When I reflect on previous project experiences, rarely do I actually reflect on the work itself. Instead, I often find myself describing projects in terms of the people. I might describe a project by the difficulty I had creating camaraderie with a client project manager. Or, maybe I’m describing an energized, focused team that exceeded expectations.
We often hear the sentiment that someone is “fun” to work with. As I thought more deeply about that, I wondered what qualities someone possesses that make them fun to work with. Are they innate characteristics or can anyone learn to be a teammate that others hope they cross paths with in the future? My assessment is that anyone can be fun to work with. Here are a few qualities that my teammates and clients have held in the past that made them great to create, collaborate, and even commiserate with.
Bring the right energy.
I’ve found that people can misconstrue “fun” as happy-go-lucky or blindly optimistic. The reality is that projects often require a different energy given their unique situation.
Approaching a major milestone is a stressful time for teams. If someone is exuding blind optimism and joy, the team will feel like that person isn’t in touch with the gravity of the situation. In a stressful time, the team is looking for someone that is a shield for anything that may reduce focus and someone that is in the trenches with them.
Then, as a team emerges from that stressful period, cheer and optimism can be center stage. A fun person is often praising team members for their dedication and work ethic, not reflecting on their own successes.
Bringing the right energy might be completely independent of the project. If an organization is going through a period of painful attrition, bringing in donuts to boost morale won’t go far. People enjoy working with someone they can confide in. It’s okay to be sad about a coworker leaving and to have concerns or fear surrounding it. If a person brings the right empathetic, listening energy in that situation, their team will enjoy working with them even more.
Hold people accountable.
Picture a basketball player playing lazy defense, letting his opponent score often, without being held accountable. Would that team be very successful? Would you want to be his teammate?
Accountability is critical for the long-term success of any company, team, or project.
When I’ve worked on teams with little accountability, I’ve noticed a honeymoon phase phenomenon. When I first join, the lack of accountability is almost freeing. It seems like things are going smoothly, and I don’t have to answer any tough questions about progress or deadlines.
All of that fades as soon as the team faces its first challenge. It could be a priority shift, a deadline move, or a team change. Accountability becomes front and center.
When that happens, I’ve realized that the only task more difficult than constant accountability is creating accountability where there is none. Team members have settled into their smooth, stress-free environment. They weren’t used to answering tough questions about why they missed deadlines. Now that they are, they feel anger, fear, and uncertainty.
Holding each other accountable is not a way to criticize work or belittle. Instead, it’s a structure put in place so that when the team faces a challenge, the team can look back on the people that created and maintained accountability and appreciate them for it.
As a former developer, I too easily fall into a solutions mindset. When I’m presented with a problem, I instantly begin analyzing tradeoffs and ripple effects in my mind. Sometimes I’ll come to a fairly large decision without consulting anyone at all.
The trap becomes deeper when I convince myself that I’m doing the team a favor by unburdening them of another decision. Sometimes that’s true, but oftentimes it isn’t.
People want to have a voice in decisions that affect them. It’s only fair to bring other perspectives and ideas into those conversations. It sprouts opportunities for others and typically results in a more robust solution.
In the end, a fun team member may make a decision that some team members disagree with. However, feeling heard and valued goes a long way in helping team members respect a decision that is not one they would have made.
The key to all of the attributes I’ve listed above is authenticity. You cannot feign open-mindedness or accountability or optimism when things are going well or empathy when things aren’t.
People will see right through that facade. Accountability will continue to slip if team members don’t believe the person holding them accountable is invested. People won’t share ideas when they believe a superior simply wants to check a box.
Being authentic sounds complex, but it really isn’t. It simply requires care — care for your coworkers, your client, the success of the project, and the success of the company.
Team Members Who Are Fun to Work With
Any person can apply everything I’ve discussed in this post. It starts with being authentic and leads into all of the other attributes. I promise you that you’ll be happy to let your agenda take a backseat after you see the perseverance and achievement a team is capable of when they are all dedicated to being fun to work with.