One of the more mystifying sayings out there is that there is no “I” in “Team.” I get it — everyone should contribute and no one should stand out on a team.
But the hard reality is that teams are made up of individuals. Individual contributions, added together, create the accomplishments of the team. To say there is no “I” in “Team” is disingenuous and gives cover to individuals who hide behind the team for not doing the work.
Here’s where individuals need to step up on teams:
We’ve all seen those individuals on teams who are always late with their deliverables and provide poor quality work. The effect on a team is that others need to cover for this individual — taking them away from getting their own work done with quality.
Reliability about delivering your tasks so that the team can count on you is the very first critical job skill you bring to a team.
When your team is covering for individuals, the overall level of accomplishment goes down.
Sports teams break their teams into individual positions. Sure, it’s a team, but there are specific roles on the team that individuals fill.
Business is no different. Even very similar job skilled teams (such as an escalated support group handling hardware issues) have specialist needs within the group. One person is the go-to person about a particular subject, while another is the go-to person on a different subject.
Teams are better when individuals specialize on their team because the overall expertise of the team goes up and is capable of handling larger and more diverse problems.
Teams can get locked into a particular point of view simply because they are a team. This is dangerous territory over the long-term because business changes. Opportunities change. Challenges are different as you go through time.
Challenging the status quo or prospective solutions to problems is needed by every individual on the team. The goal is to have constructive conflict to get to the best solution. You don’t do that as an individual by just going along; you need to make your case, defend it, and then get fully behind the team solution.
Teams can break down, of course, when they are made up of all strong individuals not seeing the team goals or acting in the best interest of the team. In my experience, this type of team is rare.
Far more common are the apathetic individuals on teams that don’t deliver their work, don’t specialize to improve their skills with their team, and sit idly by while knowing the suggested solution to something is a complete disaster.
Individuals count. Even when there is no “I” in “team.”