How many of us want to be part of the team but find that, when we work in teams, we get behind in our own work
because other team members stop by to talk and ask questions? You can say "no" and still be a team player.
There's nothing wrong with saying "no" to a fellow team member; it's the way you say it that's important. After all, work isn't a social
club. In fact, some group conversations are inappropriate for the work environment and detract from the group's total output. Putting an end to these conversations helps, rather than
hinders, the team's growth. Remember that the goal is to create high morale and high productivity simultaneously.
Time Management Considerations
Is the time you're spending with
your team company-related?
Are you the right person to answer the question?
Is the interruption important?
How urgent is it?
Is it better for you to solve the problem or to help them do so?
Casual conversation, disruptions and requests
for help occur in every team and should be honored, as long as they don't cause you to compromise the quality of your output and/or
miss delivery dates. A good team member will respect the others' time and will understand that there are occasions when others aren't to be interrupted. It's your
responsibility to determine whether an interruption is worth your time and focus before accepting it.
Helping your fellow team members is like putting money in the bank to be drawn out when you need help. However, you can't put all of your income into the bank,
or you won't be able to pay your bills. Govern your time so that you don't hold back more than you can afford, causing you to fail to meet your obligations to your employer.
How do you know when to say "no"? The following questions will provide guidance and direction.
Is the time you're spending with your team company-related? Much of the time
we spend with team members is not related to business; it's casual talk about TV programs, gossip about people in the company or stories about what happened last
night at home. These types of conversations are important in establishing friendships at work, but they should be limited. They're best conducted before or
after work or during lunch. Short casual greetings before you get down to business are also a good idea. This type of interface should account for no more than 50
minutes (about 2 percent) of work time per week.
Are you the right person to answer the question? If you're not the best-qualified person to answer a question, don't shortchange your team members by wasting
time providing them with a less-than-the-best answer. They will appreciate your honesty when you tell them that another team member is better qualified to provide
help. This results in a win-win-win situation: You win because you save time, the team members with the question win because they get better answers, and the team
wins because it improves its total output.
Is the interruption important? Many of the interruptions we get are interesting but aren't in line with the organization's critical success factors. You need to
evaluate the importance of the conversation to determine if it's really important to the organization's success and in line with its objectives. Consider what the result
would be if the question weren't answered.
How urgent is it? Find out when the task needs to be completed. If it doesn't have to be done now, reschedule the conversation for a more appropriate time. In
my experience, about 50 percent of these types of interruptions disappear before the scheduled meeting.
Is it better for you to solve the problem or to help them do so? Often people take
the easy way out. They know that one of the team members has been faced with the same situation and ask that person for help instead of researching the subject. I
know I'm guilty of this. Every time my computer gets a virus, I call Robert and have him correct the problem. As a result, I'm always dependent upon Robert any
time another virus hits my PC. Instead of providing the answer, tell your team member where to find the information, or provide guidance while team members
actually solve the problem themselves. You can steer them in this direction tactfully; there is nothing wrong in saying, "That's covered in the operating manual under
operating procedure PC010. It will explain the situation much better than I can."
Good team members are those that work together, respecting each other's needs
and obligations. Show your respect for your team members by not wasting their time.
About the author
H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an
international quality adviser. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. Harrington is a past president and
chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .