There Is No TEAM Without “I”

No Team without I

I crack up every time I hear the old saw, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’.” Really, coach? You got that exactly wrong.

Go hit the showers! The team and I have to talk.

Any successful endeavor you’ve ever heard of started with one utterly indispensible person: the “Instigator”. Without this “I” on your team, nothing will  happen.

The Instigator is the person in the group who says, in the immortal words of Instigator-Extraordinaire Richard Branson, “Screw it! Let’s do it!” Maybe the rest of you are scratching your heads asking each other, “Do what, exactly?”

But then you look and notice this enthusiastic character, this Beginner Of Things, has grabbed the keys, pulled the car around and is now eagerly waiting for the rest of you to pile in. Next stop: adventure!

Entrepreneurs are first and foremost Instigators. They are inventors of businesses. They start with nothing; just some thoughts in the shower or some quick notes jotted down on a napkin at lunch. Then, before you know it, they’ve launched a company – often without pausing to file papers with the State, opening a bank account; ordering stationary… none of that!

That is why the Instigator needs a team: to bring order to the chaos she leaves in her wake. The team is there to sort through the Instigator’s ideas, both the good ones and the much more prevalent half-baked ones, and turn the best ideas and the energy into an actual, functioning business – or nonprofit, or government initiative, or whatever the case may be.

Any successful endeavor you’ve ever heard of started with one utterly indispensible person: the “Instigator”. Without this “I” on your team, nothing will  happen.

There are two classic danger periods that all Instigators face when they create.

The first is a failure to achieve lift: the Instigator lacks the talent on her team to cross the i’s and dot the t’s, and the project never achieves anything close to a sustainable level of success. The creation sputters out before gaining enough inertia to keep going.

Typically, it’s the Instigator’s own personality that trips her up. She has viable ideas, but can’t attract the top talent she needs to support her efforts. She can’t execute on those ideas because she is also a control freak, spotlight hog, or emotional freak show.

Entrepreneurs are first and foremost Instigators. They are inventors of businesses. Before you know it, they’ve launched a company.

The second failure occurs much later in the lifecycle of the endeavor. Ideas made tangible, they’re launched, they gained altitude, and an organization grew up in support. But the organization took over. Now the Instigator is a stranger in her own company, hamstrung by her organization’s bureaucracy. The org itself is resistant to Instigation. “Innovation and creativity aren’t welcome here!” may not literally be posted on the front doors, but may as well be.

Does your “Team” have an “I”? The Instigator can come from anywhere in the group; they don’t have to hold an official leadership position at all. However, they typically hold the role of leader, at least unofficially, because we’re all drawn to the charisma and excitement of the Instigators among us.

Childish and undisciplined as Instigators may sometimes be, no endeavor will get very far without one stirring the rest of the team to action. Who among you plays that role?

If you’re having trouble figuring out what to do next, maybe it’s time you went out and found an Instigator for your team.

To read more about Instigators who stir the pot, check out Shawn’s excellent article from the first week of Switch and Shift’s existence, Instigate Audacious Workplace Causes.


Art by: Urban Hawk

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • hi. its real good Article 

  • Ted,
    Great article.  I am interested in your thoughts on one aspect of it.  If the instigator is the entrepreneur of a company, but isn’t necessarily the right person to continue as CEO when the company grows in size, who do you recommend as the instigator role in the C-suite at that point?  Thanks for your thoughts!

  • David Physick

    Ted, spot on and agree. How do you determine the extent to which someone is an instigator or whether they more naturally through their personality adopt another role in the team. Susan Cain’s excellent book about Introversion helps break the myth that instigators are all “out there” people by trait; they become so through their motivations and / or values systems that they have to do something to achieve something and push themselves to act out of character. Through a consultancy I am involved with, we look at Creativity and Entrepreneurship predisposition in terms of nature of idea, i.e. improve or transform, communicating about idea, i.e. talk broadly or discretely about idea, influencing strength. I think the real secret about Branson is that he knows who he is and what he can do and gets the right team around so all bases are covered. A team of instigators will quickly fly off the road. A more balanced team, managing the tensions and stresses that are always manifest in variance, stands a better change of mapping the road ahead and staying the course.

  • Thanks for helping bust this terrible myth Ted – that teamwork is about conformity. My experience is that when those amazing team dynamics show up, there is more individualism, authenticity, diversity, creativity, and uniqueness than ever. That’s why twelve years ago I published “Teamwork Is An Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility”, for everyone who wants to be done with “I got put on a bad team.”

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