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Today I am going to write about something a little controversial – the ‘I’ in team.

We are taught from a young age that there is no ‘I’ in team.  We consistently hear phrases from parents, coaches and teachers such as:

‘We are all in this together’

‘The team is only as strong as our weakest link’

‘So-and-so is a real team player’

Time and again we have been encouraged to subsume our own goals and identity into the greater goals of the team.

This is not a negative thing.  Well-formed teams operating in harmony are capable of incredible feats.  But why would we participate in teams if we didn’t get something out of it for ourselves?  That is the focus of this piece – what we get from teams, not what we need to give.

Next time you lament being part of a team and want to strike out on your own, consider some of these benefits.

  •  The feel good factor

Being a part of teams meets two significant human needs – our need for connection, and our need for contribution.  (Check out Tony Robbins’s work for more on human needs)

Our need for connection is essentially our need to feel like we belong, like we are not alone, and at the most basic level that we are loved.

When a sports team jumps all over each other in a moment of victory that is definitely a strong moment of connection.  When a business team delivers a project and gets a significant accolade there is a sense of shared accomplishment and bonding.

Our need for contribution is the need to feel a part of something greater than ourselves, and to give of ourselves.  All humans desire to add something to the world, and to other individuals.  Bringing your abilities to a team allows you to not only contribute, but to have that contribution recognised and appreciated.

  • A strengths focus

I know that once a project kicks off I am full of energy.  I want to sail full speed ahead into the unknown ocean.  If I was captaining my own ship, I would have all the sails raised, be standing at the wheel and staring into the horizon.

I would probably hit a reef in the first 20 minutes and sink the entire boat.

Looking out for risks, plotting a consistent course, and managing my energy over a whole season are just not my strength.  I’m delighted to hand over any portion of this work to someone whose strength this is.  Then I can go back to doing what I do best… staring at the horizon and recklessly filling the sails with air.

In sports there are people better suited to defense or offence, strategy or just playing in the moment, firing other team members up or being a calming influence under pressure.

No one is good at everything.  Being on a team lets you focus on what you do best.  What you do worst will be covered by someone else.

  • Instant network

Early on in your career, the most frequent piece of advice you will hear is to ‘network’.  In fact, I’ve probably been drilled in the importance of networking over 100 times.

You know when you go to a party and there is one person that seems to be the centre of the room.  They know everyone, are up to date on all the news and if you have a question they will know someone that knows the answer.

That is not me.  I am the person standing by the food table munching M&Ms and talking to the 3 people I know really well.

Teams are a godsend because once you been in a team with someone, you will always have a connection that you can call on.  Need a coach for your son’s soccer team – call up the best guy from your social league team from ten years ago.  Need an introduction for a new job at your dream company?  There is probably someone from your sporting background that works there now.  Looking for help on a project – someone you have shared field time with will have the expertise you need.

All you have to do is call them up out of the blue, introduce yourself and remind them of your shared team, and then ask for help.

Voila – a successful network built from the scattered remains of your past teams.

  • Standard setting

The biggest way that teams help us individually is that they help us set new standards for ourselves.

You may have heard the maxim that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.  Tony Robbins puts it like this: “People’s lives are a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group.  Who you spend time with is who you become.”

And who is your peer group?  Teams.

When you train with people that are not at the same level as you what happens?  You get a bit lazy right?  You run just fast enough to out-pace them, but not your absolute fastest.  You focus just hard enough to execute your skills to a level where you will be the best, but not to your absolute maximum level.  You lift just enough weight to be the strongest, but not enough to really push yourself.

Your standards drop to the standards of the people you are training with.

In contrast, I often play beach volleyball against the guys.  They hit harder, the pace of play is faster, and they are generally more skillful.  What does that do to my game?  It forces me to step up in order to keep up.  It raises my standards for what an acceptable level of play is.

The lesson being, surround yourself with a team who are better than you.  Who work harder, produce more, are smarter, more skillful, confident and happier.  It will become your new standard.

With a little rearranging…

I am not for a minute suggesting that teams aren’t also about contribution.  About achieving more than the sum of parts (for the Gestalt fans).  Or simply combining skill sets to deliver outcomes that individuals couldn’t do alone.  But teams are also about you and me as individuals.  Think occasionally about what you are getting, not just what you are giving.

Teams let you focus on your strengths while someone else does the tasks that are weaknesses.  Teams force the antisocial and introverts among us to have friends and networks.  And teams set our standards for life.

So the next time you work in a team do not just think what can I do to help the team, but what can the team do to help me.

There may not be an ‘I’ in team, but with a little rearranging, there is a ‘me’.