Yes – TEAM Has an I in It


For decades coaches have told their players there is no I in TEAM. The point they’re trying to make is that the interest of the players should be the team first and themselves second. Players that put themselves first ahead of the team are often called prima donna or selfish.

It is true that for sports teams, and special operations military units, to succeed they need every member to put the team first and their own interest last. The reason this is so necessary is because the results expected from these teams is extremely high. Every member is highly accountable for their role and behavior; plus, their performance evaluation is very objective and specific.

In business, teams run the gamut. Groups, project teams, and departments are much more loosely associated, encouraging individuals to work together within a system to achieve their organizational objectives. While leaders would like to think their organizations are very results oriented the reality is they are more politically oriented. Personal and positional power are sought after ahead of organizational results. Team members are less accountable for their individual roles and behavior; and assessment of their performance is much more subjective.

Because of this business teams have a lot of I’s in them. Every member has a choice of how they want to express their individualism. This is not necessarily a bad thing as you will see. It is just a reality business leaders have to live with. In any given situation, individuals team members can choose to have the mindset that “everything is about me” or they can choose to make it “all about the team.” Let’s look at these mindsets in more detail.

It’s all about me

Individuals who choose this path feel entitled and can be heard saying things like “I want, I deserve, and I expect.” There is immediacy to these requests with the expectation that their needs should be fulfilled now and not in the future. They are highly concerned with making sure others recognize their role and its importance to the organization. Also, they often choose to operate outside the team’s norms because they feel they are special and deserve special treatment.

It’s all about the team

Individuals who choose this path are connected with the team’s results and need to be for success. They recognize the importance of their role to the team and hope their contribution will result in rewards for them in the future. They see the importance of operating within the team’s norms, producing a synergy that is greater than the team’s individual efforts.

In most organizations, people operate predominantly from the “It’s all about the team” mindset. Everyone knows the benefit of this and would love to work in an organization filled with people of this mindset but, the reality is that at times people choose to make it “all about me”. When this does happen it is an indicator of four possible situations:

  1. The business environment is overly engaged in political maneuvering instead of organizational results. All good behavior in organizations stems from a strong focus on organizational results. Sure there is political maneuvering in all organizations but it needs to be kept in check with leadership concentrating on results.
  2. The person is stuck in a personal development phase. This is a sign of the times. Younger employees come from a family and social environment that told them they were the center of the universe and deserved everything right now. Management needs to council individuals in this situation and explain how it is bad for the organization and they need to change their mindset if they want to survive in the working world.
  3. Performance assessment and compensation are unjust. If a person performs well and is a good team player, but they are being taken advantage of and not compensated appropriately then they will develop resentment. This resentment will then be acted out when they are asked to give more now in hopes of something later.
  4. The employee is not a fit for the organization. Infrequently this is the case and it is best to part ways with people who fall into this category.

There is no way around it; our business environments are not like sports teams or special operations military units. Because of that we are going to have employees who have the freedom to choose the mindset of “it’s all about me.” Use these situations to uncover underlying deficiencies and resolve them for greater organizational success.