When I am working with a team, I will sometimes ask the members, “Is so-and-so (an individual on that team) a good teammate?” The response is usually a resounding “yes!”
I then ask a follow-up question that can reveal a lot about their teams’ cultures: “If you were jumping out of a plane, would you trust so-and-so (the same individual) to pack your parachute?”
Many of those who said so-and-so was a good teammate reply that they would not trust that individual to pack their parachutes.
When I ask them why that is, they often attempt to tell me it’s because so-and-so doesn’t know anything about skydiving or parachutes. That may be a valid point, but their explanation, in my experience, is a red herring, diverting attention away from another issue.
To counter their excuse and move closer to the truth, I’ll stipulate: “What if we sent so-and-so to training school and got them certified on how to properly pack a parachute before they packed yours, then would you trust them?”
A surprising number continue to decline.
Packing a parachute is actually a relatively simple process. Experienced skydivers do it in about fifteen minutes. An Army YouTube video teaches viewers how to do it in less than one minute.
I concede that while packing a parachute may be a simple process, dereliction can have grave consequences. Entrusting someone to pack your parachute requires a deep level of trust. You need to know that—without exception—you can depend on that individual to be diligent in their responsibilities.
The same is true when it comes to the criteria for good teammates.
My questions above are intended to demonstrate how misguided the standards are on some teams. Underperforming teams are filled with members who think someone they can’t trust to be diligent is a “good teammate.”
Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy team culture. Having a deep level of trust between team members leads to growth, accountability, effective communication, and psychological safety.
If you can’t trust a team member to pack your parachute, then one of you is not a good teammate. Either they haven’t proven themselves trustworthy or you have detrimental trust issues. Whichever the case may be, your team is not going to reach its potential until that situation is remedied.
Successful teams value trust and infuse it into the standards of their culture. Trust is what keeps teams from suffering grave consequences.
It doesn’t matter how likable, friendly, charming, funny, or generous you are; you must also be trustworthy to be considered a good teammate. Your fellow team members must know they can depend upon you to be diligent in your responsibilities.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.