I recently started writing a series about my experiences in teamlancing after many years of freelancing and working as a solopreneur. There’s a lot about my new gig that flows almost effortlessly, but as with most new jobs or experiences, it also comes with a steep learning curve.

One of the things that I struggled with (and sometimes still do) as a newly minted teamlancer at The Content Factory, was understanding my place in the team. While many on the team are full-time employees, there’s also a loosely structured teamlancing environment, which can make the idea of an actual internal structure seem vague.

When you’re a freelance creative or marketing professional, you’re often given a somewhat rigid set of directives to follow. And while you might not have a classic boss, colleagues, or co-workers per se, there is usually a hierarchy or at the very least a somewhat structured chain of command. Teamlancing is the same in many ways with a basic structural difference — it isn’t permanent. It isn’t old-school. Teamlancing is a way of working together as a connected unit comprised of talented individuals with a shared goal.

Then again, there is no I in team, or so they say, but where does that leave you when you’re still trying to figure out where exactly you fit into said team? This time around in Adventures in Teamlancing, we’ll be talking about how to find your place in the team.

Team dynamics: the feeling of belonging

The value of belonging

Before you fret too much about fitting in within a teamlancing structure, it’s worth knowing that, even at the best of times, workers can struggle with the idea of fitting in at work.

A few years back, BetterUp Labs, a research lab focused on human performance and flourishing in the workplace, released a study on the cost of exclusion in the workplace. They discovered that one of the reasons job turnover was so high in some industries or corporations was a lack of belonging.

As we moved into a largely work-from-home or gig economy, some of their findings seemed almost prescient of the value of teamlancing. In studying the report, I found four takeaways that apply equally to working in a traditional team structure or within a more modern teamlancing environment.

4 benefits of belonging according to BetterUp Labs’ findings:

    1. Employees with a strong sense of belonging perform better
    2. Employees with a strong sense of belonging are less likely to leave their company, and more likely to recommend their workplace to others
    3. Employees with a strong sense of belonging show up for work more, taking fewer sick days than their counterparts who feel excluded
    4. Belonging impacts financial performance and profitability

Teamlancing could be better for (modern) business

Let’s take it a step further. Back in 2016, The Guardian ran a story discussing isolation in the workplace. What was most fascinating, to me at least, was the article attempting to present a cure for loneliness at work in the form of advice from readers to readers. The Harvard Business Review explored the topic further late last year. HBR took the BetterUp study a step further and created a series of experiments to measure the costs of exclusion.

The results were impressive. For instance, they discovered “High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.”

So, if a company can recreate the team experience of belonging more informally, they might simultaneously be battling workplace loneliness while increasing their bottom line.

How can someone go about forming a teamlancing structure that serves all participants and moves the business forward while allowing each team member to feel valued and part of the team? Extremely carefully and with intent.

Anne Corley BaumLehigh Valley executive and vice president, distribution channels & labor relations for Capital BlueCross, shared insights into how to build a team that works well together and how to figure out your place in it:

“When building a virtual team, it’s important to look for individuals that can self-manage and accomplish their work without significant supervision. Look for individuals who are results-oriented, who are good listeners that can easily grasp expectations and deliver.” 

But look out for red flags.

3 red flags to keep an eye out for with teamlancers:

Corley Baum says to watch for these warning signs:

  1. Individuals who are not independent and require step-by-step supervision
  2. Those who are not self- motivated and require continuous prompting to respond/deliver
  3. Individuals who are too independent that focus on what they choose over what you need them to accomplish.

Team dynamics: fitting in with the team

Fitting in with the team

Now that we understand the importance of a team and how to structure it, what happens if you just happen to be the newest member of the team? How can you try to fit in? What are some subtle clues you can look for to understand even distanced team culture?

“As the newest member of a team, one of the best ways to begin to fit is to reach out and get to know your colleagues better.” Corley Baum, who is also the author of “Small Mistakes, Big Consequences for Interviews” and “Small Mistakes, Big Consequences Develop Your Soft Skills to Help You Succeed,” said to interview your colleagues if possible. It doesn’t have to be formal but get to know who they are and what they do.

“Interview them and ask them to explain their roles, what keeps them up at night, and what results they need to achieve to achieve success.” Corley Baum recommended. And don’t worry that your fellow teamlancers might not want to open up.

“People love to talk about themselves and what’s important to them. So, ask and listen to learn. Not only will you build relationships with your colleagues, but you will also learn how they interact as a team and this will begin to teach you the culture.” 

Believe it or not, all the relationship-building might be exhausting, so pace yourself.

“When the pandemic hit, we all missed our people and jumped face-first into video everything to see and connect with one another. But then, it started to get not only exhausting, but taxing to view all of your colleagues,” explained Marissa SalazarMicrosoft Teams product marketing manager.

You’ll notice that many video conferencing platforms are fine-tuning their offerings for the new generation of work-from-home professionals. For Microsoft Teams, that’s Together mode, “A new video calling experience that uses artificial intelligence to put everyone in a shared space – like an auditorium – so while many people are learning and working apart, it actually feels like you’re sitting in the same room.”

Salazar said their “research shows Together mode makes virtual collaboration feel less tiring, but also makes people feel more engaged and connected to one another in the meeting or class.”

Other ways to better fit into the team include studying the overall company culture.

This may include:

  • The level of trust in the group: Are they open and honest with one another or do they regularly say one thing in meetings and another behind someone’s back? Corley Baum asks.
  • Communication norms: “Is there open communication regardless of title?” Corley Baum asked, “Or is there an important hierarchy of communication?” She said that “Learning this will help you learn how to successfully get your messages heard.”
  • Hours of operation: Unlike a traditional office setting, your teamlance structure might operate in different time zones and internationally. Corley Baum asks, “Is this a team that adheres to a strict set of work hours, or is communication free-flowing at all hours?” If you’re trying to fit into a team, understand when it’s OK to be in touch with them and when communication is off-limits.
  • Accountability: Playing the blame game is excruciating when you know all the players, but what happens when you work in a teamlance structure? Corley Baum reminds us to try to find out if each team member owns their mistakes or whether they’re ready to place the blame on others. “Always be accountable for that for which you are responsible and if others don’t play by those rules, make sure you work to clearly communicate who’s doing what and who holds the responsibility.”

How to strengthen team dynamics

3 ways to strengthen team dynamics

Now that you’re part of a team at least some of the time, you might feel comfortable enough to take your teamlancing relationship to the next level.

1. Ask about them, reveal some of yourself

You don’t have to feel your way through everything on your own. “It’s okay to ask team members about the cultural norms,” Corley Baum said. Interestingly enough, “even asking this question will reveal a lot to you about each team member and the culture of the group.”

2. Act like a team member

Just because everything is new and possibly strange doesn’t mean you should hide in the proverbial shadows. “Being friendly and engaging while being interested in the work of other team members is a great start,” Corley Baum said. And while you’re at it, “Offer your skills and support to their projects and initiatives and show that you are a team player by acting like one!”

3. Solicit feedback:

After years of being my own boss, I’ve been finding it fascinating to be able to regularly pop into our Slack channels and run something by fellow team members. After all, these are the same pros serving our clients — why shouldn’t I be taking full advantage of their mad skills and insights well?

Make it a give-and-take situation and while you’re at it, don’t be squeamish about what you might hear. “Ask for feedback and offer it as well,” Corley Baum said. And make sure to “Let your team members know that you are interested in being the best you can be and any feedback, positive and negative, is welcome any time.”

Not sure who to trust? Hopefully, your team leader has assembled a group of professionals who are ethical as they are talented.

In case you’re still not sure, Corley Baum said that she abides by the concept of trust but verify, which gives people the benefit of the doubt until they prove you wrong:

“And be mindful of not being a gossip or complainer — don’t say ‘just between us’. To gain trust, you have to be trustworthy and that happens when you operate with integrity.”