Elizabeth J. Heider Color
Beth Heider, chief sustainability officer at Skanska USA
Commentary

3 ways to be a better coworker

Aug 26, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Beth Heider, chief sustainability officer at Skanska USA.

My job as chief sustainability officer requires me to focus on creating sustainable buildings. The decisions my teams make today have an impact for generations , because unlike cell phones and automobiles, buildings and infrastructure last for decades. The teams at Skanska are large and complex, harboring different priorities and multiple perspectives. So my role as a team leader is to clarify the vision and pull all of the individual stars together into a constellation of talent: harnessing the brilliance of different perspectives -- owner, designer, engineer, builder, facility manager, etc -- and focusing them on a common vision. A vision that is bigger than any one company or person. By working together we can deliver truly great things. Here are three key concepts that can help achieve harmony in any team:

Empower differences
When I was a young architect, there were very few women in the architecture and construction space . I worked for a man who saw my ability to articulate our architectural vision, allowing me to present our work in client meetings. He often told me, “You are the only woman in the room. They don’t know what you are thinking and that gives you a lot of power.” Instead of seeing convention or bias as a problem, I embraced the power of having a different point of view. Be open to the unique perspective each individual brings to the team and harness that diversity of thought.

See also: Want to ace a job interview? Be nice to the receptionist

Respect the power of collaboration
Early in my career, I was in charge of a major renovation of a 100-year-old federal building in Washington, D.C. I was very young, the only woman on the job and the head architect. According to the male construction superintendent in charge, these three qualifiers were automatic strikes against me – at least initially. During the renovation, we discovered a lot of unforeseen conditions. This meant we would need to work together in order to come up with the best solutions . So when the superintendent realized that I valued his opinion, he was interested in making the project better. It was immediately obvious that two heads were better than one, and we finished the project more quickly than originally planned. I realized that when everyone pulls together toward a common vision that is when the real magic happens. This realization was a tremendous turning point in my career. I learned that if you confront problems or differing opinions with curiosity and include the broader team in coming up with a solution, everyone has ownership.

Build inclusive teams
Every voice is important. It is not enough to have diverse perspectives, they need to be recognized. I find today’s intergenerational, diverse workforce where baby boomers work alongside millennials to be energizing and humbling. We all have a lot to learn from each other regardless of gender, race, age or work experience. When we create a safe space to explore different ideas we unlock multilateral growth and innovation.

So here’s the bottom line: we can’t build teams centered on one person having a big idea that everyone else executes. All of the players have a perspective that is essential to the outcome and every team member’s voice needs to be heard at the table in order to enhance business performance.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

Why your employees are miserable during vacation by Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Raytheon.

Why annual performance reviews don’t work by Donna Wiederkehr, CMO of Dentsu Aegis Network.

Why being candid at work is good for business by Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO of Beautycounter.

Don’t be afraid to hire your replacement at work by Melissa Puls, CMO of Progress Software.

Why diversity needs to go beyond race and gender by Laura Cox Kaplan, regulatory affairs and public policy leader at PwC.

Talent alone won’t make your business successful by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The right (and wrong) time to embrace teamwork in the office by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Why this CEO thinks making mistakes is admirable by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder at Koru.

How managers can stay connected to their team by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

The difference between a great leader and a good one by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.

The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.

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