There’s no “I” in team, but there should be

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

Being a team player is passé. Long the mantra of the corporate world, all employers babble about hiring a team player; every employee wants to be a team player (or feels like they have to say they’re a team player on paper).

Well, I’m throwing it out there and saying the one thing you’re not supposed to say in the office. I’m done with being a team player. I’m done working with team players and I’m done hiring team players. It’s time we started separating ourselves from the pack.

Team Players Do What’s Best For The Team, Not the Company

I’m not unaware of the benefits of working in a team, nor did I miss the memo. I understand the value of team work, group projects, collaborating together to get the work done, and driving the company forward towards a common goal. But whether you’re a small .com or the largest of multi-nationals, the fact is that team players will always do what’s best for the team. And what’s best for the team isn’t necessarily what’s best for the company.

Let me give you an example. Two employees work in a chocolate shop. The owner is lax with her inventory and never really knows exactly how much she has sold. She trusts her team and leaves them to work unsupervised. Team player one thinks it’s a good idea (as the owner will never find out) to enjoy some of the delicious white chocolate drops on display.

As it’s just a one-off occasion, team player two joins in. Flash forward to the next day. Team player two now has a craving for chocolate. Team player one can hardly say no because they were involved in yesterday’s heist. And so it goes on. Until regular eating in to the stock starts eating in to the business owner’s profits.

Here’s another. Your employees work online and you’re too busy to monitor them all the time and neither should you have to; you have a general manager to do that. So you don’t notice that employee X hasn’t logged on for work today, or if you do, your highly talented ball pitcher of a general manager tells you that he’s off sick with “food poisoning” when everyone else knows he was out late partying last night.

I could go on, but you get the idea. While you want your employees to work well together, you don’t want them working together against you.

Team Players Have to “Take One For The Team”

What’s wrong with taking one for the team? While we’ve all helped out in the name of camaraderie at some time and pulled a late shift, covered up the errors of another member, or done someone else’s job for them several times without credit, when your employees start making this a regular thing, their workloads seems to pile up. And up.

Your brightest employees are getting weighed down under a weight of tasks that don’t belong to them and they’re getting frustrated. Some people are highly productive, efficient, insightful, and hardworking. Others not so much. Working in a team for a lot of employees more often than not means carrying the rest of the team and making up for ineptitudes of others. This is not the basis of long and gainful employment for anyone and your best people will eventually leave. Only then will you truly be able to judge the efficiency of a team left without their star player.

OK, OK, I know there are a million responses to this and abundant case studies of textbook team work success. I’m not denying that many teams work great together – like Barcelona, for example – but I’m willing to bet that take Messi out of the line-up and move him to a team further down in La Liga Españolaand he’ll start to feel the exhaustion of playing everyone’s position.

Would You Rather Be A Lion Or A Sheep?

Stupid question. Who would rather be a sheep than a lion? And yet a lot of people are acting like sheep at work. And forcing them to flock together in the same direction can have a damaging effect on your company. Your team fails to innovate because they’re used to doing it the same way. Your team is not open to new ideas because they follow the same model over and over.

It can be a real eye-opener coming into a company for the first time and being blind-sided by the woeful inefficiency and glaringly obvious problems in a system that’s never been changed because it’s just “always been that way”.

Sheep chew the cud and get herded along. A lion will get out there and attack new customers (metaphorically of course), find new sales channels, build alliances, motor your company to greatness. Granted, you may have a massacre on your hands if you don’t hire a lion tamer or two to go between the beast and his flock. But I’d rather take the risk. After all, who wants to be surrounded by yes-men? (And women).

I’m not discriminatory. I’ll consider hiring a team player for my next project, but I certainly won’t ask for one. If they lack the spark that says – “I will stop you in your tracks when you’re having a bad idea”; “I will outperform because I want to shine above the rest”, and “I will contribute useful ideas that drive your company forward” – then they can be as good as they want at catching wide balls, but I’ll pass.


Christina Comben (Article author) is a freelance copywriter specializing in B2B website content, marketing materials, article writing, and blogging. Multilingual and qualified to MBA level, Christina has produced investor guides and economic reports in developing countries for Spanish newspaper ABC and currently works as Head of Content at Day Translations.