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Why There is No “I” in Team

Updated on March 10, 2010

We’ve all heard the expression: There is no “I” in team. And, unfortunately, there is often no team in team either. We hear people toss around terms like team player, team building exercises, team this, team that, team something else. And, like many other business buzzwords, there is often a major disconnect between what a business believes it’s team concept to be, and what it actually is. Among the reasons for this:

Everyone wants to be the star quarterback, no one wants to be the water boy

The notion that everyone is working together for a common goal is often lost on the employee that is on the bottom rung of an organization. Especially if that employee has been there for some time and doubly especially if that employee has watched as other, less motivated and qualified individuals moved up the job ladder.

You can’t choose your co-workers

The belief that people with goals, interests, and motivations that are at odds with each other will mesh for the common good is at best idealistic, at worst laughable. Consider the employee that, in the middle of a so-called “team-building exercise“, looks around the conference table, and sees not team members, but people with whom he is in competition for raises, bonuses, and promotions. People who have derided and denigrated him behind his back, apple-polishers and brown-nosers, and those who obtained their position through nepotism and favoritism. And they are supposed to be on the same team. One hardly wonders why the team concept is viewed very differently by this individual.

You do the work, I’ll take the credit

Long before the term team player came into vogue, outright theft was practiced on a daily basis in many workplaces. Employees have routinely taken credit for work performed by others. When work is the product of a team, the opportunity to do this is increased exponentially, as the team typically takes equal credit for the work, although their actual contributions are unequal.

As with other common workplace practices, it is the responsibility of management to:

Recognize that there will always be a void of some measure between the team concept as stated and as practiced.

Make a point to recognize and reward team members per their actual contribution to a project or endeavor, as opposed to a blanket recognition.

Don’t run the team concept thing into the ground. To foster cooperation among your employees is one thing; to expect them to band together like the 1st Cavalry Division is quite another.

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