I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the “there’s no ‘I’ in team” mantra. I get what it’s trying to do – to remove ego, to put the team before self. And I agree with that. But in the phrase, I also read a subtle undercurrent of ‘individuals don’t matter – don’t rock the boat’.
Teams are made up of individuals – all of whom matter hugely. And in order to create high performing teams, we need individuals who show up fully, who have the integrity to do the right thing, the courage to make a suggestion – or disagree with one, the dedication to commit to team goals even at the expense of functional goals.
It’s hard not to let ego or fear get in the way. Because a team is much more than a group of well qualified, experienced and hard-working individuals – it’s a huge number of relationships: The pair that started on the same day, the three that go for coffee together, the four that support the same club, the five that did the charity cycle – and on and on. In a team of 7 people there are 94 sets of relationships (pairs, trios, etc.). And the strength of the team lies in the strength of those 94 relationships.
Team purpose, values, goals – these can all help to build and sustain the team. But at the heart of every great team is trust. Lencioni talks about trusting enough to allow ourselves be vulnerable. And in order to do our best creative work, to float the mad suggestion, to believe in the ambitious vision, to have tough conversations – we have got to put ego aside and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And we can only do that if we know the rest of the team has our back.
Creating the environment where each individual can fully show up is difficult work that takes time and real skill. It’s the mark of a great leader.