Team Player Or Strong Individual

Should you be a team-player or a strong individual? You want to have both individual and team skills in your skill set, but demonstrate that you can be productive and creative on your own. Seth Godin talks about being a “linchpin” and an “artist”, where we position ourselves as indispensable and create art – fresh, insightful work.[1] Similarly, Cal Newport says we should commit “deliberate practice” to develop our “career capital”.[2]  Both concepts suggest building core competencies, concentrating on what we do best as an individual (and some of these competencies might involve teams). Contrary to “build you” , the buzz is to “build the team”.

  • MBA programs promote teams. You are separated into a team right from the onset, and most projects are assigned to groups. At the University of Maryland, where I went to school, they call these teams tracks. At Harvard Business School, they do the same; the second semester they break you into a smaller group and suggest meeting with the group everyday to go over your assignments.
  • Counselors suggest emphasizing your team skills on your resume.  Job descriptions have requirements for working in a team.
  • Floor plans of companies are wide-open; some do not even have dividers to separate desks. The idea is to foster team building, and the free flow of ideas. Google and Facebook adopt this open floor plan.

There are many benefits in working as a team. Probably the biggest benefit is the flow of insightful seed ideas, and the use of collaboration as a ‘gut check’ and way to nurture these ideas. It is beneficial to have a team represented by experts, each has their role and makes a contribution. The fastest way to move an idea forward is through a team.

Some of the problems with over-relying on teams are loss in productivity, dependency, and constriction of new ideas. Studies show that individuals working alone can be more productive than when they work on a team. Coordinating and administrating team meetings take time, you have to manage schedules, create agendas, and assign tasks. When you are part of a team, there is a chance you become dependent on others to be insightful for you – they might have a stronger voice or be more intelligent; so you leave that challenge of coming up with a fresh insight to someone else. Some meetings can actually squelch the development of an idea, perhaps it is not well received by participants or there is no time to present it during the meeting.

That being said, focus on promoting your individual talents and contributions.  Find ways to be insightful, and promote your own ideas. Try to express your ideas in a blog, whether it is your own or commenting in others, or in social media; it is easy to post a message in Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter – let your ecosystem know you have your own ideas. Many of the transferable skills that will be in high demand require for you to be able to think on your own, including: sense-making, novel and adaptive thinking, computational thinking, new media literacy, transdisciplinarity, design mindset, and cognitive load management.[3]

I am not disparaging being part of a team; I think most innovation and production cannot be completed without a team. However, I do think it is important to build an identity around core-competencies and a strong sense of self.  You should become an expert in your field and this is becoming much easier with the flow of information. The internet makes news, blogs, forums, online courses, networking, and chats or conversations all readily available. Moreover, you can voice your ideas to an accessible target audience through these forums.


[1] “Linchpin”, book written By Seth Godin Copyright 2012

[2] “So Good They Cannot Ignore You”, book written by Cal Newport Copyright 2012

[3] http://www.scribd.com/doc/94872255 , “Future Work Skills 2020”

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