There is no ‘I’ in team


I cringe whenever I hear another speaker exclaim: “There is no “I” in team!” For one, it is a worn-out cliche. And secondly, a team is made up of many “I’s,” isn’t it? A lot of puns have been assigned to the concept of teamwork.

• One controlling boss says, “Teamwork is everybody doing what I say.”

• “It’s called “teamwork,” but most of the time, it’s everyone sitting around until one man does all the work,” says Thomas Wilbur

• Even one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, Stephen Hawkings, took a crack at teamwork, and he says: “Teamwork means never having to take all the blame yourself.”

• Journalist Kevin Myers says: “Sure, there’s no ‘i’ in team, but there is an ‘m’ and an ‘e.’” (Combined, it spells “me.”)

• This one is my favorite of all these quips and quotes on teamwork. An unidentified student says: “Teachers call it copying. We call it ‘teamwork.’”

• Henry Ford comes up with an inspiring quote as he says: “Coming together is the beginning. Staying together is the development and working together is the key to success.”

The question now is how?

I have had a client who said, “I do not have a team, Francis; I have a screen. All I have is tiny little talking heads in our virtual meet (Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, etc.)” When the economy opened and people began to go back to their offices, how can you, as a leader, inspire and motivate the team to work together when they have been torn apart for more than two years doing remote work or working from home?

This is why I have had many engagements from clients of different industries doing leadership training and team-building activities to strengthen cohesion and have the people work together.

We should not repeat the mistakes of the past. Organizations have created such disengaging places to work precisely because they have yet to understand the power of teams. Data has shown that less than 10 percent feel engaged, resilient, and connected when a person is not part of a team. In his latest book entitled: “Love+Work,” Marcus Buckingham indicated that their data have shown that healthcare workers and educators are the two least engaged and least resilient professions because neither hospitals nor schools have been organized around teams. Meanwhile, workers who reported that they felt part of a team were not only 2.7 times more likely to be fully engaged, they were three times more likely to be highly resilient. And they are two times more likely to report a strong sense of belonging to the organization.

Now here is the rub. Here is the major problem when you look closer, according to Buckingham, you would notice that the individual is less important than the team. This is why “there is no “I” in team introduces an aspiration to remind you that you are less than the whole.

This negates a complete misunderstanding of the point of a team. We did not invent teams to remind individuals that they were less important than the group. We created teams precisely because it was the best mechanism for maximizing the unique qualities of each individual. And when the able and skillful leader can combine these different people into a unit, it produces results that provide meaning and fulfillment to everyone on the team.

Many organizations impose processes and tools designed to distance the person from whom they are deliberately. The person’s uniqueness and talent are only partially utilized due to the organization’s need for uniformity of products, services, and human values.

This is where the team lead comes into the picture. While leading every team member toward their shared goals, the leader allows uniqueness, individual talent, and strength to surface. It provides a safe laboratory for members to air their voices and have their ideas heard. The team leader, therefore, is like a conductor in an orchestra. He does not negate the individual uniqueness of each musician, making them feel inferior to the whole. Still, he capitalizes on their talent, giftings, and uniqueness, tapping into the horn, string, percussions, and wind “conducting” or “leading them” to produce beautiful harmonious music.

Teams are the perfect place to celebrate and contribute to your unique lives. Our people want to be seen for their authentic selves at work; it takes a skillful and inspiring leader to make this happen. When employee engagement is strong, people do not feel like they are mere cogs (or treated as such) in their “teamwork” machinery. Then they stay and find more meaning in their work. It is not true that there is no “I” in team. A team comprises many “I’s” working cohesively without losing individuality.


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