Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 27, 2010

Tips from the trenches: Make your coworkers look good

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

In school, group projects were the worst. One person always did all the work, one person always dominated the planning, or everyone did their own thing and it never came together as a cohesive project. The same dynamics can come into play in the world of work whether you are working on a cross-functional team, or simply depending on other groups to help you meet your deliverables. It can be tempting to sit back and let the slackers in the group expose themselves as unprepared or non-collaborative, while you seemingly “shine” in comparison, but in reality this will have the opposite effect. Your manager wants to know that she can rely on you to produce results, and this applies to team projects as well as individual contributions.

Rather than silently seethe when you find yourself doing more than your fair share, or focus only on your own contribution to the effort (and be surprised when someone drops the ball at the 11th hour), work to bring out the best in your team. Take a few proactive steps to help your colleagues shine and the whole team will look good. Here are a few examples:

  • At least a day before a status meeting or presentation, check in with your team and make sure everyone is prepared.
    • Ask:”Do you have everything you need for tomorrow? I’m expecting you will present X and I’ll present Y, is this what you had in mind?”
    • Determine which updates/sections each person will present, and talk through how you think the meeting will be run.
    • If you are presenting to executives, it doesn't hurt to stage a dry run in advance. Everyone will benefit.
  •  Ensure any obstacles or negative reports your team has to make are presented with a plan to overcome them:
    • “We are still waiting for the reports, but we’ve escalated this and it’s been promised by no later than next Monday.”
  •  Help your colleagues present their results in the best light, you may have more experience in presenting than they do, or you can simply serve as a second pair of eyes.
    • Instead of “the marketing campaign was not very successful, but it was our first one”, encourage them to report “the marketing campaign had a respectable showing for a first run, and we are working on a plan to make the next one even better”\
    • Instead of letting your developer state that the code is only 30% done, encourage him to present it as “We prioritized the main workflows which are 90% complete and we are starting on the secondary workflows next week. “ (Of course – only if this is true)
  • Make sure you check in with your team members on a regular basis, and set up a status call if there isn’t one already. 
    • This is the place to check progress, ask if anyone needs help, and uncover obstacles before they lead to big problems. If your company culture doesn't support that, check in with each person one-on-one.
    • This is not a forum to publicly shame team members into taking action. Understand that they each have their own individual priorities, and are stretched just as thin as you are.
In the end, it’s the finished result that counts, and supporting your colleagues will make you all look better. Throwing your colleagues under the bus will reflect negatively on you as well. What goes around comes around, and it never hurts to generate good will among coworkers. You never know, someday you might end up reporting to them, but with these skills under your belt it’s more likely they’ll end up reporting to you. ;)

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