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There’s No ‘I’ In Teamwork… Or Is There?

Jeff Linamen

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How many times have you heard the phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in team“? The sentiment is certainly effective but is it, or should it be the case?

As one of those obsessive people that fully commits to a project, I’ve realized that I still have to set perimeters. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt used or taken advantage of in the end. I tend to give too much physically, emotionally and sometimes financially. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Was it really worth it?”

The last thing you want to hear when you join a team or project is: “It’s only _____ (a game, a concert, a school dance)”… meaning that whatever it is, doesn’t require a strong commitment or dedicated effort. I have never understood why anyone would commit to do anything, if not to do it the best they can in that situation.

I’ve found students especially guilty of this, over committing themselves either to feel self important or out of the feeling of obligation. I still live by the adage, If it’s worth doing… it’s worth doing well (or right). Why commit to something you know you aren’t passionate about, or have no intentions of fully supporting?

This afternoon we will have our first production meeting for the 2013 Spring Musical at Bartlett High School. I’m excited to be stage directing for the second year in a row and extremely proud and honored to be a part of such and amazing, passionate team of professionals. It is bittersweet because this will be the last year we will be working together. This is the our fourteenth year together for three of us… the last year for my two partners in crime.

Over the years our team and program have grown and evolved. One original member retired several years ago and we gained a very talented younger member of our team four years ago. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, laughter and tears and beyond everything else, we’ve become a family. So, seeing them go on to new endeavors as the curtain falls on the final show this coming April will no doubt be an emotional time.

I could probably write a whole book about what I’ve learned and experienced through this collaborative experience but the most important thing I’ve learned, is this: Sometimes there must be an ‘I’ in team. I know this somewhat contradicts the very definition but when a team of individuals is strong and in tune with one another, it is possible to put yourself first, when you have to and still have all the pieces come together flawlessly.

Teamwork can take many forms. Individuals can have their own responsibilities that are pooled together in the end for the final result or it can be completely collaborative from the beginning. Usually, its a combination of the two. Teamwork doesn’t rely solely on the efforts of one individual but instead takes the combined knowledge and experience of all the members to successfully reach its goal. Two people can have two different visions going in to a project and together they can create a third new, entirely different one.

A solid team is built on trust and understanding. In the case of our musical team, we can usually predict how the others will react in a specific circumstance because we know each other so well. Sometimes we surprise each other but in most cases we know where our buttons and triggers are.

Here’s where the ‘I’ comes in. Sometimes you have to know when to step up or step back. You have to be able and willing to say, “I can’t…” or “I don’t have it to give…” and know that it will be okay. A good team is intuitive and can often anticipate when they may need to step up and help another team member succeed. You can’t forget that everyone has a life beyond whatever project it is you are trying to create. Sometimes your focus needs to be elsewhere… and a good team can compensate for that.

I think that one of the biggest issues in team building and probably the biggest struggle in establishing roles is trust. Young teams take time to build that trust and to understand everyone’s process. Without that knowledge, the ‘I’ can come across as selfish and uncaring, when in reality it’s nothing more than self preservation. You have to be empathic to everyone’s needs.

In the past few years, there have been more than one occasion when our team has needed to adjust our roles to help each other out. We have been able to do this successfully, not only because of the trust we’ve built but also the knowledge that we all give selflessly. Sometimes the person needing to say ‘I’, doesn’t. If you are intuitive enough, you may have to do it for them.

Of course, some people are just incapable of being part of a team because they are unwilling to try. In most cases though, with a little time and experience, people can learn to work together with great results. What everyone has to remember is that where there is negativity or resistance… there is a reason for it. It might not be obvious either. A good team will work through any issue and realize the importance of ‘I’ only makes them stronger as a whole.


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