Citizenship: What it means to be a good team member

Andy Tabberer
6 min readFeb 4, 2024
Good team members are key

What is citizenship?

This is the bond between a team member and the team. We make a commitment to the team to honour our obligations — our agreed ways of working and our working agreements — in exchange for agreed rights and liberties.

We give and take in equal measure.

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So, what makes a good team member?

Practices empathy

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference; the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

As an individual, ask yourself the following questions to help practice empathy:

  • What is going on for the other person?
  • What emotions might they be feeling? Are there signs of emotion?
  • How might this look from their point of view?
  • How might they be experiencing the situation?
  • What challenges are they facing?

As a team, we work together to avoid ruinous empathy. This is when we opt for being nice, so we spare people’s feelings. Instead, we avoid telling people what needs to be said, we tell white lies. We offer verbal pats on the back and virtual love hearts and thumbs up instead of constructive feedback. We should be more specific and sincere with praise and kinder and clearer with criticism. And we remember empathy is a two-way street.

Shows commitment

To be committed means binding yourself, intellectually or emotionally, to a course of action. To make a pledge or a promise. Being committed to the team covers ways of working, goals, and team standards.

As an individual, you use unambiguous language when you are asked to make a commitment to the team. In our remote-first world, this also means you have your camera on. You give concrete ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers when you’re asked if you agree with what we are being asked to do. Otherwise, we are giving ourselves a ‘get of jail free’ card when it comes to accountability for delivering our commitments.

As a team, we can encourage commitment by allowing everyone the opportunity to offer their view on what is being asked and encouraging individuals to offer dissenting views. We feel empowered to disagree with a decision while it is being made, but once it has been made, we all commit to the decision regardless of our earlier opinion — otherwise known as ‘disagree and commit.’

Taking part

Participation is the act of taking part in an event or activity. It is being involved in decisions that affect you. Through participation, we can identify opportunities and strategies for action and build solidarity to make change. It is people’s individual actions and choices that reflect the kind of team they want to work in.

As an individual, you can take part in several ways. An effective way for new teams/team members to get to know each other is by creating a ‘manual of me’ and presenting it to the team. You ask ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions and you actively listen to what others have to say. You think aloud, encourage others to speak up, and volunteer to run events, all to help increase engagement.

As a team, we create a working agreement on what participation looks like in our group. We share what we need people to think about before a meeting or discussion, giving others time to think beforehand — this is particularly helpful for our neurodivergent colleagues. We take the time to read the ‘manual of me’ for everyone on the team and adjust how the team works so we meet everyone’s needs. We ensure active participation is embedded in our onboarding as this helps create a team culture of wanting to take part in the running of the team.

Being dependable

You are reliable and trustworthy.

As an individual, you make sure you get things done on time and to the standard that is expected. You proactively communicate with each other about things like delays. You take responsibility for your work.

As a team, we hold each other accountable for promises and commitments we make as individuals. We avoid ruinous empathy and if someone does not deliver, we ask what stopped them and how can we avoid this in the future. We make dependability something that is celebrated.

Having important conversations when it’s needed

An important conversation is a planned discussion about an uncomfortable topic or an experience that may be considered negative. The goal of this is to share different perspectives, build mutual understanding, and develop respect (not to persuade or win).

As an individual, we do not wait to have difficult conversations. The lingering worry or tension can spiral, far outweighing the uncomfortable feeling we get when we think about what needs to be said. You can practice these conversations with your colleagues or prep beforehand, so you are more comfortable with the situation. When you have these important conversations, you actively listen to all sides of the discussion.

As a team, we create a culture where there is space to have important conversations. We do not accept second-hand feedback. We avoid ruinous empathy and focus on understanding different perspectives. We attack problems, not people. We challenge negative narratives about the past so we can move on. We accept that sometimes the goal is not to agree — it is to gain a deeper understanding. We accept conflict — or difference of opinion — can be a good thing.

Setting high standards

We continually raise the bar and drive our teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes.

As an individual, think about what standards you set yourself. Do you invite accountability? Remember that no matter who you are, you can always improve as a person and as part of a team.

As a team, we understand that if we lower our standards, our products and services will suffer. Our standards should be documented and shared, so everyone knows what to expect. This, along with making progress visible, keeps the team accountable for making sure they are meeting their standards (and commitments).

Remain curious

Curiosity is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning. It is a strong desire to know or learn something.

As an individual, you can show curiosity by taking an interest in all your teammates — reading their ‘manual of me’ is a great way to get started. Take an interest in your stakeholders and their world and what matters to them. Find out about what the teams next to yours do and what matters to them. Being curious will help you build better relationships and improve your empathy skills.

As a team, we ask our fellow team members about their work. We normalise asking questions at meetings like Show and Tells and when our colleagues present their work to the team. This is always preferable to default to ruinous empathy when we give thumbs up and love hearts instead of feedback and questions.

Avoiding professional protectionism

This is when we feel overprotective about their role at the expense of collaboration and sharing with others… this often occurs with the introduction of new roles or new ways of working and can be perceived as a challenge or threat to pre-existing professional identities.

As an individual, you avoid professional protectionism by focusing on what you can do to be helpful or useful — you role model this whenever you can. You are curious when another person wants to pick up something that you usually do. You are open to collaboration and consider how sharing responsibilities may help the team.

As a team, we predict when professional protectionism may occur, such as when we change our ways of working, or a new team member joins the team. We remember handing responsibility to “another person can feel like a loss of status, authority, responsibility or experience”. We define and revisit team roles and responsibilities and spot grey areas that may need further exploration.

What happens if we all do this?

If we get the balance right between the team and the individual, then we have unity, we are working together. This then improves team maturity and leads to more autonomy, giving us the freedom to work how we want to work.

Isn’t that what we all want in the end?

Further reading resources and tools that can help

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Andy Tabberer

I'm curious about standards, systems and people. Proud to be the Standards and Practices at Coop Digital ❤️