There’s no “I” in “Team” (but there is a “Me”)

We’ve heard about the wonders of teams to the point that our minds can barely hold another iota of information about how marvelous they are. With captivating analogies from sports to the humanities, pundits, authors and educators extol the virtues of teams to near-religious proportions.

While in many situations teams are all well and good, there are quite a few notable exceptions. Many have heard the story of Steve Jobs’ personal involvement in the design of the iPhone. Eschewing teams, committees, focus groups and “centers of excellence” (whatever that means), Jobs’ selfishly designed the phone he always wanted. What resulted was a purity of vision and tight integration that became an icon. Similarly, the granddaddy of today’s smart phone, the blocky Palm Pilot was initially a lumpy, hand-carved wood prototype that Palm founder Jeff Hawkins carried around in his pocket for weeks to determine if the size was what he wanted. One man, one vision, one pocket, one amazingly successful product.

In the management ranks, we often forget this lesson, outsourcing our key products to committees, teams, SMEs and other seas of ambiguity, half-hearted compromise and CYA-motivated mentalities. Whether it’s a presentation on strategy, a critical decision on the project portfolio, or a tough call on an HR matter, sometimes abandoning the morass of the team is the best way to go. After all, how often do we hear about Henry Ford’s great team, the committee that helped Dr. King pen his speeches, or Joan of Arc’s focus group.

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