5 Ways to Become a Better Team Player

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Take a trip back in time to 1986, when Janet Jackson came out with a song called “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” A lot of years have gone by since then. However, it seems that song still plays in the minds of a lot of people at work.

This problem — asking “Well, what have you done for me lately?” — is perpetuated when we generalize and label people as “entitled” or “egocentric.” Throw that on top of reality TV shows that make stars out of people with bad manners and an overinflated sense of self? Well, that’s a bad recipe for bad employees and poor team players.

So, how do we go about getting on the right track? It’s going to take a little self-reflection and self-awareness. Remember this: awareness precedes choice and choice change. You have to realize that you are the cause for most of your problems. Good news is you’re also the solution.

Here are five ways you can start becoming a better player:

1. Drop the all-about-me attitude.

There’s a big difference between being confident and being conceited. When you’re confident, you have absolute certainty about your own abilities. It’s a calm demeanor that speaks louder than words. In fact, people who are very confident tend to speak very little.

On the flipside is being conceited. When you display this trait, you have a highly exaggerated opinion of yourself and your abilities. People of this nature tend to talk a good game and that’s about it. They also seem to have an excuse why they can’t perform at the level they brag about.

In the 2015 movie “Burnt,” Bradley Cooper plays a character named Adam Jones, who is a volatile, self-absorbed chef trying to make a comeback by gaining three Michelin stars. Cooper’s character tries to force his way to success by sheer skill alone and the goal keeps eluding him. It’s not until he realizes that it’s the strength of his team that will make or break him that he arrives to the level worthy of the prize he seeks.

2. Shift your focus.

Great teams have a common focus that binds them. They make the shift from self-oriented to others-oriented. Most restaurants operate on what is easy and convenient for the owners and the staff. When a guest walks in five minutes before closing, they tell them that “the kitchen is closing soon and you need to get your order in.” How do you think the guest feels? Appreciated? Valued? Or more like an intrusion and an inconvenience?

Know the difference between service and hospitality. Service is mechanics. It’s serving from the left and clearing from the right. With proper training, anyone can be taught how to serve. Hospitality? Now, that is the stuff great restaurants are made of. Hospitality is a human element. It’s the connection between your team and the guest. While service is definitely something that can be seen and measured, hospitality has to be felt. It has to be sincere. It has to be authentic.

3. Adopt a philosophy of kaizen.

Kaizen is a Japanese word for improvement. Over the years, it has been adapted and used by many industries as a philosophy for improving standardized activities and processes. It’s become a cultural code for continuous and never-ending improvement.

There is also the philosophy of talent versus skill. You might meet people in this industry who have more natural talent than you. Talent might give people a head start, however it does not ensure they will win the race. Skill will win over natural talent. Skill is developed by spending hours, upon hours, upon hours honing and fine-tuning your craft. When you adopt a philosophy of kaizen, you come to work with a focus on being better than you were yesterday.

4. Become a leader regardless of your title.

It’s a common misconception that all managers are leaders and that if you are not a manager, then you are not a leader. Nothing could be further from the truth. True leadership is about the way we think.

“It’s a moment-to-moment disciplining of our thoughts. It’s about practicing personal accountability and choosing to make a positive contribution, no matter what our role or ‘level.’” – John G. Miller, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question

Leadership about stepping up to do the right thing, even when no one else notices. Leaders do not compromise standards, core values, or their ethics. Leaders make decisions based on what is best for the guest. They also put the team before their own personal agenda.

Is being a leader easy? No. Can you become a leader? Yes, if you change your mindset and take action every day. A leader focuses on deeds over words.

5. Raise your standards.

The best way to become a better team player is to raise your standards and keep them there. Too many people settle for average and fall into the trap of mediocrity. Mediocrity is a death sentence for a restaurant.

The restaurant industry is very fast-paced and at times stressful. During these challenges, it’s easy to compromise. Let's say you're in the kitchen. During a rush, a plate comes by you that just does not look right. What do you do? The golden rule is if you thought about it, you already know what the right decision is. The problem is that most people will sell out their integrity. The sad thing about selling is how cheaply most people do it for.

It’s not the things we have but who we become as human beings that makes us happy. How you live, how you love, how you treat others is a reflection of who you are as a person. People can take away all the material things, however, no one can take away who you become.

There is a saying thrown around by motivational speakers that “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.” The cold, hard truth is that most teams don’t work because part of the team won’t commit to doing the work. A team is a place where you go to give with no expectations. When you’ve reached the point where you think of other people on your team before yourself, then, and only then, will you be a true team player.