Did you ever work on team projects in school, but you found yourself putting in most – if not all – the effort to complete it? In the end, your project received high marks and praise, but the entire team took the credit, despite their lack of contribution. How did you feel?

Unfortunately, not much is different with team projects in today’s workplace. But it can be.

We know that working with productive teams contributes to a satisfying result because we tend to feed off others. When someone has a great idea, we are suddenly empowered to fulfill that idea to help us reach a particular goal.

Consider this analogy: Working with a team should be similar to running a race. If you are in a marathon and suddenly lose your energy and feel you can’t go on, two of your running mates pick you up by each arm. Now the three of you continue in the race together. You may not finish first, but you do finish.

Working with teams at work should be the same way, giving us the energy and stamina we need to continue to the finish line. Additionally, when we work with others who have varying skills and ideas, that will add a valuable contribution to the quality of the projects.

Working within and outside the organization

Collaborating within the organization, among our coworkers, is often a daily practice. We see each other, we’re all focused on our contributions to the organization, and we try to encourage one another to stay the course. But when you work from the outside or with colleagues who are not within the walls of the organization, that kind of team effort can get a bit tricky.

For example, companies are now using contractors and other independent third-party resources to save on costs. The company recognizes the financial savings in not hiring an employee, as well as using a person or other business who has particular skills and talents needed to complete a specific project.

Contractors, however, face the challenge of not being included in many discussions because they are not employees. Most organizations have strict policies about not sharing inside information, and company employees worry they will violate policy with certain conversations.

Another downside to not being “among” colleagues is that contractors are not at the top of mind when it’s time to make decisions. The result of this is that the contractors are not given an opportunity to share their ideas, ask questions, or give insight into the goals. By the time the decision is made, the contractor becomes more of a task fulfiller rather than a valuable asset to the team. The contractors are left on the outside, typically in a somewhat confused predicament, and are expected to complete a project with incomplete information.

Bring in outside ideas

If you work with third parties, make sure you include them in your team meetings and brainstorming sessions. Today with Skype and Microsoft Teams readily available, face-to-face meetings are easier than ever.

Share your agenda with your contractors for that project so they can be ready to answer questions and offer advice and ideas. While you aren’t expected to have them join you for an entire company meeting, include them in the portion that discusses the project you are working on together.

If you leave them out of your discussion and form a decision without their input, it sends the message you don’t value their services. And if you view them as an employee who is paid to do what they’re told, rather than the specific talent and team player you needed from the start, you should reconsider your goals and how your third-party genius fits into them.

Working from the outside

If you are the independent contractor or business, make sure you have frequent discussions with the company you are supporting. Have face-to-face discussions – in person or via monitor – so your contacts keep you at the top of their mind and consider you a member of their team.

If you did not discuss from the beginning of your relationship being included in discussions, and if you learn later there was a meeting about the project you are working on with the team and you weren’t included, try to ascertain why. Ask specific questions to not only give you the understanding you need moving forward, but to also show your contacts and the team that these are questions they should have considered from the beginning.

Further, express to the company why you need to be included in these meetings. Ask for the agenda on that topic, and find out if there are any concerns the team might want to discuss.

If the team still refuses to include you in these important discussions, consider whether or not you are in a partnership or you are simply a minion.

Of course, it is possible that the project started out with enthusiasm. You were brought in for your skills and input, and the project moved along on target. But over time the project may have changed and the company wants to go into a different direction.

In either scenario, you need to decide if you, as a contractor, can still offer ideas to help the team move forward. If the answer is no – if the project has reached the end for you – then it’s prudent to fairly and calmly step away.