Individuals and teams

Kathy Sierra stands up for the power of one.

I’m not dissing teams–our books are all collaborative efforts and far better because of it. And we consider ourselves to be on a team that includes our publisher O’Reilly. It’s not teams that are the problem, it’s the rabid insistence on teamwork. Group think. Committee decisions.

Yeah, too often the plea for teamwork is a confusing demand for a kind of bland conformity. And like Kathy I am bored of that mantra about “There is no I in team”, often uttered by egomaniacs. (I know an achingly funny true story about that phrase being used by a top manager who truly got his comeuppance, but it is so vulgar I dare not blog it here. Skype me and I’ll tell you though.)

I could give an equally effusive raspberry to the idea of the solitary genius, the passionate misfit with no clothes sense and an unusual take on ideas of personal hygience. The old artist-in-a-garret model of creativity. That’s not altogether accurate, either.

Isaac Newton famously admitted that he stood on the shoulders of giants. (Though it may be that this was actually a wicked jibe at this close rival who happened to be a very short man).

This is not an either/or debate. What most excites me is seeing teams that function way above the dull consensus, where diversity leads to thinking that is beyond the capacity of one person. When the ideas happen between people and no-one’s fighting to own them personally. I think that’s what Kathy points to in her conclusion

I do believe that a team can change the world, but it’s still a team of individuals supporting each other in being brave, strong, innovative, and passionate.

I might stick a “com” in front of passionate though. That’s an under-rated quality in organisational life.

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4 thoughts on “Individuals and teams

  1. Ben Hamilton

    “There is no I in team”

    I once worked for a particularly good manager. He used to say: The definition of a team? Everyone doing what I say.

    Teams need a leader. Not just team players.

    Reply
  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.

    The very best team experiences I’ve had have not been characterised by a single, strong leader. Leadership moved around from person-to-person.

    It sounds like in your Pret story, the leadership stayed more with a single person.

    I think both are good examples of leadership. I think in Kathy’s post and mine there’s a sense that there is no absolute truth here, more of a paradox of group and individual thinking.

    Reply
  3. Jory Des Jardins

    I like this definition! I’ve often considered myself a horrible team player–I think I was more turned off by teams that confuse a muddy, mediocre effort with teamwork. There is, in the old parlance of Steven Covey from way back in his SEVEN habits days, an expression he uses to define advantageous teamwork–Interdependence, where teams build on each others’ strengths.

    Good definition, Kathy and Johnnie!

    Reply

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