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Six Abilities for a Great Team Player

As mentioned in the previous issue of BI, entitled Your Business Stands on 3 Legs, there is no much success achievable without proper teamwork. While many people like to shine as individuals, unfortunately success is never a solo business! I once watched athletes participating in one of the world marathons. The performance by our Kenyan team was, as always, outstanding! I was obviously jubilated. The gold medalist was approached after the race, as is usually the case, and interviewed by a battery of journalists. One of the questions he was asked was what he attributed his success to. His answer was simply amazing to me, a non-athlete who had kept thinking that this form of athletics is a solo sport. You may have expected him to talk about the long hours of training and practice in hostile terrains, but lo! Not him. Here is what he said:

 I attribute it to our team spirit. We really worked as a team from the beginning and urged each other on. As we were on the tracks, we kept our team spirit and that made us win.”

Listening to his statement left me with both awe and a big question in my heart: then who does it alone! The answer to this question came in awhile later when I was watching a video clip by Brian Tracy, the great author and speaker, entitled, “Success is a Journey”. In the video, as he related his experience across Sahara desert, drawing lessons from the journey, he mentioned lesson number seven as, NO ONE DOES IT ALONE! I concur! It matters less what sort of organization you are building; family, NGO, business, name it. It is teamwork that makes dreams come true.

When I started building my Network Marketing business, I quickly realized the importance of a team and so I had to learn quickly about teamwork and how to build an inspired and focused team. This lesson wasn’t as difficult for me as some other lessons like selling. I was already good with people and had natural inclination to building people in my previous leadership roles. Though I was not recruiting in those roles, I seemed to be good at working with, and retaining, members of my teams. Through trial and error, contemplation and study, I finally came up with some common denominators for anyone who was going to be in my team; whom I would invest in and develop. Lest I waste my time and energy on passing clouds or on people who would bring no meaningful value to the general mission. As a leader, your time is very limited and so how you invest it is a critical matter.

 Herein are the 6 fundamentals I came up with to help me evaluate who should be in my team. I have used them as a guide in building various teams and to train people over the years and they have served me well. In my view, every team member needs to posses these abilities in order to be of value to his/her team. We all know that no one can give what he or she doesn’t have. It follows, therefore, that no one can add value to anyone or any organization if he/she has no value. And in order to continually be of value, learning is necessary. For one to grow in any particular venture, it is necessary to keep an open attitude about learning. It is the only way to increase your market value. Then you will be able to add value to your team and together you will Live Your Dreams. There’s no other way I know! The process of learning and adding value to yourself is what we call personal growth or personal development.

 The abilities discussed here are accessible to all. You do not require talents to acquire and make use of them. Neither do you need special training or divine intervention. All that is necessary is commitment and diligence. Here we go:


While this may sound rather obvious, you will be surprised how many team members do not value their presence as a big plus to the team. They can choose to miss anyhow and bring in any excuse they can make up; “..my dog was ill, my kitchen was broken, my guests overstayed...”. Your ability to be present when your team needs you will determine your value to your team. Whether is is a training or exercise session, a fellowship or a performance. It is your presence that enables you to bond well and speak the same language, learning about each other and your interdependencies. You cannot connect well if you are always absent. No one wants to be a team with one who is hardly available. No one likes to be in the company of a Thomas. You know what, Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, is well known as a ‘doubting Thomas’. But that isn’t true! He was not a doubting Thomas. His true character was absenteeism. He was hardly present and thus missed some of the most crucial events, lessons and occasions. When you are a team member who is always missing in action, you will be a Thomas. You will definitely doubt the ability and credibility of your own team. Your absence, therefore, hurts the team , the team leader and it also hurts yourself by bringing your reputation down. Your value in the market place is directly proportion to your reputation in the market place. Your reputation is your branding; what you are known for. Your unavailability gets you a negative branding. Not good for you at all.

 A story is told of an American soldier who was terribly wounded in a war and flown to the hospital, a little unconscious. When he regained his full conscience and got wind that his battalion was set to go for another round of attacks, before he was discharged from the hospital (and knew very well he would not be given permission to leave), he escaped to go join his team. He could not stand being in the safety of the hospital when his team is in the battlefield with the enemy! Now that is availability! He knew very well that his absence is a hole in their wall and a compromise to the strength of their team. How much do you value your presence? To what extent can you sacrifice for your team?


As is often said, when you go to Rome, you do as Romans do. It applies in teamwork. You cannot stick to your old ways in a new team. Whenever we join a team, from wherever we come, we usually have certain thoughts, habits and beliefs that may be foreign to, and inconsistent with, what our new team is. In so far as we stick to these old norms, we are not yet part of the team. What will make us part of a team is our ability to adjust to the systems and structures put in place by the team. This does not mean that if you have an idea that can improve a team then you just keep quiet and conform. It means your new ideas can be suggested and, if agreed upon, can be uniformly implemented in the right manner.

 I am reminded of a great footballer who transferred to a certain big team. It was obviously a better opportunity with bigger prospects. He was given the schedule for the team; by 6:30am everyone should be in the field. Wherever he came from, they used to practice in the evenings. So he had problems waking up and got late the first day by 15mins. The following day, he was late again by around 20mins. He was dismissed immediately by the head coach. He could not adjust.


By far, observing a choir can offer great insight to this subject of teamwork. I belong to a choir. Most times I have come to appreciate that being available does not necessarily amount to being dependable. You could be available but your availability is as good as your unavailability. You just add numerical numbers, perhaps only good when people are voting. The question is, are you competent enough to actually do what you are supposed to do. If it is a meeting, do you contribute or yours is just silence; silence that gnaws. In a choral team, for example, at one time or another, the attendance would be small. But the present members are up to the task. The director of the day will look at them and get confidence that the performance will be great. At another time, the same number of people or even larger attendance, with different faces, would not guarantee the same level of performance and the director is in panic. It is very advisable that you do not just be a member of the team, but be an active and competent one whose presence rejuvenates the confidence of the team. Be dependable! That is the only way your availability is going to be of value. Keep working on your skills and make your team proud.

 Whenever I take people for team building, occasionally I create a scenario that calls for team selection and finally bring about the idea of trading off team members. My biggest question is often, “whom would you like to trade off for another person?”. Now to you reading, my question would be “do you think, given a chance, your team would want to trade you off for another member?” Does your availability count? Are you an asset? Think about it.

 I have come to accept that it is better to have a lean team of effective and competent members rather than an exploded version with all manner of faces but mean performance. Having dependable members in a team makes life easy for everyone; including the leader. Being non-dependable deflates your team and equally denies you the joy of being part of the team. With commitment, everyone is able to shine and thus the team shines. Only dependable members of the team get lucky and receive bigger opportunities.


You can always do with some more teaching and/or training, some new ideas and knowledge. The moment a team member feels that he or she already knows it all and accepts no more training or new ideas, he/she starts to rot. That means no more value to the team. It is important to stay fresh. This is an attitude issue. Everyone can learn. Including leaders and experts. No one knows everything there is to know.

 When discussing about teams, I like to think of ‘T’ in the word ‘TEAM’ as ‘Trained’ and ‘Trainable’. There is no end to learning for a team. That is why choirs keep practicing forever and the moment they stop, they are dead. A certain instrumentalist once said: “If I do not practice for one day, I will notice it. If I fail to practice for two days, my audience will notice.” It is the same for all types of teams; a soccer, Tae Kwon Do, Sales, Customer Service etc. If you have a member that cannot be trained, now you know that the level of service will be down. And you train less often, the same is going to happen. It is unfortunate that so many organizations view training as an expense! They want to make more money first then train. More-or-less like milking a cow first then if it produces enough milk, you get money to take it to graze. In fact, research shows that training improves results more than 3 times as much as buying new equipment or restructuring does.

 A certain business leader once said to us, “It is when you feel you have known it all that you need to even study and practice harder.” What a paradox! I came to realize that the more you know the more you realize how little you know and how much more there is to learn. At least this is true with me.

 If you are going to continue to be of value to your team and thus adding value, then you must just accept to be a learner. Stay open to learning from any source; young and old, senior and junior. There is a Luo proverb that says, “Even finger-lings teach tilapia”. This means that with proper attitude, you can learn even from people who are your juniors. The fact that they are juniors does not make them less knowledgeable in all there is to know.

For a team member to be teachable, he or she must learn to listen and give an objective audience to whoever is speaking. I had learned in my childhood that if I listen enough to anyone, even a to mad man talking alone in the market-place, it is possible that I will gain some little word of wisdom that may make a positive difference. The person speaking may not necessarily understand what he/she spoke, but I will gain. I guess it can work for everyone. The major problem is that many people do not know how to listen. They only know how to keep quiet, impatiently, waiting for a chance to speak and thus always busy thinking of what to say next instead of listening keenly. One of my teachers like saying “listen with your skin”. Some of the biggest breakthroughs have come from unlikely sources because the leader listened. I have discussed more on this topic in my newly published book, Live Your Dream in 7Ds, now available in Amazon. Over and above individual learning, the team must be teachable and trainable.


Things do not always happen the way we want them to. A lot can change, with neither notice nor our consent. A valued team member is one who is open to new challenges and give his/her best for the sake of the team. It is important that, besides knowing our roles and TORs, we should learn a little more about what each and every member of the team is doing. Develop some interest in what someone else is doing and learn a bit of it. One day he or she may not be there. That should not mean an inconvenience to our customers. Work has to continue seamlessly. That means that at one time or another we may find ourselves being called upon to play someone else’s role. Besides, leaders are more of generalists; having a grasp of almost every unit of the system. Didn’t I say that personal growth is all about leadership? If I didn’t, at least now I have said it and you better remember that fact.

 A story is told of people in a boat sailing the waters. One instructs another colleague in the middle to take care of some opening that is letting in water but he refuses saying that it is not his work and besides, the opening is away from him. Soon the boat capsizes and all die. He did not think the boat is for all of them and that their entire life and livelihood depended on that boat staying afloat and reaching ashore. All of us are in some boat whenever we are part of a team. The nature of the boat may be different but all of us being in, if it sinks, all of us are going to drown. One or two may be lucky to swim, but most of the times your ability to swim has less to do with your survival in the sea. I have plenty of experience in this field.


A sense of responsibility is something a genuine team member cannot wish away. It may be related to what we just discussed in number 5 above. The idea of passing the buck and minding your own business in a team environment is not only selfish, it is also reckless and intolerable. A great team is usually composed of people who know that a win for the team is a win for all. That it does not add value for the team for only one to shine while the team loses. How much responsibility do you take? How often do you shift blame? Leadership, again, is about responsibility. Running away from a problem does not solve any problem. A valued team member is this one who sees something that requires attention and takes it up. Negligence is a big disease that majority of people have. It hinders growth and blocks the individual’s own success.

 Because this article must keep within the limited space, we end it there and wish you the best in your venture. Be a valued team player and Live Your Dream! You can do it!  [DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE]  [Check other articles]

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© 2021 Otieno Paul-Peter, Esq. Communications