There’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’:
End internal competition today for greater success tomorrow

By Mark Eaton
Updated: 12/12/12

In the NBA, when anyone on the basketball team is playing for himself rather than the team as a whole, failure is eminent. In business, when anyone in the company has an ”I” mentality, it’s only a matter of time until failure creeps into the organization.

In any group endeavor, success is not about discipline -it’s about teamwork. Without teamwork, people don’t cooperate, collaborate, or innovate.

Unfortunately, many people are confused about what a team is and how to create one. Realize that a group of people working together is not a team. NBA teams understand this. They know what they have to do to be a team and they do it. Now it’s time for businesses to do the same.

Creating teamwork

So, what’s the difference between a group of people and a team? Groups are committed to an ideal, goal, or person; teams are committed to each other. Where are the commitments in your company?

The fact is that many employees have a sense of “I have to look out for myself:’ People think they have to constantly defend themselves and watch their space. Because of this, they’re more concerned about their own status or wellbeing than where the company is going, what the company’s goals are, and how those goals are going to be met.

As long as people are focused on the internal competition and are using all of their energy in that direction, your company won’t go far. Sure, the organization might make some short-term gains, but over the long-term, the losses will outweigh any success.

In basketball there’s a saying that no one cares if you score thirty points a night on a losing team. Think about how that saying holds true in business. If your company is going downhill fast, who cares about any short-term profits?

As long as your employees are just looking out for themselves and trying to just beat their teammates, you’re going to lose the biggest game out there. You’re not going to be a star at the top of your industry.

Success only comes when your staff plays as a team. When they’re focused on the internal competition -on what this person is doing or what that person said -you have a team that’s divided. Like an internal cancer, divisiveness kills an organization and drains company profits. The key is to end such internal competition and get everybody aligned with “this is where we’re going.” Once that happens, the individual accolades will follow.

If people on your team just can’t seem to get past the “I” mentality -if they can’t stop asking, “Why should I help these guys? What are they going to do for me?”-then it’s time to create a mind-set shift in your organization. The following suggestions will help.

1. Create a team philosophy. Management has to embrace a team philosophy that if everyone pulls together, everyone will get what they want. Your job is to make sure your employees and managers understand that tier value is directly related to the company’s success. They need to think about this -who wants to promote someone from a losing department? If they want to advance, then they need to show their commitment by making sure those around them advance.

Additionally, you have to reinforce this ideology on a daily basis by communicating the team philosophy regularly and by meeting with your staff individually to explain how adopting the corporate goals and values and sticking together will help everyone. Equally important is to make the communication real. People want to help, but they often lose the personal connection in the midst of too much bureaucracy and end up focusing on just hitting “numbers.” Since this is a behavior and a mind-set shift, it’ll take time to turn. It’s a lot like turning a battleship – slow and steady progress gets you to your goal. Yes, it’s a new direction, but it’s one that can inspire teams to perform at levels greater than they knew possible. It’s a philosophy that’s well worth the effort to put in place.

2. Instill a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. You can’t have a true team if everyone always stays to themselves in their office and only interacts with each other during weekly meetings. In order to consistently reinforce this sense of team, you need to have everyone come together for some group time.

You can do this in a variety of ways. Take everyone out to dinner once a month. Engage in a team building retreat. Start a company softball team -do anything to get everyone out and together as one unit. Create the scenarios and language that reinforce the team concept. You may hit some initial resistance to this idea, but keep pushing.

Team spirit does not just happen; you must nurture it. And don’t always talk shop during these social gatherings. You will find that creativity will flow much better in the days following the events, when everyone is feeling more connected.

3. Get team members to commit to others consciously and verbally. Once your group feels good about the members of the team, the next step is to ask for a greater commitment. Remember, to have a true team, people must be committed to each other, not just an ideal, goal or person. When everyone is connected, there will be an opportunity to take the conversation to the next level. Plan this ahead of time and get everyone to sit and discuss what the next level would look like and how to get there. This is critical to gain momentum. Discuss what the individual benefit would be if the team succeeds. Keep in mind that not everyone is focused on money or career advancement. For many folks, gaining a greater sense of job satisfaction may be the missing link. Once there is consensus on the goals and benefits of operating as a team, ask for their commitment in writing. This will give you something to refer back to when there are breakdowns. Most breakdowns occur because the commitments to each other have been lost along the way. By reminding people of their promises and the benefits of committing to helping others, you can restore balance and move to the next level.

4. Remove obstacles – create success. While a little external competition with outside companies is healthy and keeps your employees on their toes, internal competition among team members and departments is a sure path to challenges and setbacks. So if you want your company to succeed now and in the future, end the internal competition once and for all. Foster a sense of team commitment that goes beyond a promise to “hit the numbers.” When you get people committed to each other first and foremost, you pave the way for future profits and create a company culture that breeds success.

About the author:
Mark Eaton is a technician at heart. He graduated from the Arizona Automotive Institute following high school, and worked at car dealerships and an independent tire dealership before the first of two dramatic career changes.

The 7-foot, 4-inch Eaton parlayed the persistence of a junior college basketball coach into a 12-year National Basketball Association career with the Utah Jazz, distinguishing himself as a defensive specialist. Since his retirement from the NBA in 1994, he has become an entrepreneur.

As CEO of LLC (, Eaton is a motivational speaker, and is working on a book about, as he puts it, “the extraordinary power of mentoring in sports and business.”

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