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Of all the unexpectedness that surfaced during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortage of jigsaw puzzles was among the most surprising. Shortages of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer were arguably understandable. But who expected stores to sell out of jigsaw puzzles and for those shelves to remain empty for numerous weeks?

Working a puzzle entails an odd mix of elation and frustration. I suppose that’s part of the appeal. Finding the four corner pieces provides a jolt of elation, as does completing the outside frame. Of course, the best elation comes from snapping the final puzzle piece into place.

But in between finding the four corners and snapping the final piece into place can lie a lot of frustration.

Scouring over a pile of puzzle pieces, searching for the right piece can be maddening—especially when you think you find the piece you were looking for and then discover it doesn’t quite fit. No matter how hard you try, the piece just doesn’t connect. If only there was a way for that piece to magically alter itself enough to properly fit.

Teams that struggle to come together often experience a similar problem when one of the team members doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the team. They don’t socialize or connect with the other members the way they could. Their not fitting in keeps the team from reaching its potential.

These individuals aren’t necessarily bad people. They aren’t misfits, they’re misfitted. Maybe they’re introverts and prefer solitude to their teammates’ company. Or perhaps they favor a different approach to going about their business. Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is their way of conducting themselves is holding their team back.

While the frustration caused by this situation is similar to working a puzzle, it’s not identical. Rigid puzzle pieces cannot alter themselves to properly fit. Misfitted team members can.

Fitting in requires the acceptance of inconvenience. Misfitted teammates may need to adjust their usual approach. They may need to become more aware of their habits that keep them from fitting in and consciously engage in opportunities to bond with their fellow teammates.

It should be noted that the other members of the team also bear a responsibility for solving the problem. The other team members must make a deliberate and consistent effort to include the misfitted teammate. This cannot be a some-of-the-time endeavor. It must be an all-of-the-time endeavor.

If team members are going to be hanging out or doing something together outside of the confines of normal team time, they should not only invite but insist that the misfitted teammate join them—even if that individual’s presence makes them uneasy.

Altering a usual approach, increasing awareness, and consciously engaging in opportunities to bond with your fellow teammates may take you out of your comfort zone…and so may including teammates who might be difficult or make you uneasy. But the sacrifice of comfort is the price of team success.

To attain success, a team must get all of its pieces to connect and fit into place. Good teammates find a way to make this happen, regardless of whether they see themselves as a misfitted teammate or a member of the rest of the team.

As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

Lance Loya is the founder and CEO of the Good Teammate Factory. He is a college basketball coach turned author, blogger, and professional speaker, who inspires TEAMBUSTERS to become TEAMMATES. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or through his weekly Teammate Tuesday blog.

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