Uncovering the “I” in Team—Lessons from the Phillies’ Big 4 Pitchers

Roy Halladay (Photo from SD Dirk via Flickr )

You’ve heard it said, “There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM.” It’s a kind of soft warning about the potentially negative effects of personal self-interest on the ability of the team to succeed. 

At work we see it when certain team members only support actions that favor their positions, impose their views, and seize opportunities to increase personal visibility. It makes for big problems. 

Uncovering the inevitable “I” 

You can find the “I” in TEAM under the crossbar. Look at the “T” and you can see the “I” hidden in plain sight. 

The reality is that every team is made up of Individuals. They’ve been selected for the team because they bring essential and unique capabilities. 

Great teams capitalize to the max on these capabilities. After all, isn’t it the sports teams with the best players that routinely win championships?

 Everyone comes to a team with talent. Members generally know what their strengths are and why they’re needed. That’s when we discover the most about how they see their role on the team, for better or worse. They may showcase attitudes like: 

  • I’m the expert in my area, so don’t question me. (Self-centered “I”)
  • I’m eager to learn from the group and expand my capabilities. (“I” for the team)
  • I know the outcome I want and will exert my influence to get it. (Self-interest “I”)
  • I want to bring out the best in the group by doing my best. (“I” for the team

Individual talent is a resource, an asset to the team. As team members, we’re there to pool, align, and/or deliver our talents at the right time and in the right way to advance the team’s collective goals. 

It’s about both us and the team. Our contributions are measured (or should be) by how we use our talents for the benefit of the team. That’s what separates the team-player “I” from the self-server “I.” 

Consider Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels 

Cliff Lee (Photo from artolog via Flickr)

The Philadelphia Phillies 2011 baseball team has been led by pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. 

In a wonderful article in The Morning Call newspaper, Mandy Housenick writes about those pitchers: 

“It’s the most-feared foursome in baseball. Among them are 59 victories this season, a collective ERA of 2.71, 821.1 innings pitched, 17 complete games and seven shutouts….” 

So you’d think the big four would be full of themselves. Not the case, according to Housenick, even though they are different from each other in personality and game preparation style. She writes: 

 “…they continue to learn from one another. Sometimes they chat about pitch sequences; other times they’re reminded just how important it is to be confident and stay focused… 

As competitive as this group is, as much as it hates losing and as eye-popping as each individual’s career stats are, there’s no alpha dog among them, no attention-seekers, no braggers.” 

Roy Oswalt (Photo from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr)

That’s the key, isn’t it? Accomplished individuals realize that achievement is a function of the hard, relentless work they do. But they also know that without a team to play on, nothing is realized, no goals are reached, and no career is built. 

Housenick shares this quote from Roy Halladay: 

“‘If you’re gonna have four guys that are gonna go out and pitch well, you can’t have guys that get caught up in what they do and what somebody else does… You really do have to pull for each other.’” 

The team of “I’s” 

Halladay’s right: We need put our best work forward and pull for each other. That’s how we improve so we can leave our best individual and collective marks on the team’s goals. When we make it only about us, we’ll likely lose out and take the team with us. 

Cole Hamels (Photo from from SD Dirk via Flickr)

Teams enable us to use our talents to impact a wider arena, where the stakes are higher, opportunities greater, and support closer at hand.  Putting our “I” to work for the team can increase our chances of winning.

The “Outing” of Slacker Employees—Time to Help

It used to be easy to spot slackers. They’d be asleep on the job, sit too long in the caf having coffee, or daydream at their desks.   

Today’s slacker is harder to see, so supervisors often don’t know they’re being “slacked.” Coworkers almost always do. 

The team is a slacker’s cover 

“‘Slackers’ are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be,” writes Adrienne Fox, in her HR Magazine article, “Taking Up Slack.”   

Teams can be a slacker’s haven when all eyes are on the team’s results, not individual contributions.

I served once on a redesign team for a complex customer service process that involved major changes for the engineering, transportation, field service, and customer care departments. Half of this cross-functional team was there to work for a fix and the other half had made a conscious decision not to. 

So they: 

  • Came to meetings unprepared
  • Delayed decision-making
  • Made excuses for not meeting deadlines
  • Reassigned their work to others (scapegoated)
  • Intentionally sent discussions down a rabbit hole 

Their maneuvering was made to look like a genuine contribution to the team’s objective. Positions were couched in the right jargon, senior management was extolled, and  current business practices affirmed.   Blah, blah, blah! Even the formerly committed team members caved on this one. Me too…we were out-numbered.

This team ended after six months of endless meetings, leaving the process unchanged. The slackers had won at the expense of the company and the team’s reputation. Upper management never had a clue. 

“Slackers become really good at manipulating their bosses or team members to keep up the impression that something takes longer than it should or invent barriers where none exist,” says Meagan Brock, HR specialist at the University of Oklahoma in Fox’s article.  I guess so! 

What makes a slacker? 

Slackers are often unsure how to “win” at their jobs. Most employees come to work wanting to succeed. They want to know how to advance, earn more, and get interesting assignments with people they enjoy working with. 

When they don’t see those conditions materializing, they decide to “fake it” rather than give it their all, especially if they’ll likely be rewarded anyway. 

Slackers can:

  • make it look like they’re working at lot by scheduling documents to be emailed at off hours
  • get appointed to important sounding teams where they engage with key players, appearing more influential than they really are
  • make assignments appear excessively complex by the way they report on them
  • use their specialized expertise to avoid engagement in broader efforts 

When there’s slacking, someone’s making it okay. 

Slacking is a consequence of weak management. Employees under-perform when they believe it won’t be noticed or really matter. 

So here’s what bosses need to do: 

  • Make sure employees understand their jobs and the outcomes expected
  • Give clear direction and hold employees accountable for their part
  • Require action plans from each employee for specific assignments, including timetables  and deliverables
  • Understand how technology is being used, it’s relevance and cost effectiveness
  • Ensure that employees have the resources and support they need
  • Ask for coworker feedback on the contributions of other team members
  • Provide coaching that builds awareness and desired behaviors 

If an employee, who’s not willing to “put him/herself out there,” doesn’t have to work that hard to maintain employment and some reward, they will likely take the slacker route. As supervisors, we owe it to them and our companies not to let that happen. 

Make hard work valued 

It’s not the bells and whistles that make for a great employee; it’s their grit and commitment to push ahead, tackle the difficult, and turn things around on schedule. When your performance system rewards results achieved through hard work over the appearance of busyness, the slacker population is bound to decrease. 

Fox writes, “Top performers want to perform at their peak. When they can’t, they will be vocal about it.” Time to listen up! 

Have you been in the company of slackers at work? How did that work out? Thanks.