I played a lot of sports in my school days – football, basketball and tennis, mostly — and at least once a season, like clockwork, one of my coaches could be relied upon to get up on his soapbox and declare, “There is no ‘I’ in team!” Know-it-alls that we were, my buddies and I would just roll our eyes, thinking, “We get it, already. We’re not dummies! There’s no room for a prima donna in team sports.” And this is certainly true. One of my favorite quotations (author unknown) is: “A team with a star player is a good team, but a team without one is a great team.” One big ego really can bring everyone down,
But are individuals so unimportant to teams? It all depends on how you look at it.

If we’re talking about team-work, then sure, overall performance tends to rise when participants sublimate their own personal objectives for the sake of a collective outcome. A good example from the present day is the amazing phenomenon of the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors basketball team, currently maintaining the top record in the NBA. This is a team with two big-time all-stars, the sweet-shooting Klay Thompson and the transcendent Stephen Curry, a leading MVP candidate. So yes, they’ve got their hotshots. Nevertheless, what makes the Warriors great this year is their near total lack of ego, from the top down. Curry, for example, never asks his coach for more minutes so he can inflate his stats. Two former all-stars, veterans David Lee and Andre Iguodala, are happily coming off the bench every night, for the first time in their careers, willing to do whatever the coach asks for the benefit the team. Pretty much everyone on the Warriors realizes that the ultimate goal is a championship — not solo numbers, not individual fame and glory.

Clearly, excessive individual ego has little place on a successful team. But individuals do matter – most especially in regard to team-energy, where “I” (individualism) has a big role to play in productivity. Energy – both positive and negative — is contagious, like a virus. If, as an individual, you bring a bright, sunny, can-do attitude to the workplace, it can “infect” the whole team with positivity. And the opposite, of course, is true as well. One Debbie Downer can poison the conversation faster than the Roman Empress Agrippina could feed toxic mushrooms to her husband, Claudius.

So hopefully it’s agreed, then, that while there is no place for the individual “glory hog” in a successful team, individuals ARE important. Heck, a team without people is, well, an individual, right! Although our egos might need to be suppressed for the sake of the team, our positive energy needs to be expressed in order for the group to reach its ultimate performance level. WE have a responsibility to up our energetic games by working on ourselves.

No matter how you spell team, no matter what vowels (E, A, or I) exist at the center, teams matter greatly in our society. As individuals strengthen their communication skills and emotional intelligence, so does the team; as teams become smarter and more “functional”, so does the organization; as the organization becomes more enlightened, so does the entire industry; and with globalization, enlightened industries have the power to impact the country and therefore change the world.

So there you have it: world change starts with teams made up of individuals. The “I’s” do have it!