Spelling ‘team’ with an ‘I’

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Polser
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing operations center director
We've all heard many quotable quotes about teamwork throughout our lives.

I'm sure you're familiar with, "None of us is as smart, or as strong, as all of us," or the catchy acronym, "TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More." My personal favorite has always been "You don't spell 'team' with an 'I.'"

Leaders often use these phrases to motivate their folks to work together instead of as individuals. I recently read a quote that made me rethink my favorite teamwork quote.

The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual." The key word here is individual. Contrary to popular belief, individuals are important to a team's success. At first glance this may seem counterintuitive to the idea of teamwork, but allow me to explain.

First, we must understand what teamwork is.

According to famous industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."

Here the individual is important because it is the combination of individual efforts that enable a team's success. At any deployed location, the combination of individual efforts from aircrews, maintainers and support Airmen enables the unit to put "boots on the ground."

Second, we must appreciate why teamwork is important.

In the words of motivational speaker and author Stephen Covey, "Synergy is the highest activity of life; it creates new untapped alternatives; it values and exploits the mental, emotional and psychological differences between people." These differences between individuals -- the unique talents and points of view that each individual brings to the fight -- create synergy in teams.

As the wing operations center director, I see this synergy in action every day. The dedicated individuals in the command post, maintenance operations center, air terminal operations center, and the rated officer we call "Maestro" join together to provide outstanding command and control for executing the wing's mission.

OK, so individual talents and accomplishments are key to team synergy and success. The obvious question is, if individuals are so important, how do we motivate them to work together as a team?

Leaders, your focus should be on fostering a command climate that encourages teamwork but recognizes outstanding individual effort. In the words of the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great."

The most important factor, however, is the individual. Make no mistake - I am not talking about individuals who are striving for personal glory. I'm talking about individuals dedicating their talents and hard work to mission success.

I'll close with a final teamwork quote, another from Vince Lombardi, that summarizes my point about the importance of the individual in teamwork. He preached, "Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."