Have you ever heard the saying “there’s no ‘I’ in Team?” It’s true, there is no ‘I’ in the word Team. Of course, when used the speaker doesn’t just mean that there is literally no ‘I’ in the word team, but that there is no such thing as a team of one. A team consist of multiple people and, for a team to win the big game or achieve a common goal, they must work together.
What about the popular phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What does it mean? Consider the example of a child whose only wish for his/her birthday is to receive a bicycle. The child has been begging and pleading for a bicycle for months. Finally, the birthday arrives. The child gets what they wanted…well sort of. The parent gives the child a pile of bicycle parts: two wheels, a set of handlebars, a seat, and a couple of pedals along with a chain, a frame and several other pieces. By themselves, the parts are essentially useless. However, when properly assembled the child gets a whole bicycle.
Now, consider another saying; “a team is only as good as the individuals on the team.” The key word in this phrase is “individual.” For a team to be successful, it must devote some time to the individuals that make up that team. Consider the example of the bicycle given above. You have all the parts, everything you need to put the bicycle together, but one of the parts is defective. Perhaps one of the tires is punctured so it can’t be inflated, or one of the breaks does not work, or the peddling system is broken. While you may be able to put the bicycle together, once assembled, it is still essentially useless. The same idea can be applied to teams. For a team to be successful, each individual must accurately perform his or her role. Below, in no particular order, are three things that put the “I” in “Team”.
First is a feeling of Individual Accomplishment. Andrew Carnegie, one of the most successful industrialists of the 19th and early 20th century once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” How can team members develop a feeling of individual accomplishment? Start with a common vision. A common vision should not be confused with a mission statement. A vision is the goal a team wants to achieve. The mission statement tells us what we need to do to achieve the vision. In order for team members to have a feeling of individual accomplishment, they must catch the vision, they must feel as if the work they do is making a difference, that they are an important part of the team and that their efforts have played a part in making the team successful. They need to know about, and visually see how the work they do is making a difference. This is done by communicating and rewarding not only team accomplishments, but also individual successes. A feeling of individual accomplishment will lead to a feeling of team accomplishment.
Second is Individual Commitment. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Individual commitment starts with the team builder(s), the leaders. Team leaders must first catch the vision themselves and be committed to it. Only then can they begin building a successful team. Building a successful team starts with hiring the right individuals. Often time’s managers are told to “hire the smile, train the skill.” It’s not impossible to fake a smile. Hire the attitude and the real smile will come with it. Once you hire the right individual, make sure they are properly trained. Give them the needed knowledge and tools to be committed successful members of the team. Individuals who fail to properly perform their role as a member of the team due to inadequate training will not be committed team members. Lack of or poor training will result in stress and frustration and will affect the commitment of other team members, eventually leading to performance issues, low employee morale, turnover, and other issues.
Third is Individual Responsibility. Individual responsibility is crucial to the success of any team. Each team member must accept responsibility for his or her role. Accepting responsibility means performing one’s assigned duties according to policy and procedure and taking responsibility for one’s shortcomings. Rationalizing or blaming others when you make mistakes, violate rules, or fail to accomplish assigned tasks will negatively affect the team.
In conclusion, remember that while a team’s success depends on the individual contributions to the team, the individual is not the champion. Mia Hamm, former member of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team, summoned it up best when she said, “I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”