Putting the I back in Team


Mention the age-old adage “there’s no I in team” these days and you’ll likely get a roll of eyes and a few tired comments. Well, I hope that’s what happens. We are surely way past the days when individual talent, ideas and efforts are compromised to end up with a mediocre or easier to manage result. Leadership today depends on recognizing the essence of each individual, creating an environment where unique talent can thrive, then standing back to watch the momentum created when one person’s idea or effort sparks off a torrent of possibilities and new results.

I suspected the original quote on removing the I from team, had come from a bygone book full of “perfect team recipes”. However, as best I can establish, it comes from a conversation between Michael Jordan and coach Tex Winter, after a game where Jordan brings the team back from losing with a 25 point run. Coach Winter looks at Jordan as he walks off the floor and says: “There’s no “I” in team!” and Jordan replies, “There’s not, but there’s an ‘I’ in win!”

Leadership today depends on recognizing the essence of each individual

Ice hockey or soccer players very quickly integrate their specific talent with the skills of other players, when they transfer to a new team. Acknowledging each person’s contribution, they inspire each other to perform to the highest. The fastest skater on the hockey team doesn’t slow down because the others can’t keep up with him; rather he uses his speed to accelerate the performance of the whole team and to set the bar higher for others to respond to. The high performance of the team depends on connecting the individual talents of each member so that the cumulative result is greater than any one talent and yet still recognizes and values individual talent, nurturing, refining, developing and adjusting it towards the greater good. Listen to these players interviewed after a win and you’ll hear them acknowledge each other’s contribution and how it created the opportunities for their own skills to shine.

The high performance of the team depends on connecting the individual talents of each member

The same principles will serve well as we move today’s business environment from one of management and control, towards true leadership. Leaders who understand the needs and talents of each individual (and this presumes giving priority to conversations to pull this out for each team member) will be challenged to create environments to optimize each person’s contribution. A sports coach doesn’t presume to tell his team how many goals to score. Rather he creates the conditions for them to combine their talents and optimize their roles, in order to score as many goals as possible. Ultimate success sits in the hands (or feet) of the players themselves. They own the result. The result is outside of the coach’s direct control and will often exceed the coach’s expectations. When it doesn’t, each player takes full ownership of their role and owns up to where he or she might have done better.

For too long now we have presumed that the role of a leader in business is to set the overall vision, to show people what to aim for and to motivate everyone to achieve the results set out for them. Our next generation of leaders has the opportunity to become extraordinarily skilled in asking the real questions that unlock individual talent, and listening for what inspires each person to go beyond the mediocre and aim for higher ground.

Only when we put every I firmly back in team, will we inspire individual leadership, realize full potential and see surprising new results.



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Aileen Gibb is an inspirational coach, facilitator and leader whose work has taken her around the globe. She has worked with leaders and teams in Kazakhstan, Venezuela, the Middle East, France, Angola and in many companies in the UK and North America, to uncover new possibilities and transform results. Where she has travelled she has been amazed at the power of coaching-style conversations and the choices people make to become more successful in their work and to live more fulfilling lives. Aileen is from the small village of Fyvie, in North East Scotland and has lived for the past twelve years amidst the rocky mountain in Canmore, Alberta, Canada with her husband, Jake and their two boxer dogs. Aileen thanks you for your interest in VOICES, please let her know how it inspires you.

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