Is there no “I” in “teamwork”?

December 14, 2011

I have often heard that adage “There is no ‘I’ in ‘teamwork’.”  Teamwork is rightfully an important buzzword in the workplace today.  As someone who has often had to be a “solo” presence in my responsibilities at work, I really relished the experience I had for 3 1/2 years in my last position, as a part of team atmosphere.  Teamwork was often in evidence, and was really essential in providing opportunities for innovation and growth.  That said, I would have to dispute that there is no “I” in teamwork.  Here is what I mean:

  • On a team, you cannot assume that everyone will leave their personalities behind and work as one.  In fact, you do not want that to happen.  Everyone has their own “I-ness” to offer, and will bring valuable perspective to the task at hand.
  • Each person on the team should contribute to the project to the best of his/her ability.  Each individual should have a part for which they are responsible as an INDIVIDUAL, with an eye to collaboration, cooperation, and compromise.  Each person should be held to a standard of how his/her part is accomplished and achieved.  If you are not interested in the project, and don’t plan to truly contribute, you should not be part of the team.  Teams thrive with open communication, candor, and trust.  Someone with a negative attitude with no plans to add in a positive way would be better off somewhere else.
  • Each person is responsible for his/her own part in the final outcome.  For example, when a project is being presented or implemented, each team member should support the goal and be responsible for being positive about promoting that goal (the teamwork part).  Being responsible for your own feelings and keeping them in check for the good of the goal is combining “I-ness” with a teamwork approach.

I like to think of the following as a good formula to think of :

Teamwork=collaboration + cooperation + compromise.   A corollary or residual outcome of this process is (hopefully) respect.

Ways that you can foster an atmosphere of teamwork in your workplace:

  • Have a leader of the project.  Not a micromanager, and not an overly aggressive or domineering personality.
  • Value EVERY contribution with respect and true consideration.  Sometimes the first time you hear an idea it may seem out there, but then the idea grows and becomes truly innovative.
  • Invite every stakeholder, but be clear that you only want those passionate or interested in the project to be involved.  And make it OK for people to opt out without being stigmatized.
  • Don’t over-research the ideas (at least initially).  As one who is usually overly prepared for everything, it will intimidate (and bore) people if you provide 5 articles on what you are thinking about the project.  Send links to articles in email, or have a copy available to route so people can browse if they are interested and have time.
  • Praise the team (and yes, individuals, too) as the project moves along.  Give credit where credit is due. 
  • Say what you LIKE about people’s ideas as often as you say what you do not like.  If you have concerns, explain why.
  • Stay both enthusiastic and compassionate.  Again, understand that each person is bringing their own personalities and judgments to the group.  Celebrate the differences and find consensus with a focus on respect.

Teamwork definitely has “I” in it–as a part of the team, you need to recognize and embrace that, and build success from there.

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2 Responses to “Is there no “I” in “teamwork”?”

  1. Rachel said

    This is wonderful! I am going to share with my colleagues at work!

  2. […] “We need to work as a team.” “Let’s do it for the good of the team.” “You aren’t working as a team player.” […]

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