What do you mean, I’m not a team player?

Look at any number of want ads, particularly for senior employees, and you will see that most of them ask for team players. We all think we are team players, but the problem is we don’t all mean the same thing. Noticeably, men and women have different ideas of what the term means, and this comes from our early socialization.

Generally speaking, little boys’ games are often based on sports. As soon as they can walk, they seem to start throwing or kicking a ball, tossing it into a hoop or hitting it with a bat. Groups of boys automatically begin choosing sides and playing competitive games, even before entering organized games. Adults, both male and female, encourage them to play to win.

Girls, on the other hand, usually play games that are an imitation of life. They have dolls, which in their minds sleep and cry just as real babies do. They walk and talk with other little girls, who are also nursing dolls. They make up stories about their fantasy lives, and they are encouraged by adults to “play nicely with the other children”. Aggression, or bossiness, is frowned upon.

Fast forward, then, to a time when these same men and women are leading teams or departments in the business world. Doesn’t it make sense that this early training would lead to different management styles?

To women, good team players work together well. They tend to consider other team members’ feelings, and listen to their ideas. They work to attain consensus in the group and strive for decisions that will be for the good of the group as a whole. To this end, the female manager will often ask her people for their views and discuss her own ideas with them before making decisions. She may also explain the reasons for her decisions.

To most men, however, a good team player is one who does what the coach says. Team sports depend on players following instructions, and there is no room for discussion. In the business world, therefore, the male manager IS the coach, and he expects his instructions to be followed. He usually pronounces his decision, and sees no need to explain his reasons.

Neither of these styles is better or worse than the other, but they are different. Women need to realize that their male managers are not being arrogant, but simply following a style. If you want to put your views forward to your male manager, you will need to make an opportunity to do so, because you are unlikely to be asked in advance. Men need to recognize that a female manager’s tendency to ask for other people’s views is not weakness, but simply a different management style.

So when you describe yourself as a team player, consider who is asking you.