In these days of clickbait headlines this might seem like one such headline. Can someone really make himself or herself an indispensable team member? I would argue the headline of this post is only slightly hyperbolic. No one likely becomes completely indispensable. You can be great at your job but a pain in the backside to everyone and still find yourself being encouraged to find somewhere else to take your talents. Treating others in the workplace with respect being taken in account as given there is one skill that if you possess and practice will make you pretty close to indispensable. It seems like an easy and obvious one but it is rarer to find than you might imagine. What is it? It is being a proactive problem-solver.
You may think this is an obvious part of everyone’s job functions and, in a perfect world, it should be. What you will find is that a large percentage of people show up, react to what they have to, and then go home. Few people in my experience are thinking about how processes and systems might be improved or even how basic day-to-day challenges that many complain about would be solved. In my experience, the most appreciated team members are the ones who think about realistically how to make things better. So, how does one become a proactive problem-solver? Here are three areas where anyone can dive in.
Solving your own problems. First step toward legitimacy in solving larger problems is developing the discipline to solve your own. You will have a hard time earning the ear of your fellow team members or your supervisor if you are seen as unorganized and undisciplined. Some very basic places to start are meeting deadlines, returning emails, and being on time to things. These seem small but remember overall people are resistant to change. A lack of discipline in these types of areas can subconsciously undermine someone’s value of your ideas. In other words it’s easy for someone to think “they can’t even get to meetings on time so why should I listen to them” and dismiss your idea. If you believe you have the basics covered take a chance and ask a couple of team members how they believe you could be a better teammate and work from that information.
Solving team problems. Look around your work environment and listen carefully. What do you hear people complain about? What do you observe that could be more efficient? Every workplace will have unique issues that likely cannot be solved but sometimes it can be surprising what people will continue to do when there is a new technology or approach that would make things easier. Take one of these problems down and you may find yourself achieving hero status with your team!
Solving supervisor’s problems. This one can be a game-changer in how you earn trust from a supervisor. Watch and see what gives them headaches. If you can’t pick up on one then be bold and ask them if there is something you can help them work on or solve that would help get them time back. Often supervisors have challenges like these that could be delegated and they either don’t take the time or don’t want to add to what they perceive is someone else’s busy schedule. Helping them solve challenges will quickly make you someone they believe they can entrust with great responsibility.
Problem-solving is one of those soft types of skills that doesn’t always make itself obvious on a resume. However, much like emotional intelligence, once inside and organization it becomes one of the most powerful tools for becoming an integral part of a team. While becoming truly indispensable might not be 100% possible for any of us becoming integral will sure make one hard for a supervisor to let go of.