Career Advice

How to Look Out For Yourself While Still Being a Team Player

Stack of hands showing unity

From the moment we step foot in the door of a company, collaboration is drilled into our head. We know that even if it’s difficult or stressful at times, we must be willing to set our own egos aside for the good of the team. It makes sense — for a company to truly succeed, each component has to be firing on all cylinders. But sometimes, we get so caught up in the idea of lifting up the team that individual recognition and reward fall to the wayside.

While being a team player is critical, it’s also necessary to look out for yourself.  After all, if you aren’t your own biggest advocate, odds are that no one else will be — even if they’re rooting for you all the way. But the good news is, you don’t have to choose between helping out your colleagues and advancing your own career. Below, we’ve tackled a few common situations where you might feel torn between team loyalty and boosting your own career prospects — but if you play your cards right, you might just make it a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Scenario 1

You’re on a team where you rely heavily on the other members of your group. All of your goals are shared, and in order to achieve them, you have to collaborate closely — as a result, no single person is responsible for the success (or failure) of the team.

However, you’ve consistently gone the extra mile. All of your individually-owned components have exceeded expectations, and you’ve played a large role in keeping the project running smoothly. But ultimately, your team is recognized for your efforts as a whole, with little acknowledgment of your contributions in particular.

Make It Work for You: Publicly bringing up what a critical role you as an individual had in the project’s success may come off as self-aggrandizing, so it’s best to avoid bragging of this type. But don’t worry — there’s always a time and a place for mentioning your own accomplishments.

Performance reviews, for example, are a great time to bring up the impact that your own contributions have had on the overall team’s success. Whether you’re filling out a self-assessment or discussing with your manager face-to-face, make sure to mention specific, detailed actions you took and the effect they had on the project. No official performance reviews? No problem. This is also great evidence for why you deserve a raise or promotion. It may take a little more proactivity to begin a conversation like this, but remember: when it comes to your career, you need to be your own biggest advocate.

Scenario 2

You’re on a team with a larger-than-life leader. They think big and guide the team strategically, but also have a heavy hand in day-to-day execution. The problem? Their management style leaves little room for you — or anyone else — to offer your own ideas.

Make It Work for You: Getting a word in edgewise with a heavily involved team lead is difficult, but in a large group situation, it can feel almost impossible. To make sure your voice is heard, it’s best to meet in a one-on-one setting. You don’t necessarily have to make it about feeling ignored — instead, lead with the fact that you’ve got some exciting ideas you’d like to share. Ideally, they’ll work with you to implement some of your ideas, but at the very least, you can demonstrate that you’re proactive, creative, and truly care about doing great work. As a bonus, you’ll get some valuable feedback in the meantime. Who knows? In the next meeting, you might find your team leader asking for your thoughts specifically.

Scenario 3

You’re the newest member of a team that’s already been working closely together for some time now. Bonds between your new colleagues are tight, and you feel like you’re still on the outside looking in — and they’re not the most welcoming crew.

Make It Work for You: Being new may feel like a liability, but it can actually be a big asset if you frame it as such. You’ll have to be delicate about not interrupting the current group dynamic or insulting their work so far, but if you let your team know that your fresh eyes have given you some exciting new ideas about how to shake things up, they may very well appreciate an outsider’s perspective. It’s easy for teams that have worked together closely for a long time to get too mired in their ways, and they might just be looking for ways to break out of it.

Scenario 4

You’ve got a flair for the creative, but your team’s a bit more cut and dry. They’d rather stick to the basics than think outside the box.

Make It Work for You: If you’ve already chatted with your team about your ideas and they’re less than receptive, explore what other opportunities there are available within your company so that you can exercise the right side of your brain. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to leave your team — rather, you may want to find a special side project to scratch your creative itch.

If you truly don’t feel that your current career path will lend itself well to the type of work you want to be doing, however, you may want to chat with your manager or HR. Being a team player is certainly important, but if your efforts are better served elsewhere, you aren’t doing anyone a favor by staying. And at the end of the day, being satisfied with your own career is what matters the most.

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