I was, once again, reading an article titled: “There is no I in team”, and feeling slightly irritated. How can individual needs and style not be taken seriously to establish high performance teams? Despite what some – a lot – of people seem to think and write, teams are nothing more than groups of individuals who have their own aspirations, needs, cultures and styles. And that is good.
Individualism is not always a bad word. The individuals in the team have their own reason for being part of the team and that reason is usually different from one person to the other. Teamwork is not negating your personal aspirations but aligning your need – in as much as that is possible – with the needs of the group. Thinking that individuals can ignore their own aspiration in order to meet the group’s expectations is the best way to create dysfunctional teams. The problem is that most managers are not equipped with the coaching skills to enable the team members to identify their personal objectives and then helping them understand how these can be aligned to the needs of the organization.In this case it becomes easier to blame the individual for not being a good team player. If we want people to be self driven, we need to recognize and value their personal wants.
This individual drive is also what, very often, leads to initiative. I have always been amazed by managers telling me that they’d like to see their employees take more initiative while at the same time saying that everybody in the team always agree to everything. A strong group orientation has a lot of advantages, personal initiative is not one of them. To step up with new/counter-intuitive suggestion, one needs to be ready to face disagreement and, sometimes, difficult conversations, in order to make his/her case. Behavior very often seen as unnecessarily disruptive in teams where the individualism is not valued.a Strong value of harmony in a team is great but it will often create group think come at the cost the tolerance for individual initiative.The same goes for personal accountability.
I also find the concept of There-Is-No-I-In-Team, a great way to negate the natural diversity of teams. I remember a manager i was working with recently telling me: ” We have no problem in my team, everyone values respect and professionalism”. When I asked him what professionalism meant for his team he answered that professionalism means the same thing for everybody. In a team made of 25 people of multiple genders, generations, education and even cultures, I don’t doubt they all value respect and professionalism but I really doubt that everyone defines these words similarly. I can understand that minimization of personal and cultural differences makes it easier to manage but it is also the best way to create resentment by those whose perspectives are not recognized.
Finally, understanding that I am unique, have unique perspectives and values is what is going to make me a better team player. How can I be effective in building relationships with others if I don’t understand and accept that I have my own way of doing things. This is what is going to enable me to better understand others and how i can adapt my style and behavior in order to make the most of our relationship. Social awareness and relationship management can only be effective if there is self awareness at an individual level.
Teams are great. High performing teams are even better. However, they cannot be built on the back of individual differences. People need to feel free to express their individualism in order to align to the group and build effective relationships with each different member of the group.