There’s no I in teamwork. A familiar phrase? It is used a lot when discussing teamwork in sport, business and community.
Sure, it is partly true. Teams are made up of individuals that need to commit to a shared purpose, goals and norms. Even sacrifice their own wants and needs when they are clashing with the groups needs.
Take it too far though and you get groupthink and dumb herding behavior.
You also get a convenient truism for leaders to use when they are trying to put down divergent thinkers.
Divergent thinkers in teams are often people who know their own minds and won’t go along with the group because they believe that the group is at risk of making weak decisions or choosing the wrong path.
Research has shown time and time again that divergent thinkers in teams help the team innovate, break through and find new and more productive paths forward and help prevent the group from making costly mistakes. They say “Wait a minute, why are we doing this?” or even “Stop. There has to be a better way”.
Richard Hackman, a Harvard professor and expert on teams even goes as far as to say “Protect your deviant. If you lose your deviant, the team can become mediocre”.
However team leaders often find their questions and challenges to the group inconvenient and uncomfortable. Especially if the team leader feels that their authority is being challenged.
That's when the leader may roll out “there’s no I in team”. Translation: shut up with you whacky ideas and challenging questions. There’s no room for individuals here.
The result? A disengaged team member. A lost opportunity. More of the same.
That's why I prefer to recognise that there is me in the word team. It’s not as obvious. But take it away, and you don't have a team anymore.