I am not and will never be a team player, here’s why. Which of these also apply to you?
1: You don’t work on your team
Next week I am going to a team building event at work. It has been organised by keen, intelligent hard-working colleagues. It will be in pleasant surroundings and will be planned and delivered professionally, the whole thing done with the best of intentions. It is pointless as I don’t work with anybody on my team.
I work with people all over my building, in other buildings too. I don’t see them often, but we communicate by email and phone regularly. We rely on each other to deliver a product, if one of us falls down then the product suffers. I class them as being on my team as we work together for a purpose. However they are not on my team officially. According to the pieces of paper that govern reality these are the rules that define who is on my team:
- the people I sit next to.
- who I share a manager with.
- people who are in the same structural box post-this-restructure and pre-next-restructure.
- people with the same job title as me.
A keen eyed reader should notice that the work is not included here. Hence, none of the people I actually work with are on my team. Look around you where you work. Do you actually work with these people? Or just do similar work alongside them?
Are you more of a work-player than a team player? I want to attend to the work, this is not the same as a team player. A work-player concentrates on the work. A team player however, their focus is on this years arbitrary grouping of people. So if my team is essentially a bunch of strangers who I happen to be co-located with, I will never be a team player.
2: You are not a joiner-in
I don’t join in but I work with people. I enjoy working on a problem with people, helping them, having them help me. But I will never join in. You know joining in, if it’s the sort of thing that repels you, and the people who aren’t repelled and are joining in then call to you, “Come on misery! Join in!” That’s joining in. You can spot joining in, as there are some people who don’t want to. Whether its a can-can, a mass streak or downing poisoned Kool-Aid at a cult suicide, there’s always some who don’t want to be assimilated into the sweaty mass of humanity.
Forced joining in repels me and there seems to be a fair bit of this in team-players, “there’s no I in team!” they claim. Equally correctly there is a “me” in team. It’s not just that they’re amateurs at Scrabble, it is the assumption that their way is the way, which is why I will never be a team player.
3: You know teams don’t achieve things
I am not an enemy of the idea of team. Anything I have ever put down on a CV as being “achieved” by me has been achieved as part of a team.
Office blocks are huge. It would be silly to think any one person can change things alone inside them, except Bruce Willis in the Nakatomi Plaza.
When people work together, officially, informally or temporarily, they achieve because they are a team in a context. That context is part of the whole thing, just as much as the team is. Like this brilliant tweet from Emma Langman.
“I scored the goal…I won the game” – ‘no you didn’t, you’re part of the game’ Bill Bellows [link]
Neil Armstrong didn’t land on the moon, Apollo 11 didn’t land on the moon, NASA didn’t land on the moon. It was America at that point in time that landed on the moon, perhaps even the world at that point in time because America needed the rivalry with the USSR as fuel for competition to drive it all. But what about the Nazi rocket scientists who provided the experience and technical knowledge at the beginning of the space race? And why would they have been in America at all if it weren’t for Germany losing a world war, which might not have started if it weren’t for the one before that…and so on.
Every team has a context, every system is part of a larger system, every thing has a time and a place, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”. The best team in the world still has to operate in the world. I think people concentrate too much on the team part, not the context part. I mentioned being a work-player, perhaps it would be better to aim to be a context-player.
What do you say to that Mr Willis?
This is why I will never be a team player.
4: You think more than one step away of the rest
Read that carefully, not thinking one step, thinking more than one step. One step ahead is fine, in fact is necessary to move. Also, not thinking ahead, it could be to the side or even backwards. You could be really stupid and not a team player. It’s not some sort of qualification. Either way, if you are thinking more than one step away from the usual, you’re not part of a team, you’re on your own.
Remember Tesla? Course you do! Remember his gang? The Tesla-ites? No?
No, because he didn’t have one. Too many inferential steps away, nobody could keep up.
It’s not a qualification, like I said, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. You can’t do things by yourself, you need the rest of them for all they can do. But it’s really hard! This is why I will never be a team player.
5: You’re happier being alone than being with team players
Despite all the above, I actually prefer working with people than alone. I need someone to bounce things off and tell me when I’m completely wrong. There are some particular people I love working with, and sometimes working with large groups of people is the best. It all depends on the context.
But alongside the glory of co-operative work is having to live with people people. Yes, I did say that twice. Ever met a “people person”? You will have done, as they often claim this out loud, literally, “Hi! I’m a people person!“, and within a heartbeat you find yourself passing oranges from neck to neck with strangers.
These are often the joiner-inners (see number 2 above). Here’s what someone had to say about them.
Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people.
They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.
As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping. [link]
Extroverts tend to lead in teams, because they are “people persons”, in their natural environment, like a cow in a field of grass. Not all leaders are extroverts though, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t and neither was Jean Luc Picard, the famous space-ship captain. So it’s not essential, but enough teams are led by extroverts to spoil it for the rest of us. This is why I will never be a team player.
6. You think teams are really stupid
Like this tweet here says, if people are at the heart of it all, shouldn’t we all be experts in sociology, psychology and anthropology? Well, we’re not. Nobody has a clue, we’re all bumbling amateurs, especially the people who are paid to interfere with teams. Yes, I said interfere. Fiddle with. According to them I am an INTP I think, or a plant. An aspidistra? Can’t remember but whatever it is, I bet it is one of the cool ones.
Shouldn’t there be some sort of reading list that organisations make people read before they fiddle with people and teams? The US marines do! Whilst they are also taught how to fire guns and kill people, they are expected to read a great big list of books to educate them in and around their chosen specialised subject of firing guns and killing people.
You’d expect similar before being let in charge of people, but you’d be wrong.
This is why I will never be a team player.