What it means to work well on your own and as part of a team

“I work equally well on my own and as part of a team.”

This type of sentence features on so many CVs. If you haven’t used it yourself, I’m sure you’re aware of it. But what does the statement really mean? Is it simply a generic way of saying that you’re great in all working situations?


Before going any further, the best way to demonstrate is to give examples and tell stories. Don’t just tell everyone you can do something. Go further. Prove it!

Before you do that, check out the following 8 ideas behind what it means to work well, no matter what your circumstances are. Work out what it means to have the ability at both ends and demonstrate how you achieved these things by using examples. Use the ideas below as a framework to your own stories.

  1. You understand different needs – Some tasks are all about YOU. The less you can bother others and interrupt their day, the better. Other tasks are joint efforts. The point is to include and to allow everyone a say. When you can comfortably assess what is required in each situation as it comes up, you’re moving towards great things.
  2. You know when to delegate – “If you want a job done well, do it yourself.” – This comment won’t win you a prize on a team effort. First, you’re (hopefully) not arrogant enough to think that you’re better than everybody else. Second, if you keep all the work to yourself on a joint task, you’re liable to burning out and not being appreciated by anyone else in the group. When you know how to work to your strengths and encourage others to work to theirs, that is a leadership quality right there.
  3. You can deal with many personalities – Working with others can be colourful at times. Rise above petty arguments, calm situations before they get heated, and happily handle difficult characters so that people want you on their side.
  4. You are self-starting when working alone and empathetic when working with others – The way you work as an individual is different to how you behave within a team. When you say you’re equally comfortable working on your own as you are with a group, that doesn’t mean you act in the same way. Far from it. It’s not about consistency, it’s about adapting to specific needs.
  5. You don’t always need your hand held – When you can be trusted to deliver without constant checking, you’re doing something right. People don’t want to have to chase you up every few minutes. They value a self-starting attitude that looks several steps ahead and predicts what people will want from a project.
  6. You stand out without relentlessly stamping your own brand on to everything – Teams may have a leader and that leader may not always be you. Can you deal with that? And when a team has no direct leader, would you rather take control or help everyone play to their strengths? If you’re an invisible leader who brings out the best in everyone without anyone noticing (perhaps not even yourself), then all the better.
  7. You acknowledge your weaknesses as well as your strengths – This helps you delegate where necessary, ask for help when needed, and show that you’re serious. Admitting you don’t know is not a weakness; acknowledging the weakness is a strength that can help you grow stronger each day. It’s easy to bluff your way through, but that doesn’t help anyone. At best, you’ll learn nothing and get away with a poor decision. At worst…well, all sorts can happen and it could impact more people than just yourself.
  8. You’re willing to engage, not argue – By accepting others and maintaining an open mind, there is no harm in questioning other people’s decisions, so long as you question your own and take on board anything that you hadn’t considered. When you realise that confirmation is a danger we all have to overcome, you’re in a much better position to fight it. You’ll be surprised at how freeing it can be to notice new things that have the power to change your view. Help others to realise that where you can. It’s difficult, but doable. Don’t let uphill struggles put you off!

After checking through this list, I’m sure you can think of some great examples from your own life to tell your story effectively. What stories are you going to tell?

Does teamwork win out, or a one-person mind-machine?

Even if you don’t watch University Challenge, you probably noticed the show’s growing presence over the last few days.  This year’s final was broadcast on Monday and some people went crazy.  The reason?  Gail Trimble, of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

The whole UK (it seems!) has been awash with hype on who is possibly the best single contestant University Challenge has seen.  Ms Trimble has become the topic of conversation rather than the whole team from Corpus Christi.

Trimble has divided the public.  Is she smug or sexy?  Tremendous or troublesome?  Awesome or awful?  Arrogant or affable?  Right down to the flick of her hair when she answers correctly, it seems that people have been obsessing in a way that’s not generally expected when it comes to University Challenge.


As for me, I wanted Manchester to win the final, because I have admired their fantastic teamwork over the course of the series.  They nearly crushed Corpus Christi (or the Trimble Treadmill), but a late surge from Corpus Christi was just too fast-paced for Manchester.  I didn’t feel that bad about the great comeback, because I would attribute much of it on Corpus Christi’s other team members, rather than Trimble alone.  Teamwork, ftw!

University Challenge is a team game, so I’m over the moon that Manchester got to the final and convincingly held their ground, despite losing in the end.  Even Corpus Christi gave a team effort when it mattered.

Here are 11 ways they managed it:

  1. Don’t dismiss ideas out of hand. Sometimes it takes crazy thinking to get the most out of a team.  Shut them up quickly and you shut them up for good.  What’s the point in that?
  2. Listen to everyone. Manchester’s team captain (Matthew Yeo) gave everyone an equal hearing.  It’s a team, after all.
  3. Don’t have favourite members. Just because you gel with someone and appreciate the ideas they have, now is not the time to limit your focus.  If you see further value in another person and you want to engage further with them, do that independently of the team you’re working in.
  4. Enjoy what you’re doing so you relax more. Life’s too short to take it that seriously.  Manchester would confer and, at the same time, have a laugh as they did it.  And as soon as Corpus Christi won University Challenge, Manchester applauded them.  That said, they were led by Henry Pertinez who, apparently, originally studied at Corpus Christi…!
  5. Debate in a friendly tone. Don’t just argue.
  6. Recognise each member’s strong points…
  7. …but don’t allow anything but definite knowledge to shut out people’s views. Someone else’s guess could be right.  University Challenge has proved that in the recent past, including when Gail Trimble disagreed with a team member’s correct answer and gave a wrong one instead (no disrespect to her teamwork, just a recent observation).
  8. Engage positively with all members. Congratulate them on the best answers/ideas.  Give credit where it’s due.  Encourage more participation.
  9. If applicable, don’t be afraid to ask for help outside the group. Sometimes you can all be at a loss.  It’s fine to be uncertain.  See if you can work together to find the best person to enlighten you all. [Note: That doesn’t work on University Challenge, but it’s something you should remember for your own team work.]
  10. Don’t hold a grudge. In University Challenge, there’s no time to get annoyed when someone interrupts and answers incorrectly.  Okay, they’ve lost the team 5 points, but the game goes on.  They will likely redeem themselves later and may have already been worth far more than 5 points anyway.  It’s the same elsewhere.  Even a couple of minor mistakes aren’t the end of the world.  Keep it in perspective.
  11. Lead…don’t command. A true leader is encouraging rather than pushy.  Get it wrong and people may not want to pull their weight.  What’s the point if they’re not going to feel rewarded in the process?

That’s teamwork…but how intelligent are the University Challenge contestants?  Just because Trimble answered so many questions correctly, University Challenge in general doesn’t test a person’s intelligence.  Trimble is clearly intelligent, but that’s not the point.  I enjoy seeing how many questions I get right each episode, but I don’t feel clever when I get a lot correct.  It’s just a good set of questions for me.  That’s why teamwork is the best thing to look for on a show like this.