Recently, I heard somebody use the expression “There is no ‘i’ in ‘Team'”. This well-worn saying means. of course, that in order to be a team, we cannot focus only on our own needs, and that we must be prepared to put the needs of the many over our own personal wishes. I have rarely thought about this, and throughout my career, every time I heard it, I simply understood that the user was reminding that we cannot be selfish for a team to be successful.
I admit that I myself never use this expression, and when the following realization hit me, I don’t think I ever will. I was reading the excellent businessballs.com website recently, and came across this entry:
“I was sent this excellent and simple idea for a presentation – actually used in a job interview – which will perhaps prompt similar ideas and adaptations for your own situations.
At the start of the presentation the letters T, E, A, and M – fridge magnets – were given to members of the audience.
At the end of the presentation the speaker made the point that individually the letters meant little, but together they made a team.”
This story presents for me a much truer image of the role of the individual in a team, or rather the team’s dependence on the individual, for while there is no ‘i’ in ‘team’, there are four different letters all equally important and playing a vital role!
The specific skills of the individual are often downplayed in favour of their “ability to work as part of a team”, when it is their own particular skills and abilities which make them a desirable member of the team to begin with.
Of course, Dr. R. M. Belbin, the “father of team roles”, recognises that any effective team has a “teamworker”, someone who gels the team together, and uses their versatility to help complete work for the team, but he also stated that a team is “a congregation of individuals”, in other words, a group of people who are good at different things, and have different strengths, weaknesses, interests, passions, and sometimes even values.
While the differences won’t be that marked in a team of people working in the same company, or the same department of a company, they might be more visible in a joint venture between two companies, or social or economic competitors in a round table discussion. The secret to healthy cooperation in this situation is the same as for a project team working for the same department of a company. We have to realise and accept the fact that we are on a team which is focused on a common goal, and accept that each of us has their own strengths and weaknesses, all of which contribute to the identity of the team. if we can do this, then we are able to move forward much faster than a bunch of people.