There is an “I” in Team

It is popular to emphasize in sports and business, “There is no ‘I’ in Team.” This emphasis, of course, I understand. The good of the team certainly should not be sacrificed for one player, employee, coach or manager. Yet, in a way, the emphasis lessens the accountability of the individual, a word with “I” as its first letter.
As you read this column, I am either in the process of speaking or have just spoken to a business group about “Individuals Make The Plays and Teams Win The Championships – A Positive, Proactive Approach to Personal and Group Accountability.” The initial sentence in the presentation is, “There is an ‘I’ in Team.”

In my A Strategy For Winning book, St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa testifies the emphasis that catches his eye most is, “All successful people have problems to overcome, and unless you accept personal responsibility and make a personal commitment, you cannot win.”

This means if you are an employee, act as if you are in business for yourself and have a contract with your customers. Your internal customers include management and co-laborers. Your external customers are those for whom you and your organization provide service or materials. If you are a sports team member, your internal customers include your coaches and fellow players. Your external customers are the people who support you and want to see you perform at your best as an individual and as a member of a well-oiled unit.

After you identify your customers, it is your responsibility to gain insight into exactly what they expect of you. If you do not clarify expectations, you cannot deliver them. When you do clarify expectations, you can gain a feeling of control over your tasks, objectives and goals. When you feel “on top of things” you can find satisfaction and fulfillment in your endeavors.

This satisfaction and fulfillment is more likely discovered when you make an “inside” commitment to yourself and an “outside” commitment to others. The others should be those you trust and who will support you as you work with them to accomplish mutual goals. All the while, keep in mind there is a notable difference between activities and results. Activities lead the way, but results are the things to be measured.

In business or sports, some people may look good based on activity, but the real measurement comes with the production of performance results. If you are a leader, then you are accountable for your own results and the results of your followers, whom you must hold accountable as individuals and as a team.

People who never accept personal accountability play the “blame game” and rationalize. Rather than taking the initiative to clarify expectations and acquire information and other items needed to accomplish their jobs, they come up with such things as, “They never tell us anything around here; I didn’t have enough time; I didn’t understand it like that; I didn’t really know what to do; they never listen to me; they’re always changing things.”

A football team with whom I have worked for many years has heard me say on numerous occasions, “Individuals make the plays and teams win the championships.” I tell them they have to play each play 100% as individuals and as a team. You never know when YOU are going to make THE play that will change the course of the game. It may be a great tackle, block, run, pass, interception, kick, fumble recovery…

A phrase I constantly refer to is, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” What a great statement for anyone to make! In sports, business, school, family or any aspect of society, individuals can and do make a difference. Let us not overlook the worth and accountability of the individual by overemphasizing “There is no ‘I’ in team.”
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on and


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