April 23, 2018

Is There No “I” in “Teamwork”? | Backtalk

“We need to work as a team.” “Let’s do it for the good of the team.” “You aren’t working as a team player.”

Those phrases can be heard around many offices, often during meetings, in the halls, or from the CEO. Another phrase with which everyone is familiar is “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.” Teamwork is undoubtedly an important buzzword in the workplace today. As someone who has often had to be a “solo” presence in my work responsibilities, I have really relished the experiences I have had as a part of team atmosphere. My teamwork experiences have been instrumental in providing opportunities for innovation and growth. That said, I would have to dispute that there is no “I” in teamwork. Here is what I mean:

  • On a team, you cannot assume that everyone will leave their personalities behind and work as one. In fact, you do not want that to happen. Everyone has their own “I-ness” to offer, and will bring valuable perspective to the task at hand.
  • Each person on the team should contribute to the project to the best of his/her ability. Each individual should have a part for which they are responsible as an INDIVIDUAL, with an eye to collaboration, cooperation, and compromise. Each person should be held to a standard of how his/her part is accomplished and achieved. If you are not interested in the project, and don’t plan to truly contribute, you should not be part of the team. Teams thrive with open communication, candor, respect, and trust. Someone with a negative attitude with no plans to add in a positive way would be better off somewhere else.
  • Each person is responsible for his/her own part in the final outcome. For example, when a project is being presented or implemented, each team member should support the goal and be responsible for being positive about contributing to and promoting that goal (the teamwork part). Being responsible for your own feelings and keeping them in check for the good of the goal is combining “I-ness” with a teamwork approach.

I like to think of the following as a good formula:

Teamwork=collaboration + cooperation + compromise. A corollary or residual outcome of this process is (hopefully) respect.

In libraries, teamwork is essential. In the library DNA for many years, the libraries of today are running on smaller staffs and multi-tasking in positions. Where once libraries may have had multiple people in a department, today often just two or three people are charged with developing programs, working with the public, keeping abreast of new technology platforms, and doing the administrative tasks. With such a tight-knit group, it is imperative that everyone is aware and supportive of the goals, and understands the steps to meet the goals. As most of us have found through our own experiences, just one negative person can destroy the whole tone of the department. Compromise in these situations is extremely important; each member of the team needs to be a stakeholder in what is going to be accomplished. The team (and library) will also get a boost by sharing in the rewards of a job well done.

There are many ways that you can foster an atmosphere of teamwork in your workplace. Here are a few that I have found to get your team off to a good start:

  • Have a leader of the project. Not a micromanager, and not an overly aggressive or domineering personality. The ability to be tactful and to encourage respect among the team is a must.
  • Value EVERY contribution with true consideration. Sometimes the first time you hear an idea it may seem out there, but then the idea can grow and become truly innovative.
  • Invite every stakeholder in the project, but be clear that you only want those passionate or interested in the project to be involved. And make it OK for people to opt out without being stigmatized. You do not want people on the team who cannot work to and promote the goal.
  • Don’t over-research the ideas (at least initially). As one who is usually overly prepared for everything, it will intimidate (and bore) people if you provide five articles on what you are thinking about the project. Send links to articles in email, or have a copy available to route so people can browse if they are interested and have time.
  • Praise the team (and yes, individuals, too) as the project moves along. Give credit where credit is due. Do this both within the team, and without to upper management.
  • Say what you LIKE about people’s ideas as often as you say what you do not like. If you have concerns, explain why. Almost all ideas have something in them worth considering, even if it becomes only a small part of the finished product.
  • Stay both enthusiastic and compassionate. Again, understand that each person is bringing their own personalities and judgments to the group. Celebrate the differences and find consensus with a focus on respect.

Teamwork definitely has “I” in it–as a part of the team, you need to recognize and embrace that, and build success from there.


Maria Bagshaw is an Adjunct-Reference/Instruction Librarian at Elgin Community College, Elgin, IL.

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  1. Kari Sabrie says:

    Very well articulated. Thank you for a good reminder to pass onto my team.

  2. Nice post Maria. I like your mention of compromise- it’s very true indeed and vitally important for teamwork, ensuring the team function fully and effectively. It’s something that I talk about in my next blog post, out on Thursday.