“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ How many time have you heard this? From coaches, mentors, managers—it’s a motivational snowflake. It’s one of those feel-good clichés that’s been passed around for too many years as away to reinforce the notion that individual performance or identity doesn’t have a place in a well-functioning team. Or, that you win or lose together. But there’s a dangerous fallacy to the claim. Great teams are, after all, comprised of committed individuals that aspire toward a common goal: profitability, job security, benefits, advancement, happiness. And they feel these wins in an intimate manner in as much as they feel the losses. Try telling someone who just lost her job that there’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ Just stand a few feet back when you do. The first fallacy of the claim is that the individual effort is lesser than the collective when in fact they are inextricably married together.
The second fallacy of the ‘Team’ claim lies in the implication that, simply by virtue of being a team, that shared success will occur. In an Experience Economy a business expresses itself as a ‘play.’ Actors, roles, stories and arcs. And it ALL has to work well in order to captivate the audience. In its worst expression “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’ may go so far as to imply that an individual can give slightly less that his or her best effort. After all, there’s a Team–a safety net(work)–around the individual that will help buffer the players against the reality of their individual contribution. But this, too, is a lie. The audience ALWAYS knows when there’s a weak player on stage. The connection deteriorates. The story stagnates in their hands. Their role has to be buoyed up by a stronger actor. It’s like casting Nicholas Cage in a DeNiro film (all due respect).
Weak individual efforts will destroy an Experience. Plain and simple. I spent the last weekend with a client discussing this topic. 90% of his staff attended the meeting on a Saturday. Is that commitment? Absolutely. Were they being paid? No. But they were there. And they understood one thing: Their Experience was broken. All they seemed to hear were customer complaints. The office team said they felt like their jobs had been reduced to ‘putting out fires.’ The Operations Manager said he’d never felt less effective at actually managing operations. The field teams were bolstered only by the fact that whatever catastrophes were occurring resulted in overtime pay. The Owner understood that all of this meant that profitability was eroded. We listed the factors that were contributing to this decay: Material lists were inaccurate or incomplete; Customer expectations were not clearly communicated; Time frame promises were overstated; Problem resolution policies were not shared; ‘Loose ends’ were everywhere. All of this despite the groups belief that a well-functioning ‘Team’ that delivered an amazing Experience was the goal. We continued to disassemble the problems further–examining existing processes and procedures, people involved, accountability mechanisms. 100% of the problems that were happening began from the time of sale to the time of field execution. The sales team was not playing its role in helping the administrative, operations, management, and field teams succeed. And now everyone was suffering. Perhaps it was a timely coincidence that the 10% of the employees who did not attend included 100% of the sales staff. They were sending a pretty clear message to everyone else that day: We just don’t care.
The outward expression of a business is a total Experience. But the inward expression of a business does rest on connected individuals playing very important roles. There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ In fact, there are lots of them that all have to do their best to ensure that their specific role is simultaneously exemplary on a smaller scale while helping the next player on stage to seem equally brilliant. In other words, coordinated individual efforts around a shared purpose create the win. And when the curtain falls at the end of the performance the actors themselves know they succeeded against the roar and clapping of the audience.