It’s been touted as this really important principle that you should understand and subscribe to for fear of being labeled the dreaded “NOT a team player,” “selfish,” or “only out for number 1.”
And, certainly, it does have some merit (which is of course what makes these axioms “axioms”).
No one likes to be on a team with someone who only cares about themselves, who doesn’t pull equal weight, and who is a little too much of a loner…not meshing with the rest of the team.
But in this age of systems thinking we seem to be in, where “collective intelligence” is becoming the rage, I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve made individualism an object of scorn all for the sake of nice-sounding axioms.
Let’s think about it.
- Cultural fit is now considered one of the main considerations in hiring and employee evaluation, often ranking even beyond personal results and performance. Suddenly, what your colleagues think about you should be higher on your list of priorities.
- Communities of practice is quickly becoming a new trend in HR lingo, where collective learning is sold as more important than individual growth. Your expansion of knowledge is only significant in relation to what it does for the whole group.
- Creative processes are now believed to be better when done in groups or teams rather than as solo efforts (never mind that many of the greatest innovations in history have largely been done as individual efforts).
- Entrepreneurial spirit is wonderful but only if it brings social change and innovation. Starting a business to make money is poor form.
- Group brainstorming, despite repeated studies that show how ineffective it is, is consistently put into practice by many organizations as “progressive” thinking.
Now, my goal here isn’t to argue that all of these trends and practices in collective action are all bad or all wrong. My question is whether we implement these things at the sake of individualism, and if so, when did individual achievement become such a bad thing?
As a technical resume writer and career advancement strategist, here are some things that I see played out each and every day:
- Your career is, well, your career. The team isn’t sinking or swimming with you. When the assignment is over, the budget changes, etc., the team disbands.
- A job search is about as individualistic as it comes. Although I’ve sat in on many a group job hunting or unemployment support group, no matter what, each member was engaged in his or her own job search. And he or she was faced with the dilemma of how to “show” his or her team player skills while highlighting his or her personal achievements.
- Every team has its stars. As much as we would like to think that a team blends together so seamlessly that each part of the system is meaningless without the whole, in actuality, like it or not, individualism inevitably breaks through. People point out differences. Not everybody wins in quite the same way.
Sigh. Life is just not fair. And no matter how much we would like it to be fair, we just can’t seem to “make” it be that way.
Someone invariably gets recruited to a better paying team…
You know, that other tried-and-true axiom, “the grass is always greener.”