Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 26;   July 1, 2009: Teamwork Myths: I vs. We

Teamwork Myths: I vs. We

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest

The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest of the Olympic National Park in Washington state, USA. The Hoh Rain Forest, which receives over 12 feet of rain annually, is one of the few temperate rain forests in the world. Rain forests can be viewed as team efforts among the millions of species that comprise them. Working together, the species of the forest produce a complex system that none of them could produce alone. And each of them is trying its best to work on its own behalf. The species do help each other, but their primary goal is to help themselves. Nature is replete with such relationships between species, one excellent example of which resides in your own lower digestive tract. We can learn much from nature about teams and teamwork. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

In two earlier essays about teamwork myths, I explored myths about forming teams and myths about conflict within teams. In this third installment I look at myths about the supposed need to surrender the self to the team.

There's no "I" in team
This clever slogan (clever in English, that is) implies that team members can support team goals only if they abandon their individual goals. Many in management and team leadership roles believe that teams are manageable only if their members subscribe to this belief. Ironically, from the management perspective, it is a self-serving belief.
The reality can be disappointing. First, most performance management systems emphasize individual performance. Performance management focuses on compensation, which is essentially individual in many organizations. Second, although team performance is not the sum of individual performances, it does arise, in part, from individual performance. In most organizations, there is plenty of "I" in team; but there is also "we." The complexity and richness of this situation can't be captured in a slogan.
The inherent need of humans to be individuals limits team effectiveness
Plausible-sounding as this assertion might be, it offers no explanation or justification. Precisely how does human individuality limit team effectiveness?
Certainly there are examples of conflict and dissension in teams, but there are also examples of teams of people with complementary skills, offering each other mutual support. Tension there may be, but team members and team leaders around the world can learn — and have learned — how to manage it.
Ambition and insecurity always undermine cooperation
I've seen this myth in use personally. Job insecurity can indeed undermine the willingness to cooperate. When job insecurity or desire for promotion or plum assignments is in the air, cooperation seems risky.
The important word here is always. Managers who encourage cutthroat competition, or who use layoffs or pay freezes to deal with the consequences of bad decisions or bad strategy, or to protect shareholder value at the expense of employees, will undoubtedly limit cooperative behavior. Sadly, it's a tradeoff many managers make willingly, if sometimes blindly. But it's a tradeoff, not an axiom. Insecurity is less threatening to cooperation if we work to limit insecurity.

In a workplace where people
feel respected, they usually
respond by taking
the initiative
In a workplace where people feel respected by peers, by subordinates and by supervisors, they usually respond by taking initiative. They seek not only to demonstrate their willingness and ability to contribute, but also to help their co-workers do the same. They do this, in part, because they benefit themselves when they and their co-workers excel. "I" and "We" blend together, in a way.

But even more important, these acts of contribution, collaboration, and support do create and sustain a sense of belonging. They make you feel good. Try it. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Finding Work in Tough Times: Strategy  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

For more teamwork myths, see "Teamwork Myths: Formation," Point Lookout for May 27, 2009, and "Teamwork Myths: Conflict," Point Lookout for June 17, 2009.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGWxUVbAGbPZMyqpUner@ChacxyRgCiiwhZeinomyoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

Scones and coffeeNever, Ever, Kill the Messenger
If you're a manager in a project-oriented organization, you need to know the full, unvarnished Truth. When you kill a messenger, you deliver a message of your own: Tell me the Truth at your peril. Killing messengers has such predictable results that you have to question any report you receive — good news or bad.
One negative outweighs a world of positivesWhen It Really Counts, Be Positive
When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
A field of corn severely stunted by droughtToxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Virtuality
In virtual teams, toxic conflict sometimes seems to erupt spontaneously. People who function effectively in co-located teams can find themselves repeatedly embroiled in conflicts that seem to lack specific causes. What triggers toxic conflict in virtual teams?
The John Hollis Bankhead Lock and Dam on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, AlabamaFirst Aid for Wounded Conversations
Groups that meet regularly sometimes develop patterns of tense conversations that become obstacles to forward progress. Here are some ideas for releasing the tension.
RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.

See also Emotions at Work and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A rainbowComing May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
Signing the Constitution of the United States, 1787And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenThiucGTlTcuZTAfMner@ChacDIftXNYTQvvqyXYzoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.