How to be a Team Player

05 June 2018 Laura Barratt

I love being a team player. It’s how I socialise, how I learn and how I support people inside and outside of my team. I can’t help but feel so good after I’ve helped someone. However, the only thing that makes me feel uncomfortable, in this regard, is being around a secretary who isn’t a team player. I’ve met my fair share of them.
Have you overheard a secretary refuse to do the work handed to her by one of her lawyers because she:
“doesn’t work for the Partner in charge of the matter”?
And then at 10 to 5:00pm she is able to leave work because she’s overloaded the other secretary in her department and couldn’t care less about helping out her team mate because she’s going to get her nails done? Have you heard a secretary go on and on about being really busy, yet she’s got enough time to tell you this as well as going online to shop for the latest dresses and then go for coffee and cigarettes 5 times a day? We all know secretaries like this.
I personally have never refused to do a job for someone that I work for just because the “responsible Partner” of the matter is not someone that I work directly for. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I’m really busy myself and I can’t help everyone out. However, I’m approachable and that is key. I love working for my lawyers and will do anything they give me so that they can get on with more work while trusting that I will get what they need done. I’ve learned to enjoy getting extra work from other secretaries that get overloaded. I’m grateful to be helpful and useful. That is what we’re here for. And hey, my ego likes to outshine any secretary with a bad attitude / work ethic.
A long time ago I used to be the kind of secretary only concerned about the direct people that I worked for. Well, sort of. I started my legal secretarial career working for a sole practitioner for about 6 or 7 years. I was a secretary but I was also doing the work of a paralegal, a book keeper, an IT guru, a filing clerk, a receptionist and more. I learned a tonne when I was there, and for that I’m very grateful. It’s helped me to adapt to change and learn quickly.
When I moved to my next job (in the big city), I unfortunately came across some secretaries whose personalities were quite dominant. I was just a wee little thing back then and could have cried at the drop of a hat if I made a mistake or seemingly disappointed someone I worked for. All I wanted to do was make people extremely happy and get praised for my work. I’m so glad I’m not like that anymore (sort of).
One secretary that worked in my old litigation department was very jealous that I was working for the Partner and the Senior Associate. She was a junior secretary and had been hired to work for the other 2 lawyers and the paralegal. These were different times. This was back in the day where a 2:1 ratio was normal, unlike these days 7:1.
This secretary was highly competitive and demanded to the Partner one Monday morning that she and I job swap so she could see what it was like to do my job.
Her actual stated reason to the Partner: because she felt she deserved my job and wanted to compete for it. The Partner then permitted this to happen for 1 week and I was left understandably furious. I had too many things to do because he and I had just had our Monday morning meeting in which he’d given me a laundry list of tasks to complete by the end of the week. It was an ‘almost impossible’ list to finish at the time.
I had to hand over all of my work to her. Needless to say, she stuffed it all up and I had to redo it the following week because she wasn’t a team player and didn’t want to ask me how to perform certain tasks. It was a waste of time for me, maybe not for her (big learning curve), but at the time it made me not want to be a team player with anyone for a while.
I eventually grew out of that, after doing the Myers-Briggs tests about 400 times. I remember doing a team building exercise where we had to physically get something done in small groups. There were 4 teams doing the same exercise and once we were done we shouted hooray and sat down. At the end of that exercise we were asked a series of questions around who had finished first, which team had the biggest problems and why didn’t anyone from the team who finished first go and help the others? Quality question people:
Why didn’t anyone, who had already finished, go and help the other teams?
This sparked the idea of the broader network and it stuck with me from that day on. I now work in a boutique firm and I love it. I’ve worked at top tier firms and they’ve got nothing on this place. In fact, they could learn a lot of things from us. My network consists of 6 secretaries (including myself) and there is no better feeling for me than being able to help someone out who has been jammed up with too much work, because I know all too well what it feels like when you’re drowning and the other secretary doesn’t feel like helping out.
When you’re effective, you’re not only helping someone in your network, but you make friends with those secretaries and lawyers (aka networking) and you make yourself known to others as being a team player. Now that is a very rewarding position to be in because people will appreciate you and approach you, and you will learn more because of it. Whereas, the secretary who is refusing to be a team player gets a reputation for it, becomes unapproachable and if they’re not careful, they will eventually get fired for not doing the work assigned to them.
So be approachable, be helpful, be part of the team.