Value of the Individual in Today’s Teams

Three boys playing tug-of-warThere is a popular notion in today’s business culture that asserts, “There is no ‘I’ in team!”

As Tom Peters says, “Stellar teams are invariably made up of quirky individuals who typically rub each other raw, but they figure out – with the spiritual help of a gifted leader – how to be their peculiar selves and how to win championships as a team. At the same time.”

I’m siding with Peters on this one! Organizations too often minimize the value of the individual in favor of creating a homogenized team. The fallout can include mediocrity, lack of motivation and poor performance.

Group-think: The Lowest Common Denominator?

You’ve heard this term and I’m betting you’ve experienced it as well. Group-think is when consensus outweighs innovation. These are the circumstances when people don’t speak up due to intimidation, apathy or a strong desire to be accepted as a “team player”. Horrors! The kiss of death in any organization is to be viewed as “not a team player”. Unfortunately, people get the message pretty quickly that it’s best not to rock the boat, don’t speak up and never, ever disagree with group consensus.

There is a frequently told story about Walt Disney who asked his design team to come up with some fresh new ideas. They worked all night to prepare for his 7am deadline. When morning came and they presented their ideas to Walt, he listened patiently, then went to the wastebasket, dumped out the contents and tacked the discarded designs up on the wall. He wanted to see the ideas they didn’t agree on, knowing that often, innovation is screened out in the interest of going with what’s safe, reasonable and acceptable.

I’m betting there was someone on that team whose ideas went into the wastebasket more often than the rest! It’s the lone wolf, the rebel, the one who willingly play “devil’s advocate” that we need to listen to more often – before the team heads straight for the path of least resistance.

Bring Out the Best

Arthur Schopenhauer says, “We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves to be like other people.” How many inventions, creative new ideas, ground-breaking technology or world-changing ideas have we lost because some bright, eager, enthusiastic person smothered their uniqueness to blend in with everyone else?

Avoid discouraging the exceptional talent in your team by asking them to hide it under a bushel basket. This is the ‘act like a lady’ mentality that we learned as children: “Don’t let me catch you behaving that way…who do you think you are? Shape up or you’ll be sent back down there where you belong!”

Weak teams are threatened by novelty, challenge and controversy. Highly effective teams have the strength and wisdom to accept each individual’s significant talent and make the most of it. The world’s most successful coaches learned early on how to spot emerging talent and channel it into the right position. The challenge in building a better team is to create an environment where highly talented individuals can shine without demoralizing fellow team members. And winning teams always conduct a “postmortem” of their mistakes to look for the learning that goes along with each penalty call.

Dare Mighty Things

The dynamic between the individual and the team can be difficult to manage. It’s not clear-cut, it may generate conflict and it’s certainly not the safe, easy, predictable path to follow. Yet there’s no significance in safety as Theodore Roosevelt advised when he repeated these words, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those who neither enjoy much or suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

To “dare mighty things”, ask yourself the following questions, then take action to implement the discoveries you make:

– What are your most significant talents?
– Which are you NOT using in your present position? Why is that?
– What will you risk by using those talents?
– When will you begin?