Leadership Cliché Challenged and Busted – There is no "I" in TEAM replaced with There is definitely an "I" in WIN.

Have you ever noticed that many of the leadership clichés we live by are not living up to their reputation? Leaders flippantly throw around sound bites of so-called "wisdom," picked up at conferences or from leadership books and use them without truly questioning whether or not they are true or even useful. Bit by bit, these clichés have reached the status of "conventional wisdom" – widespread beliefs that are not only untested but untrue – also causing havoc in the workplace. 

So as a lover of what’s true, I begin the campaign to eradicate the old clichés and update these concepts to be useful in our new realities:

Cliché # 1 – There is no "I" in Team.

I often hear leaders reminding their teams, "There is no ‘I’ in TEAM." And the way I see it, this is the exact problem with teams. While no one is ostentatiously taking all of the credit, they are still allowed to think that they have worked harder than others, are far more valuable than others, or were not to blame for the lack of results. While they may no longer be discussing these beliefs publicly, they are spending a great deal of organizational resources colluding with co-workers behind the scenes, meanwhile not improving their own approaches or performances. Far worse is the fact that no one is taking accountability for their part in creating the current results. 

There may not be an "I" in the word "TEAM" but there certainly is an "I" in WIN!  And in "PRODUCTIVITY," "IMPROVEMENT," "DRIVE FOR RESULTS" and "COMPETITVE." In teams that are able to succeed in challenging circumstances, there are plenty of "I’s" being used – with the account of how we got to where we are today with the current results.

How Do Teams Win?

Leaders need to set clear expectations and goals. They then need to focus the energy of the team on either achieving the desired results or learning what to adapt next so that the desired results can be achieved. Learning and results will only come when each team member is able to honestly assess their results without considering the circumstances. Next, they need to ask themselves whether or not they hit the mark and then account for their own actions, assumptions, behaviors and choices that contributed to the shortcomings of the team. Only with this clear line of sight directly acknowledging what "I" did to contribute, can one know what exactly they need to change so that they can choose to respond differently in the future. 

Tips to reach the finish line:

1)    Leaders must be very clear about the results that are required from teams. Team projects were approved and budgeted resources based upon a business case that outlines which results are necessary to even justify the investment. Do not allow the team to re-write the business case mid-project. 

2)    Subsequently, leaders need to be incredibly honest about a team’s results. If the team nailed it – great! Celebrate and reward. But if the team did not reach the mark, stop giving them credit for effort or allowing them to applaud lackluster results and justify shortcomings by "considering the circumstances." There will always be circumstances and teams need to learn to succeed in spite of circumstances – that is the value they add, mitigating the risks of the circumstances while implementing and executing.

3)    Lead the team through a thorough accounting of their contributions to the results. If the team had great results, ask each member of the team to account for the decisions, choices, approaches and behaviors that led to the success so that they can intentionally duplicate it in the future. If lackluster results were delivered, ask each member to identify ways in which they contributed to the end result. Their responses need to begin with, "I chose," "I denied," "I assumed," "I did," "I didn’t," "I needed to have" and "I acted" (This is where the "I" in TEAM comes in and the magic starts to happen!). Once each individual can identify how they specifically contributed, they can then commit to what they will do differently in the future – facilitating great learning, individual development, and better future results. And most importantly, the team becomes immune to circumstances when it comes to results.   

Every great leader needs to firmly insist on quite a few "I’s" in team. So, please, leaders, go today and correct your teams. Tell them you lied to them just to make them all feel better and it backfired. Be very clear with them that we need to put the "I" back into TEAM in order to restore results back into the workplace! 

Cliché # 1: Properly busted. On to Cliché #2: "There are no stupid questions."

Remember you rock and Cy rocks!

Lead on my friend.

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  • Jay Spears

    I applaud the guidance for leaders, but it has nothing to do with the purpose of the saying. Perhaps people have forgotten what it means, or worse they use it without knowing what it means.

    “There is no I in team” should be used to remind complaining stars and “wanna-be” stars that ALL the work has to get done, and sometimes that means taking one of the dirty jobs or the no credit assignments. It is about helping each other succeed rather than competing against your teammates, or worse sabotaging them. Rather than accountability after the fact, it is a call to all action during the project.

    As you rightly note, it takes a lot of messages delivered at the right time to achieve extraordinary results. One saying by its self, is as useless and possibly destructive as any of the “I” words taken alone. Good leaders motivate with the right message at the right time, enable with the right resources, and then hold individuals accountable for the results.

  • Jim Foley

    I was just writing about this for my Teamwork workshop at OSU this Friday. Some managers push this "No I" idea because they don't want people on the "team" (supervisees) pursuing their own agendas. But teamwork is not about abandoning individual talents and agendas, it is about blending individual action into group success. Cookie-cutter yes-men are not a team, they are an inefficient robotic arm for a manager to use to execute tasks. There are ideally lots of "I"s, not just the "I" in accountability or even the three "I"s in responsibility. On a team, I want other people saying, "I'd like to join the effort," "I wonder if we could improve this process by..." "I appreciate the work you've done," "I've got some experience and talent which may be useful here..." "I'm interested in hearing more about your idea," but especially, "I want to join you in doing what it takes to make this (team, project, process, relationship) work."

  • Melanie Schmidt

    Bravo -- Restore order by equating the "me" that IS in "team" with the "I" of accountability!