“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” -Phillips Brooks, American clergyman (1835-1893)

I was looking for inspiration this morning when I stumbled upon this quote. It got me wondering about the small moments that define a team member’s character. It’s those small moments when you decide how you want to show up on your team that forge the character that will be critical in the great moments. And by great moments, I mean the not-so-great moments: the major argument, the failed project, or the arrival of a new leader. What do your actions in these everyday scenarios say about your character?

  1. Walking into work on Monday morning

The choices you make when you walk into the office on a Monday morning say a lot about you. Do you look like you’re glad to be there or do you look more like the internet polar bear? Do your actions tell your teammates that you’re glad to see them? How long does it take you to settle in to the task at hand? Do you organize yourself and develop a set of priorities for what you need to get done? What does your Monday morning routine reveal about your character?

  1. The team leader is away the day of your regular meeting

Occasionally, your team leader might be away on the day of a regular meeting. What do you do? Do you suggest that the team cancel the meeting? Why, or why not? Do you go to the meeting but turn the meeting into a coffee klatch? Do you take the opportunity to have a difficult discussion in a more open and honest way than normal?

  1. A teammate is away for three days caring for a sick child

Life interferes with work sometimes. What do you do when a coworker is called away from the office? Do you think of it as an inconvenience? Do you grumble and complain about having to pick up the slack? Do you pitch in and cover what you can? Do you connect with your teammate to make sure everything’s ok? How do you make the person feel when they return to work?

  1. A team member sends out a pre-read for an upcoming meeting

It a small thing and a big thing. A colleague is asking for your input and giving you the information to make that input informed. Does it go to the bottom of the pile? Do you read it carefully and prepare a few questions? What do you do if you have a major concern; do you give your teammate a heads up or wait to share your concern in the public forum?

  1. Your team walks out of a meeting room leaving a mess

Your meeting ends and everyone leaves without recycling the leftover papers or putting their cups in the dishwasher. Do you follow them out the door and assume the mug fairies will clean it up? Do you dutifully make three trips to the kitchenette and then return to your desk without saying a word? Do you call after folks to come back and clean up the mess? What does your choice say to your teammates and to everyone else in your office?

  1. A teammate criticizes you in front of your whole team

Teamwork isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun. Sometimes tensions run high and the interpersonal dynamics suffer. What do you do when a teammate criticizes you in front of everyone? Do you respond in kind? Do you take the flak and say nothing? Do you redirect the conversation to the issue at hand? How do you follow up after the meeting? Do you let your teammate know that the outburst wasn’t ok with you?

  1. You lose your temper

Let’s be fair, it’s not always the other people on your team losing their s#@t; sometimes it’s you. When you lose your temper, do you brush it off and wait for it to blow over? Do you apologize? Do you mend fences with the people you hurt? Do you make amends for the impact of your behavior? How do you talk to yourself? Do you cut yourself some slack or beat yourself up?

  1. You get behind on a project and can’t get back on track

How do you react when your back is to the wall? Are you embarrassed by your struggles? Do you admit to the problems and reach out for assistance? Do you surface the concerns early while there’s time to react or do you try to hide the problems and hopefully get the hail Mary at the last minute?

  1. A teammate approaches you to complain about the team leader

I’ve written about gossip before. How you react when someone starts to gossip to you is a true test of your character. Do you pile on with six new and even juicier adjectives to describe your boss? Do you listen empathetically for any real issues under the volley of complaints and refocus the conversation on the substantive issues? Do you shut down nasty or personal attacks? Do you make it clear that you’re not interested in gossip?

  1. Leaving work on Friday afternoon

When the whistle blows on Friday afternoon,  Do you take a moment to close out your week and put your desk in order? Or do you do your best Fred Flintstone impression and slide on down your brontosaurus and outta’ there? Does your face betray your relief to get as far away as possible? Or do you find occasions to carry your work friendships into the evening? Do you get to know your colleagues as people?

Psychology says that you judge your teammates harshly for how they behave in these moments but that you’re woefully unaware about how these situations reflect on you. It’s time to decide what kind of person you want to be and act accordingly in the small moments.

What other situations do you find provide the best window onto your teammates’ character?

Further Reading

Excellence is Character First, Culture Second, Competence Third

The Secret of Effective Teamwork

Use your Words

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