Don’t Take the “I” Out of Teamwork

The use of the word “I” is often berated as the reason why teams lack cohesion. It is seen as an attitude conflicting with the basic principles of teamwork. It is considered the nemesis of team spirit and unity. But the use of “I” is negative only when it is overused or used in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every team member brings expertise, skills, knowledge and individual viewpoints built up over years of experience. It is therefore far fetched to assume that anyone can take the “I” out of a person. For a team to be effective, the team members need to have a strong sense of “I” to achieve excellence in their individual roles, and they also need a strong sense of “we” for team cohesion and collaborative work. Both go hand in hand.

Achievement oriented people have a strong sense of self worth and an innate drive that comes from sheer belief in their own capabilities. Teamwork is all about putting together individual skills to amplify the quality of the output from the group effort. An organisation has to build on and develop individual strengths and nurture individual self-worth so that each team member is able to contribute optimally. Every individual hopes for personal recognition and this is in addition to the accolades that a team gets collectively when they put up a good performance. Individual effort has to be given its due for the person to feel charged up and driven to perform even better. “I” therefore has a definite place within a team:

“I” is essential for personal development
“I” is essential for self-esteem
“I” is essential for motivation
“I” is essential for involvement and contribution
“I” is essential for the quality of the performance

Effective teams know the right time and place for the word “I”. “I” has a place for a person when he or she is conversing or discussing issues within a team. “I” also has a place during appraisal meetings or review sessions with a team leader or team manager.

These were my goals six months back when we discussed my role within the team and what is expected of me. This is what I have accomplished.

However, when a team member represents the team outside this close knit set up, i.e., with a client, a customer or senior management, “we” is the politically right usage. The use of “we” implies unity and signals collective effort, consensus, cohesion and cooperation. The use of “we” creates confidence that the combined knowledge of the team was at play in developing a good proposal or good recommendations. When one or more team members harp on “I”, it indicates some amount of dissent or lack of unity within the team to the client at the receiving end.

When individuals feel secure that their contribution will be recognised and rewarded, there is a better chance of them getting fully involved in the team process. Unhealthy competition and unnecessary rivalry can take energy and focus away from the task. If you want to sustain team effectiveness it is imperative that an organisation pay heed to individual aspirations. There is no “we” until the “I” is secure. In other words, the team cannot function to full potential unless individuals are motivated to give their best to the team process.

In conclusion, the usage of both “I” and “we” have a definite place in teams.

“I” represents belief in the self and the quest for accomplishments. “We” represents commitment and allegiance to the team effort.

If you take the “I” out of the equation you will in all probability be left with a listless and lack lustre work output where the team members may get along o.k. but nothing great and truly outstanding ever comes out of the team.

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