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
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.”
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.
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.