Be the "I" in Team

Turning Point

Teams are a testimony to humans as social creatures. We create teams to perform tasks that an individual alone would be hard pressed to accomplish. We make up teams comprised of people who bring individual skills and talents to the group.

With a couple of exceptions, sports are where we see teams most commonly in action. However, there are many situations outside of sports where teams come into play. 

An axiom that really gets my goat is the popularity of “there is no ‘I’ in team.” I think that’s nonsense. Although the word team doesn’t contain the letter “I,” team members are all first-person pronouns.

The team needs individuals to act independently and collectively. Everyone brings his/her talents to a team environment and as needed, those skills and talents need to come forward for the good of the team.

Let’s look at sports. My beloved Xavier Musketeers basketball team has five starters. They are coached, trained and practiced to perform as a unit—a team. Practicing helps each player learn the others’ strengths and weaknesses. Each is a good player, but one may shoot threes with better consistency or another can drive the basket with exceptional speed, together giving the team an inside/outside offensive threat. 

We use terms like “unit,” “squad”—all collective nouns that mean a group in which somewhat equal members are implied. However, in sports on a given night, someone on the team will step up and have an exceptional game.

Rarely, unfortunately for my basketball team, do all five members step it up at the same time. Generally, it is one or two players who have a stand-out performance. It might be the point guard who gets hot, or the center or a forward, but someone almost always pulls away from the group delivering an above average performance. As a result, the entire team performs above its collective average. 

So what seems to happen in these games is a player switches roles from team member to team leader. The fallout can be significant as a leader can inspire other team members to step up their game, resulting in a better performance for the entire squad and hopefully a win.

A team leader by virtue of his/her leadership puts an “I” in team. Unfortunately, all too often this season, my Muskies have played too many games as a team when that leader failed to step up. Averages are the stats that the team posts. Team averages go up when one of more of the team members steps up and leads. 

Sometimes the player who stepped up and led in the previous game is off his/her game in the next outing. Well, that’s an opportunity for another team member to step up and lead. If the team is well oiled, this happens automatically. If not, the team has a bad night. 

Failure of a member to step up and become a leader can be a weakness in the team concept. Sometimes there is a tendency for members of the team to sit back and wait for someone else to step up and take the lead. If on occasion a leader doesn’t materialize, the team may miss an opportunity to perform above its collective average. 

There is a flip side to team leadership, and I think it is probably one of its best aspects. Team leaders make choices. Sometimes a point guard dishes the ball on a drive to the hoop. Making the extra pass is often encouraged and shows a willingness to work with the team even though the guard could easily lay in the ball.

In our business lives most of us are team members of one sort or another. Like a sports team, members are invited to join based on the contribution their skills and talents bring to the group as a whole.

There is a tendency in a group situation to wait until called upon to contribute to the team. While that is part of group dynamics, somebody needs to step up and take the lead. Hopefully that leader will be different as situations change. Too many meetings I’ve been in seem to meander from topic to topic because of a lack of direction. I’m sure this is true for you, too.

Like sports, the object in business is to score points as quickly as possible. Business points are solutions to problems that the team was formed to address. It’s critical for the team that someone come forward and lead the group toward the goal as efficiently as possible. To function optimally, there needs to be an “I” in team. That’s how you wIn.