What follows is an excerpt of a talk I recently gave to an
Personally, I cringe every time I hear the expression “there
is no I in teams.” It suggests that all
the strategic planning, idea generation, implementation and troubleshooting are
done by some vaguely anonymous group of people.
I think about a firing squad. It takes a dozen people to kill one person
because that way no one can be held responsible.
I think about bizarre interview teams who are all in the
room at the same time asking pre-designed questions (to be fair!) so that no
one can be blamed if the wrong person is hired.
I think about communism under Mao – where everyone had to
wear the same colorless jumpsuits so that no one would stand out.
I think about Ayn Rand’s book “Anthem” the futuristic story
of people who had no names, but were given numbers instead – no individuality.
Ok – now that I’ve vented….
I want to ask you some questions: I suggest my reader actually takes a moment
to answer these questions for yourself – and if you have someone near you – ask
them as well.
When you were a child and your mother forced you
to share a favorite toy or game, what was your feeling?
When in High School how did you feel if someone
you knew “stole” your boyfriend or girlfriend?
How did you feel when as part of a small
study-group team you wound up doing much of the work, but had to share the
credit with some of your more lazy classmates?
Ladies – what’s your reaction when you attend a
very dressy function and discover someone else wearing the same dress or gown
If you were the creator of a new app that became
famous – how would you feel if you didn’t get the patent or royalties?
Switch gears with me – think about sports and sports
teams. Each player has an important role
and when the team scores, the person or persons who made the play is given
credit on the news. Yes, they all work
together in harmony as a team, and in fact they each in their own way
contribute to the success (or failure) of the game. However, one or two people actually made the
touchdown,goal or home – run.
How do you think a player would feel if he ran
the entire field with the ball and the newscaster talked about someone else
having made the goal?
Now, you are going to tell me it is different in the
workplace. In the workplace the emphasis
on teams assumes that everyone is equal
– and equally responsible for the work-product.
I’ve seen facilitators interrupt a conversation flow to
announce that X spoke for 5 minutes and now it was Ys turn – when in fact the
most important information was coming from X.
In our quest to be fair – we tend to step all over the
brightest and most talented people.
Instead, we need to respect and nourish each person’s unique talent and
unique gift and work together to allow it to shine. That’s what happens in a winning sports team.
Let me tell you the story of the 20th Century
Motor Factory. (adapted from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.)
It had the reputation of being the best in the
business. It’s trademark stood for
quality – excellence. That was one of many reasons it attracted the best and
brightest of engineers and other staff.
Unfortunately, some years after wining many awards for excellence the
original founders died and their adult children (products of one our
ultra-liberal universities) took over the business and created what they
considered to be the best social experiment.
It was to compensate people based on their need – not on
their ability. So, if the janitor had
four children he received a higher rate of pay than the engineer who was single. When someone’s wife became pregnant, instead
of rejoining all groaned since it meant less money in their pockets. The best and the brightest quit. The company failed.
How do you create and maintain successful teams? Again, since this has been adapted from a
speech – I asked my audience to make suggestions. These are mine, which I contributed after
- The most important element is the
leader/facilitator and their ability to see level. It takes level to see level (Kung Fu – black
- The leader of the group controls how people interact and show respect
for each other. (there really is no such thing as a leaderless group someone
always assumes responsibility.)
- Each member of the group needs to learn about
each other – both some personal stuff and professional stuff – the object is
for each of us to learn to respect the expertise of the other. In other words – Walk in his shoes.
- Team needs to have a shared vision/mission and
- Each member needs to be held accountable for
his/her role in meeting those goals.
- Being “fair” is not as important as being true.
- Being nice – “don’t say anything unless you have
something nice to say” can destroy the effectiveness of an organization. People need to be able to “constructively
- People in the team – whether a board of
directors, an executive team, or a work-team all need to learn how to make decisions
that are based on some logical structure – not on favoritism and being loyal to
your friend or boss.
- Rewards and recognitions need to be carefully
handled – not just given out to everyone willy-nilly.
So – let’s eliminate
the phrase: there is no I in team and
instead change it to:
Working together we achieve far more than we could achieve alone.
Labels: . team, excellence, team building