may have more opportunities to expand your professional network than if you worked alone. However, finding a balance between team efforts and individual projects that allow you to show off your strengths and gain recognition independently is important for making a name for yourself and providing opportunities for advancement.
Learn to say no
When you’re over-collaborating, you’re often in constant communication with a lot of people. This may cause you to burn out and can cause your own individual work to suffer. “You can end up spending all of your time communicating and processing information, and have no time or energy left for your actual work,” says Kehoe. Carefully choose which team projects to be a part of, and learn to say no when you’ve taken on too much.
Become a specialist
Specializing in a topic matter allows you gain individual credibility and recognition for your skills. “Establishing a unique area of expertise can help you gain the autonomy and opportunities you need to break away from an over-dependence on others,” says Kehoe.
Choose teammates strategically
Be selective in who you work with to maximize the benefits and minimize the downsides of being a team player. Collaborate with people who have complementary expertise, or with people who can help you grow your expertise in a particular area. Select projects where there’s potential for mutual benefit. Perhaps you’re bringing your unique knowledge and gaining access to someone else’s great professional network. Or maybe you’re able to learn a new skill by working with someone. Seek out your teammates purposefully rather than jumping on every new group project opportunity.
Make a decision despite consensus
Often, being too collaborative means placing too much emphasis on the opinions and ideas of others. “When we are too collaborative, we want everyone to agree with a decision before we proceed,” says Raina. This can create unnecessary delays as you hold meetings and conversations trying to achieve a consensus. It’s fine to be collaborative when seeking input, but put a deadline on the input stage and arrive at a decision, even if it is a decision that does not have consensus.