Wethos collects data across hundreds of completed projects to figure out what makes a team fail or thrive. In 2019, we learned a lot about building the best remote teams possible. Welcome to Teaming Up, our new series exploring ten traits that make a great teammate.
When I left my ad agency job at the age of twenty-five to start Wethos with two coworkers, our main mission was to bring brilliant people together to tackle big problems from anywhere. Today, that mission has evolved but is still rooted in the same theory: if we can create predictable ways to match strangers with their dream teams, we can unlock the power of a diverse workforce that’s increasingly craving purpose and flexibility.
As traditionally rigid workplaces and five-day work weeks come under scrutiny, we have the incredible opportunity to scrap preconceived notions about staffing and dream up an entirely new system that enables people from all corners of the globe to team up remotely on solutions to complex creative, social, environmental, and economic challenges. But how can we give both workers and their clients a consistently enjoyable experience? At Wethos, we use a data-driven approach to measure different contributing factors to why a team ultimately fails or thrives, learning as we go which characteristics are most often associated with a successful outcome.
Rather than have folks leave projects with an “I carried all of the weight” or an “I was never clear on our goal” feeling, we leverage these insights help them find teammates they’ll love for longer than the lifespan of a single project.
No matter your background or area of expertise, great teammates approach work in the same way. When Wethos curates creative and marketing Teams, we look for people with these consistently valuable traits:
The best Team communicators always kick off new relationships with overcommunication to quickly establish trust and reliability. Especially with remote and cross-functional teams, communicating often and asking clarifying questions is key to squashing doubt. Being succinct and using everyday language, rather than jargon, are both important. The single best predictor of a good communicator is how well someone can break a complex idea into a simple concept that’s easy for others to grasp. We also find that the most successful Teammates go the extra mile to bring warmth and personality to their written tone of voice (GIFs anyone?).
Teammates that understand the difference between intent and behavior are more successful overall. People tend to judge themselves on positive intent, and judge others based on their actions alone. Those who can reserve judgement and get to the “why” behind a decision, action, or reaction, are less likely to point fingers or panic when challenges arise. Not only does empathy help Teams overcome challenges more quickly, it can lead to better outcomes on projects. When Teams make a conscious effort to learn the values and attitudes of their unique target audience, instead of just the clients’, they always make a bigger impact.
We firmly believe collaboration supersedes competition. Respectful, honest, and direct Teammates are an incredible asset, and they tend to make real, lasting, relationships with their co-creators. While each of us has insecurities to work through, the best Teammates avoid pushing buttons and build each other up instead — celebrating wins, offering positive reinforcement, and seeking reasons to bond. Those with egos, negative outlooks, and defensive tendencies can sink a project before it even gets off the ground. Our best Teams know it’s never about being right, it’s about getting it right.
Healthy debate makes Teams stronger, but that should never translate to abusive behavior. There’s a misconception that people who approach conflict with kindness aren’t being “tough” enough, or somehow have lower standards for innovation — we find the opposite. Teammates who pick battles wisely and argue with facts, rather than attacks, always come out ahead. When personal conflicts arise, a great Teammate knows how to read the room. If this isn’t the right time or place to hash out a problem, they’ll take the initiative to start a one-on-one conversation later to resolve and realign. You don’t have to be mean to win.
We vet all of our specialists for artisanship, which could mean a lot of things depending on the task at hand and their professed skillset. The common denominator for all great Teammates, however, is simple — a need to make amazing work. To us, artisanship is a deep caring for what you do, whatever it is. Our Teammates bond over a shared curiosity to always learn more, to improve, and to put their names on something they feel is a reflection of themselves. When you get around the table with a group of people who share your drive, something clicks.
Creativity isn’t just about how something looks or reads, it’s about bringing innovative and unexpected solutions to the table. Successful Teammates can look beyond the obvious to draw correlations and find inspiration in places that are seemingly unrelated to the task at hand. Time and time again, creativity boils down to one’s ability to be observant and uncover insights that others might have missed. Especially when something feels like it’s been done a million times before, great Teammates can find a fresh take or new solution to catch you off guard.
Developing and following clear processes is table stakes for any successful Team, but our Teammates also use their organization skills to organize their thoughts. For example, keeping good notes is important, but can you replay key takeaways in a way that’s immediately clear and actionable for others? Can you weave together disparate ideas to tell a cohesive story? Can you walk people through your thinking in a way that builds consensus? When someone is thoughtful with how they organize information, they tend to excel on our Teams.
We think about this trait in the same way as Natalie Fratto, an investor who’s TED Talk on adaptability describes it as AQ or an “Adaptability Quotient,” an aptitude of even greater importance than EQ or IQ. When someone’s thinking or habits are too rigid, they can get tunnel vision and become closed off to new information coming their way. Planning can strengthen foresight, but the best Teammates plan knowing that the plan might go out the window at any time — and they aren’t too precious about it. We see the best work from folks who endlessly seek to unlearn their biases, explore new ideas, and iterate on their approach.
Teams that can overcome roadblocks together all have one thing in common: Teammates that regularly ask for and offer up constructive feedback. Whether a person’s foresight of a potential issue is based on experience, instinct, or just a desire to deliver the best work possible, we find that a willingness to carve time for punching up each other’s ideas is a leading factor for project success. Staying focused on an end goal keeps great Teammates open minded about critiques and input. Teams that devolve into a blame game ultimately can’t move forward.
You might not ever have all the data you want, but a great Teammate pushes forward even when things are uncertain. Quantifying someone’s ability to trust their gut isn’t difficult when you assess how often they get stuck. A decisive Teammate makes small decisions on their own every day, and when they identify a problem or a fork in the road, they’re confident enough to propose potential next steps and keep moving. Decisive Teammates earn the trust of their Team by proactively turning unknowns into knowns, rather than waiting for new data to find them.