A Personal Rant: There is Most Certainly an ‘I’ in Team

It’s a Huge Cliché

“There ‘s no ‘I’ in team.”

Scroll through LinkedIn and you will find managers and leaders across the world quoting this famous saying as if they’re being paid for it. It’s printed off on sheets of A4 and pinned to noticeboards in offices everywhere. It’s emblazoned on company t-shirts during annual off-sites. And it’s used to end speeches with the belief that it’s mighty and profound.

Please stop. It really annoys me.

Good Intentions. Poor Results.

I understand what’s behind it. It’ s a way of showing that we’re all in it together. We’re all working towards that common goal. We’re all cogs in some highly efficient machine, working seamlessly together, never putting individual needs above the team’s.

I feel, though, that it’s way too simplistic and inadvertently hides the real strength in teams. That strength is the individuals within it. The ‘I’s and the ‘Me’s. And this trite phrase seems to suggest that the individuals are unimportant.

It’s the individuals that lead to a team’s success or failure. Individuals with different skill sets, different knowledge bases, different opinions and different ideas. Each individual within a team brings their own technical skills to the job as well as unique career experiences and varying personalities and leadership styles. Don’t take that away. Diversity of team members is crucial.

Not All Sheep

On one of several management training courses I attended in my early career, each project team was asked to conceptualise a new theme for a luxury restaurant and then present our concept to the panel of decision-makers.

My team worked on this throughout the afternoon and evening ready to present the next morning. We all had our roles. One person (an IT specialist and Google whizz) was the researcher. One person (a marketing executive) was responsible for creating the Powerpoint presentation. Another team member was good with words thanks to her career in public relations. We also had a CSR professional in our team who took charge of the community-related aspects of our restaurant. They produced some outstanding work. The rest of us pitched in where we could and we came up with what we thought was a great concept.

The next day, and with the full agreement of my team, I presented the concept to the panel while my teammates stood off to the side. I’m a strong public speaker. I have a great deal of experience speaking to groups (it’s my job as a trainer) and the plan was for me to present in the manner of Steve Jobs. I didn’t wear the black turtleneck though because, well, I would have looked like an idiot.

Anyway, the presentation went really well and the board loved our team’s concept. Unfortunately, we were marked down heavily because I presented alone.

We suggested to the board that it was not a team project in junior school in which everyone has to take turns and get their first experience of public speaking. This was a professional presentation and we were all in our late twenties or early thirties. We had selected the best person to present (that just so happened to be me), just as we had selected the best person in every other role such as research, media creation and content. We each had our own skill set and applied those skills in the relevant areas – all towards our team’s shared goal, the creation of an awesome sales pitch. Their response? “In our company, there is no ‘I’ in team.”

A bit silly if you ask me.

The Long Road to Revenge

Having each team member do what they were best at enabled our team to produce a high-quality presentation. I’m confident in saying that it was the best of the day with an engaging presentation, riveting visual aids, and impactful content, all backed up by accurate research and data.

We all had our specialist roles and we worked together, as a team, towards our shared goal. There was certainly one fully-aligned team but there were several ‘I’s within it.

And this is my point. Remember that there are powerful and impactful individuals in every great team. They need to be celebrated and encouraged, not put in a grey suit so that they are the same as everyone else. Which is better? One experienced and polished public speaker making this important presentation to a panel of senior leaders with the trust of their team or a collection of six visibly nervous individuals who keep tripping over their words and can’t get the message across?

My team did not win that competition and the prize was beer. I remain bitter to this day and this post is the first step of my twenty seven-step plan for revenge.

This is one rant in a series of personal rants and diatribes about silly and ineffectual behaviours displayed by leaders and managers across the world. Please don’t expect in-depth psychological analyses and discussions of empirical training models here. I write these posts for my own light entertainment and, I hope, yours.