It’s a saying we’ve likely all heard many times before. It conveys that a good team will consist of team players who essentially sacrifice their own self-interests for the greater good of the team.

A team’s primary purpose is to achieve a shared goal, and this necessitates working collaboratively and prioritising the needs of the team above our own – team members learn to go from an ‘I’ mentality to a ‘we’ mentality. If you’ve ever worked with a team member who struggled with this transition, then you’ll likely have seen a lot less cohesion and accomplishment within the team, and a lot more friction and conflict!

But is there really no ‘I’ in team working?

Of course, the collective nature of team working is fundamental to a team’s success, but there is a risk that this saying can cause us to overlook some of the important individual aspects that need to be considered for healthy and productive team working.

Let’s take the team composition, for example. It can be said that a team is only as strong as its weakest member and so it is important that teams are formed of competent individuals who are not only team players, but also have the necessary skills and experience required to fulfil the team’s goal. We cannot be good at everything – we bring our own unique strengths and weaknesses to a team. Therefore, individual talent identification is essential if a team wants to maximise its potential and productivity; through this process it becomes possible to  balance one person’s weakness with another person’s strength, and this is where the real power of a team comes into fruition. Teams benefit from having individuals with a diverse range of knowledge, skills and abilities that complement each other and allow for more effective problem solving. Essentially, it allows a team to achieve a lot more than any individual could alone.

What’s more, when team members feel that their individual talents are recognised and being utilised, then they will feel more engaged and motivated at work. Individuals flourish and experience a state of ‘flow’ when they are given work that plays to their individual strengths and is aligned to the things they find energising and engaging. Teams can enhance their performance by taking the time to understand what drives each team member and channelling this in a way that also helps them to achieve the team’s goals and vision.

We know that members of high performing teams have a good understanding of the team’s shared vision and collective goals, but it’s also important for each team member to have clearly assigned individual roles and responsibilities within this. It’s vital that there is accountability and recognition at the individual level, not just at the team level to ensure that tasks progress well and goals are met. In fact, research has demonstrated that if there is too much emphasis on collective performance and not enough focus on the individual contributions, then there is an increased risk of ‘social loafing’ occurring; where team members hide behind the security of the team and put in less effort. This can limit the team’s ability to perform optimally. On the other hand, when team members have clear individual roles, responsibilities and goals that are aligned to the overall team goal, then this promotes greater accountability and encourages each team member to ‘pull their weight’ to help achieve better collective outcomes.

The most successful teams are sensitive to individual differences. Although team members come together for a shared purpose and goal, each member still retains their own unique characteristics, and it may be necessary to adapt and adjust the way that things are done to accommodate this. This can cover a whole host of things, for example; cultural differences, religious beliefs, sexuality, thinking style (neurodiversity) or learning difficulties. We also can’t ignore the fact that team members are humans, with needs, feelings and emotions. We have an inherent need to feel accepted, valued and respected by others. This can only really be achieved if members of the team value each other for who they are as an individual, rather than just solely for the contribution they make towards achieving the team’s vision. In this sense, it’s vitally important that members connect at a more personal level, beyond their role in the team. This connection is what helps to build trust which underpins stronger, more cohesive relationships and ultimately supports more effective and sustainable team working.

Perhaps it’s time to re-think the popular saying that ‘there is no I in team’ and remember that whilst the collective and inter-dependent nature of team working is important, it’s equally important that teams don’t overlook the individual. Instead, they should strive to harness the things that make each team member unique and use this for the good of the team.


At Zeal, we believe in strengthening people and organisations. Through our understanding of the science of human behaviour and experience of the workplace, we help organisations strengthen their people, teams and leaders to create healthier, happier and more productive workplaces.
What makes us different is we’re psychologists with business in mind. We are passionate about the use of psychology in the workplace, and aim to enhance individual and organisational health, well-being and performance.
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