The Myth of Teamwork

There is a great deal of chatter on the interwebz… in conference rooms… at workshops… on fields and courts of all sorts about the power of teamwork.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying:

“Teamwork makes the team work.”

Well, I’m here to present to you the possibility that’s it’s not the teamwork that actually makes the team work.

Instead, it’s…

(you might want to make sure the kids… or at the very least the government… isn’t reading over your shoulder before moving on)…

All clear?


So the possibility I want to offer you today is that it’s the INDIVIDUAL that makes the team work… not teamwork.

Now I have to say that I believe we know this to be true.

I think we’ve simply forgotten… or at least downplayed… the individual effort.

Perhaps its stems from trying to please people…to make everything fair… to spare the feelings of those less capable… that we came up with trite sayings like:

“Teamwork makes the team work” or “There is no ‘I’ in T-E-A-M”

So, I’ve got a few things I’ve observed I’d like to share with you.

Wanna hear my observings?

Oh, good… (that would have been awkward if you said “no” since the post is already written).

Here are a four observations that seem, to me, to contradict the teamwork myth…

Observation One…

In NCAA Football, there is 1 (one) major team award – The National Championship. Sure there are bowl games and conference championships but let’s be real, those are not what coaches, fans and players are shooting for when they hear the big “teamwork” speech.

Yet, according to Wikipedia, the National College Football Awards Association offers up 20 (twenty) individual awards. ESPN has the number of individual awards for College Football at 24 (twenty-four).

This is a theme you see repeated in nearly every team sport on the planet at nearly every level.

Observation Two…

When things go “wrong” on a team (sports or otherwise), i.e., the team loses… we hear things like “so and so wasn’t pulling their weight” or “she’s a weak link” or “such and such department didn’t step up” or “he dropped the ball”.

Observation Three…

Throughout history and mythology our greatest heroes… the people we remember… the people we make movies and write books about… tend to be, more often than not, individuals.

Observation Four…

Teams, by definition, are made up of two or more individual persons.

So with these observations and a distinction from my own personal coach, Scott L. Byrd, I’ve come to see clearly that it is the integrity of the individual… the effort of the individual… the commitment of the individual… that actually makes the team work.

What makes the team work is when each individual KNOWS they can count on every other individual to do what they are supposed to do the way they are supposed to do it.

However, by putting emphasis on the team, you must take emphasis off of the individual.

You see, you can’t emphasize two things at the same time because to do so would be to emphasize neither.

And I’d have you consider that teamwork, as a concept, actually opens the door to letting others “pick up the slack”.

And the opportunity for another to “pick up my slack”… to “carry me”… creates a chink in the armor of teamwork.

With that said, I’d be proud to be a part of a team of individuals working at full integrity and working towards a common goal… because THAT is a team that works.

Bottom line…

It’s not teamwork that makes the team work; it’s individuals performing with high personal integrity that makes the team work.

Oh, one more thing…

According to the NBA’s website, basketball legend and champion, Michael Jordan, told the story of Bulls assistant Tex Winter needling him about scoring 20 straight points to win the game and saying there’s no “I” in team. Jordan responded and said, “There is one in ‘win’.”

Well said.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.


In your corner,

Sean McCool

The Champions’ Catalyst




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