Every one on a team must fill a unique role if it is to succeed. One of the most difficult problems of being on a team is filling a different role than what we think we deserve. It is extremely difficult to lead a team that has members conflicting over their roles. Unfortunately, this is human nature but there is a way to make life easier for all.
To explain this I am going to liken the team to a game of chess. Many people know how to play the game and even those who do not are somewhat familiar with this game of skill. The pieces on the chess board make up the ultimate team that has a common goal. Each piece has a very unique role and each is willing to lay down its life to protect another piece that possesses a higher point value.
For starters there is the pawn. The pawn moves one space at a time and in a straight line. There is no backing up and no retreat. His mission is to block the paths of the enemy’s pieces and to form a line of defense to his own pieces. There is no glory at all in this piece’s role. It is rare that a pawn will save the day and very common for him to be sacrificed so that another piece is not captured.
Many roles on a team are just like this pawn’s. Sometimes we have to do things that we do not want to, like clean up after an event or file paperwork. You know that you are more capable than this and could do something that would really benefit the team. On your last team you ran the show and performed the high profile tasks. Why on earth are my talents being wasted like this? You even think to yourself that your leader clearly has it out for you and you will show him by doing this work fast and sloppy!
Think from the leader’s perspective for a second. You have a new member to the team. You are not sure of their capabilities or quality of work. They came highly recommended and the last leader had great things to say about them. In order to get a feel for their dedication and abilities you give him some papers to file. If he does this well then we can move him up to a better position until we find where his strengths are.
Now if you do your job sloppy it will be perceived that you are not a true team player. Why would a leader put you in a position of authority if you have a bad attitude? That attitude will spread to those beneath you very quickly. Makes sense to the leader, but to you it may be a difficult concept until you walk in the leader’s shoes for a moment.
Let’s go back to chess for a moment. The entire focus of the game is to capture the other team’s king all the while protecting yours. Each of the other pieces has a signature movement style that provides a very valuable asset to the team. The bishops move on diagonals in any direction and for as many squares as they desire. Rooks or castles travel in straight lines. Then there are the knights that have an interesting “L” pattern movement that is difficult to defend against. Queens are the treasured pieces that combine the movements of the rooks and bishops.
These pieces are the members of the team. Each member has his or her own specialty or strength. This role is learned through training and perfected through practice. To get the opportunity to showcase your strengths you need to first show that you want the team to succeed at any cost. More often than not this means that you have to wait your time and prove to your leaders that you are willing to do the menial tasks to ensure success of your team.
Finally, let’s talk about the king. The king is the focus of the entire game. Every piece of yours is willing to lay down its life to protect the king. Each piece on the other team is itching to be the one to capture your king. The king himself can only move one space at a time. He can not move into danger but can move in any direction. He holds no value to the team’s ultimate goal and yet they all protect him. The king’s role is to lead his kingdom not capture pieces.
The pawn on the other hand is extremely valuable to the king. He must be the frontline defense to protect the king. He marches valiantly on a straight path in to danger. He is to stand firm in the face of destruction to hold the line for the others. He is to be the foundation for all the other pieces to build upon. If there was no pawn every other piece would be exposed and the king would be captured very quickly. In fact, try to play a game of chess where you have no pawns and the other team does. You will get crushed!
Every team has unique roles that need filled. Every team needs a pawn. Just because there are roles that you would rather fill does not change the fact each role needs to be filled. No one starts at the top. They have to earn that spot by proving themselves as pawns. Once a new position opens, the leaders will pull from the pawns to fill it and then upwards from there. If you truly are as good as you think you are, your talents are sure to be noticed and you will advance very quickly.