The Superheroes’ Guide to Team Engagement and Results


When faced with a messy project, looming deadline or overdue deliverable, how often do you say to your team:  “No problem, I can take it on.  I’ll just do it myself.”

High performers –  like you! –  by definition can do a lot, and so they do.

Which is great, except when it winds up with you bailing others out too much of the time.

While it’s a needed and desirable leadership quality to be able to step up to the plate and take one for the team (proverbially or actually), continually taking too many responsibilities can lead a host of issues, both on the personal and team level.

On the personal level, always being the “yes” person can quickly lead to burnout, fatigue and resentment.

And while it’s never the intent, focusing on providing the short term fix can both point to and lead to bigger team problems down the road: lack of team engagement and ownership for outcomes, drifting mission and purpose, and underdevelopment of other team member’s skills and capacities.

Being the one who saves the day persistently can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you’re the only one who will do it, you might become the only one doing it at all.  Without meaning to, you can teach people to depend on you in an unhealthy way, expecting and waiting for you and your superhero powers to swoop in at the last minute.

If you find yourself putting on the superhero cape too much of the time, try this:

1) Examine any positive patterns you and/or the team have about deadlines and projects.  What’s working?  What makes it work?  How can the team as a whole do more of what works well?

2) Examine patterns you and/or the team have around deadlines and projects that are less effective or are causing frustration.  What isn’t working?  If there was a request underneath your or others’ complaints, what would it be?

3) Look inside: What’s the personal benefit you receive from saving the day?  What does it give you?   What’s the positive intent you have for the team underneath being the superhero?  How could you feel needed and valued and more skillfully fill the role of helper, guide, etc. that’s often beneath an urge to rescue?

4) Take off your cape: Imagine a common scenario when you swoop in and save the day.  What would it be like to say ‘no’ and not rescue the team?  What would happen?  Look for information and patterns here as well.

5) Look to your team’s purpose.  If you find yourself constantly putting out fires, what does that cost the team?  What’s not getting done?  What’s really important to be doing as a team?

6) What skills exist within the team that could be leveraged or harnessed earlier on so that rescuing becomes less necessary?  What agreements could be created or reinforced to create the team behavior you want?

In the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  What helps you both make a contribution to your team, but also not take on too much responsibility?

Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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LaRel Rogers

Wow great blog post Hanna! This is so imperative in the workplace especially within teams/departments and even cross-departments! I think it’s so important for people to find their own personal shortcuts/what works best for them when doing daily tasks. I remember reading an article that said something about “don’t do your job so good that no one else can do it” meaning you never want to leave your role with your team being lost without you – so make sure others can do everything you can! Thanks again for sharing!

Hanna Cooper

Thanks so much for your comment, LaRel! So important for us to both use our skills and leverage the skills of those around us! Thanks for sharing your insights as well!