Are you a team player?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Richard Johnston
  • 71st Operations Group superintendent
You've just received notice that your unit has won a command or Headquarters Air Force level award. The commander orders a mandatory gathering to meet and congratulate everyone on winning the award. 

His message is clear - no single person won the award. It was a total team effort. 

We associate great teams with sports. Professional sports have produced great teams like football's Pittsburg Steelers and baseball's New York Yankees. These teams always have the right ingredients to produce winning seasons -- respectable owners, great coaches and the best athletes. 

The military of the 21st century has similar features - experienced generals, knowledgeable commanders and the highest quality recruits ever. Just as in professional sports, in order to win the big game -- accomplish the mission -- we must all be good team players. 

In my lengthy military career, I have found one common factor in successful units -- a great sense of camaraderie and team unity. 

Morale was usually high in these units and people just seemed to have fun at work. When tasks or work conditions got really tough, the unit would simply buckle down and get the job done. These units had great team players. 

There is no unique training or instructions on how to become a good team player. But here's a short list of common characteristics of the good team players I've met over the years. 

Team players have great attitudes. They are cooperative, easy going, friendly and work well with others. They willingly put aside differences in order to accomplish a job. 

I'll never forget Staff Sgt. Joe Vivanco. Though Joe was not our best or most experienced worker, he more than made up for it with his positive, "can do" attitude. He had a good sense of humor and a knack for simply making things happen. Sergeant Vivanco was a good team player. 

Team players are committed to accomplishing the mission. They meet suspenses and get their work done on time. They care about their work and the team's work as well. They put the mission first, are reliable and are always the first to volunteer. They are good team players. 

Team players are active participants. They are constantly "in the game" and not just warming the bench on the sidelines. They come to work prepared to excel every day and always want to give their best effort. 

A few years back, I sustained an eye injury which required some specialized treatment and closely monitored follow-up. Toward the end of my recovery, my ophthalmologist, Dr. Dawn Werner, scheduled me for a final follow-up session on a Saturday morning. She gave up time off to ensure my recovery was successful. Doctor Werner was a team player. 

Team players are good at solving problems. They not only know how to identify problems but how to find solutions as well. They know how to follow orders and are not quick to find faults in others. They don't sit back and wait to be told what to do. Team players take the initiative. 

Team players value and support other team members. They routinely treat fellow team members with respect and consideration. They show understanding and pitch in to help others get the job done. 

I served with Tech. Sgt. Steve York, one of the greatest counselors I've ever met. Co-workers discussed both their work and personal problems with Steve. One day, he commented that I looked really beat down and seemed unusually stressed. 

Due to job demands, I had been putting in lots of overtime. I consulted my wife on the matter and she confirmed that the long hours were affecting me. I took some time off, got some much needed rest and returned to work a new man. If it were not for Steve's comments, I might have burned out. He was a team player who cared about his team mates. 

Team players are good communicators. They willingly and openly share information, accept and provide feedback and speak up in group discussions. They are great listeners and don't hoard information in order to make themselves look good. 

Team players are flexible and adapt to changing conditions. They accept that the world is an ever-changing place. 

I once worked for Chief Master Sgt. Tom Miller who was the most level-headed leader I ever met. I never once saw Chief Miller lose his cool even in some of the most heated meetings or discussions. He had a keen talent for looking at all sides of an issue. Chief Miller was a team player. 

We all serve on our country's team. We serve in a profession where losing is simply not an option. The contributions we make to our team are important. And our team could always use a few more good team players.