Tips for Students: How to Contribute Positively to a Team

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Student Success
Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you’ve participated in a group or team of any sort, you recognize that each individual’s efforts either add to or detract from the group’s success. (You probably have some stories that testify to this experience as well)

Though some positive and negative traits may be readily identifiable, those who are new to group work—or those who want to improve the quality of their contributions—may be seeking some direction regarding the individual attitudes and behaviors that lead to better team performance and increased camaraderie.

In Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach, Seventh Edition, Michael G. Aamodt offers students a series of principles that can help them become positive, proactive members of a group or team. These principles will serve students well in their group assignments, as well as in their careers and other aspects of their personal lives. We’ve summarized them below:

  • Before beginning your project, be sure that each member of the team—and especially you—understand the scope of the assignment and the work product or outcome that’s expected from you. If you have questions, it’s better to ask for clarification at the onset of the project, rather than find out that you misunderstood the directions, overlooked a step, or neglected to submit an important component.
  • Know your specific role on the team. If you’re not sure that a specific task falls under your purview, double-check with the rest of the team; otherwise, you run the risk of stepping on another person’s “turf.”
  • Be a full and active participant in meetings and discussions. Share your ideas and always be ready to encourage and support your teammates. That said, take care not to monopolize discussions, pat yourself on the back, or constantly insist on getting your own way.
  • Speak to and about team members with respect. Don’t pass along any gossip or give quarter to lengthy gripe sessions about fellow teammates. Instead, encourage an upset group member to discuss his or her issues directly with the other person. By speaking and acting with discretion, you will gain a reputation for discretion and trustworthiness.
  • Though you don’t want to encourage gossip, sometimes a person does need to talk through an issue or challenge with someone else. Therefore, be willing to lend an ear, on occasion, to a team member who needs to talk things out. (Need some tips on becoming a good listener? Review some basic which also can pertain to one-on-one conversations.)
  • That said, don’t use team-meeting time as an opportunity to share deeply personal issues and woes unrelated to the project. These tidbits may later be spread to others… or, sadly, used against you. At the very least, you run the risk of bothering team members who may not care to hear about your personal problems at that time.
  • Likewise, avoid taking your own negative emotions out on your fellow teammates. Instead, focus on what you can resolve and seek encouragement where you can, whether from a teammate you trust or a friend who’s outside the situation.
  • Don’t allow conflict to fester; deal with it calmly, rationally, and as soon as possible. Be prepared to discuss a solution that will satisfy and benefit all parties. If needed, don’t hesitate to call in a neutral outside party (such as your instructor or supervisor) to help resolve the issue.
  • Participate in team events whenever possible, and do offer to assist in organizing or preparing for the event if you are able. In addition to being recognized as a “team player,” you’ll get to know others more personally (as opposed to simply seeing them as classmates or co-workers).
  • Last but not least: be prepared to lead whenever necessary. Even if you don’t view yourself as a “leader,” you may find yourself in a situation that requires you to take on that role. Perhaps you have specific knowledge that will provide solid direction for the group. Or, if you recognize a “leadership vacuum,” you may decide to step in as a leader. In other circumstances, you may simply decide that you would like to stretch your leadership wings. Whatever your situation—do your work as a leader diligently and remain committed to the task. If you’re not confident in your current skills, you can take steps towards developing your team-building skills and leadership qualities today. Read books, speak to mentors, take a course or seminar… a wealth of insight awaits you! (493)


Reference: Aamodt, Michael G. 2013. Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach, Seventh Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.