I have a theory: When we give trophies merely for participation and not only to the winners, what we gain in “warm fuzzies,” we lose in personal responsibility. We have slowly become a culture that negates a personal pursuit of excellence in favor of team spirit. Oh sure, we talk about striving for excellence, but clichés such as, “There’s no “I” in team” have neutered the concept of individual responsibility.
The University of Alabama’s head football coach, Nick Saban, in a recent Fortune Magazine article said, “Now, everybody always says there’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is an ‘I’ in win, because the individuals make the team what it is, and how they think and what they do is important to the team. So when you act like the individual is not important, well, it is damn important who these people are and what they are.”
Unfortunately, promoting team spirit all too often results in the individuals who comprise the team failing to take personal responsibility for their own performance. If it’s up to the whole and not the individual, what motivates each one to the personal pursuit of excellence necessary to achieve a win for the team?
Consider for a moment, why teams exist. What purpose do they serve? Camaraderie or competition? I suggest both are equally present and equally important. Without a common goal—winning—any team is merely a group of people enjoying the same activity at the same place and time. Winning is the objective, and each win is achieved by outperforming an opponent.
I’m going to step out on a limb here: I am not personally in favor of awarding participation trophies. If one team outperforms another, only the winner should walk away with the spoils. You may disagree and think that trying is its own reward. But why play better or push harder if every competitor receives equal recognition? Trying and failing may bring the satisfaction of knowing you tried your best. But trying and succeeding should bring about a greater sense of accomplishment.
In the real world, the business world, trying your best isn’t enough. Effort doesn’t always keep a company in business. There are no rewards for trying. There isn’t even the promise of continued existence. Let’s further explore the “team” concept to business. Each member of an organization is an important player on the team and the individual contribution each one makes is essential to the success of the business as a whole.
Teams and businesses succeed or fail based on the contributions of their members, and only when each one takes the utmost responsibility for his or her individual performance is success possible. Each player must be able to rely on the drive and determination of their team members to excel and ultimately to claim victory. Winning is worth recognition. Unlike Little League, in business, there are no trophies for participation.
Where is the quality of each player’s performance determined? Nowhere but in the mind of each individual player. It can be inspired by the coach, but it must be owned by the player. The “I.” Not the team. Each one must take responsibility to make the sacrifices necessary to win. In so doing, the team, or business, heads toward the consistent excellence that results in successful business. It also serves to achieve continued success against the ever-present threat of business competition.
Each member of the team, on the field or in the office, serves a purpose. When the focus is entirely on the performance of the team, individual players may shirk their responsibility, thinking someone else will do what they should be doing. Consider the tale of four “someones” who fell into this trap:
The Tale of Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody
This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
Which one are you? Are you looking for a reason not to do what you could be doing? Has an overemphasis on the “team” left you feeling like your individual contribution isn’t crucial to victory? Each individual makes a necessary contribution that enables the team to achieve victory or shirks his or her responsibility with the expectation that someone else will make up for it. The organization is important, but the organization only succeeds as a result of each individual contribution. In other words, each “I” on the team must perform at the highest level in order for the team to W-I-N!