business, innovation

The Myth of The Team

Anyone who has ever worked with a team, or managed one, knows that teams are an amazing way to success.  You probably have the poster hanging on your employee break room wall:


It is true, there is no “I” in Team, but in reality, without the “I” you have problems.

“I” stands for an Individual.  One person leading, creating, inspiring, and living the mission of the business. If you take a look at your “team” right now, you can probably pick out the individuals on that team who are fulfilling that promise (about 20%.)  They are the ones that not only get it done, but they are excited to do more!  The other 80%?  Those are your slackers, complainers, whiners, and mediocre paper pushers who are monopolizing most of your day with petty issues.

In theory when you put the two groups together you will have one cohesive team that will not only produce a higher level of results, but will incentivize the 80% to more productivity. In theory.

Cy Wakman, author of Reality-Based Leadership, points out that there is another, more real possibility when working with a team, that what you actually have is:

 “the worst of both worlds: maybe no one is ostentatiously taking credit, but behind the scenes, everyone is still allowed to think that he worked harder than others and can shirk responsibility for mediocre results.”

We have all either been on that team, or managed them. Outside of the “team” environment, everyone is talking about who is really doing the work and who isn’t.  Conflicts are internalized, complaints interrupt your day, and when the project they are working on fails you might have pushed a few of your superstars to start looking for another job. And what is left is the 80% who feel justified to complain at the water cooler about how much your business sucks.

And what happens when the team does succeed?  When you take the “I” out and don’t give attention to the people who really did the bulk of the work they might stay, for a while but eventually you will lose them to a company that will recognize their achievements.  Is that the goal of achieving more?

Teamwork does work.  But a key component is missing. Cy Wakeman points out:

The team either hit the mark or it didn’t, and it’s important for each individual to account for his actions, assumptions, behaviors and choices that contributed to the shortcomings of the team.”

This concept works in basketball, team after team, championship after championship. If corporate managers and small business owners operated their teams more like a basketball team the results would be astounding!

Think of your favorite basketball team.  One cohesive group of athletes supporting each other, but within that team is a set of clearly defined individual roles, led by a coach.  Each player has a designated position and expectations about what they are to do when on the court.  The goal is winning, for the team, but for the individual players they have a clearly defined set of objectives they must each achieve in order for the whole team to succeed.

Sure there are superstars on the team, why not?
Who wouldn’t want to play with the top people in their field?

Focus on the “I”.  It is not hard to organize a team around individual efforts and accolades. Management needs to give a clearly defined outcome and then, assess honestly the individuals involved so they can assign tasks according to their strengths. Once done there is a solid possibility that this team will not only succeed, but there will be a whole lot less water-cooler chit-chat.

One Final Step. Like your basketball team, there has to be accountability.  They get called back in the locker room, with replays that point out both the good and the bad.  In this setting, it is expected and required to win the championship.  So why can’t your team run that way?

Be clear in your goals, roles and expectations.  Assign tasks clearly.  And then, pull everyone together when the project is done to review the outcome.  Good or bad you can make the results of that final meeting a launching pad for the next big project.

What do you think of putting the “I” back in team?


A note about Reality-Based Leadership: Read it. Read it again.
Give it to all of your managers.
Reality-Based Leadership by Cy Wakeman.

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