There is No ‘I’ in Team, but There is No Team Without ‘M-E’

Blog Post |  February 1, 2023

By csuvetce

As you may know from other blogs and podcasts, I am fascinated by teams of all sorts. Sports teams, corporate teams, academic teams … you name it. I grow particularly interested as I watch a team encounter adversity … and every team does at some point. Adversity is the true barometer of a team’s health. Under pressure, individuals or units of an unhealthy team reveal that they are not truly invested in the team’s purpose (if there is one), and they will look out for their own good at the expense of their teammates and the team. Sometimes, and this is initially difficult, loss of these individuals from the team is the very best thing because they are secretly holding the team back. Healthy teams, on the other hand, may shift, bend, and shake under pressure, but individual and unit accountability to their teammates and team purpose endures. It is often the holding tight to one another during these scary foundational shifts that make the team stronger. In fact, I believe that a team cannot reach its optimum performance without encountering, enduring, and growing through adversity.  Adversity and pressure are what it takes for teammates and team units to learn to trust one another and be accountable to one another and are they are necessary before a purpose-led team can grow to their next level of maturity and strength.

Sometimes, as leaders, we can anticipate when the pressure is coming (team expansion, building renovations, reduced staffing, busy season, etc.) and I think it is important to prepare our team for the challenges ahead.  It is a bit of pep talk, but it is also the issuing of a charge of how to respond when the pressure becomes real. We want our team members and team units not to be surprised or discouraged when the heavy burden comes, but to anticipate it … possibly even embrace it. We want them to know that they will, individually and collectively, either be made weaker or they will be made stronger by how they handle that pressure.  We ask them for individual accountability to our purpose, but also collective accountability.

Most veterinary practice teams are made up of several smaller units such as client services/reception, kennels & animal care, technical staff, doctors, management and more. Sometimes there is great teamwork WITHIN our units, but not BETWEEN our units. Just as a football team can develop factions in which, for example, the defensive unit is speaking ill of the offensive unit, sometimes one unit of our practices can develop allegiance to their unit-mates, but the not to the team as a whole. Our team’s units need to be charged with resisting this breakdown in communication and unity because optimal delivery of a team’s purpose requires synchrony of all its units.  It is important that each individual and each unit be challenged to guard themselves against such a fractionated view of the team purpose.

Just as we, as leaders, ask our team and its units to hold fast to one another and to hold themselves accountable for their thoughts, words, and actions under pressure, we must do the same ourselves. I can recall a recent pressure-packed season in which after challenging our team to guard their words and their tone with one another, I found myself failing to uphold my own end of the bargain … and I needed to apologize to individuals and to the team for that.

So, I suppose this bring us to the title of this blog. Those of us who’ve been on a team or 2 have certainly heard the saying “there’s no ‘I’ in team”. This refers to those unhealthy teams in which individuals put their own needs ahead of their teammates. That said, I’d propose that just as you cannot spell TEAM without the letters M and E … there is no team without “M-E”.  Hear me out … this is not to say a healthy team revolves around me, but it is to say that my teammates are counting on me to be “all in in”. M-E, in this instance, applies to all of us on the team.

Do I bring all my energy, creativity, focus, diligence, and reliability to our team each dayI mean really bring it?   Or do I occasionally “call it in”?  What does it say about my willingness to invest M-E into our purpose-led missions if I give only 80%?  How does it affect my teammates’ willingness to invest themselves 100% when the person on their right or on their left is coasting today?

Over the years I’ve learned that, whether we know it or not, we are all leaders. We are leaders to others on our team and around our team. Somebody is always watching, and they are learning from us. Our enthusiasm, our dedication, our accountability to others …. All of it is under the lens and it is either contagiously good or it is contagiously bad for the team.  When I’m a bit off (or worse), it adversely impacts those around me; fortunately, when I am on my game, that is also contagious, and it brings others’ games up a notch. Considering that healthy teams are made of a group of people centered around a purpose, the M-E that I bring to our team is irreplaceable. There is no team without M-E.  The team is not about M-E, it just relies upon M-E to fulfill my roles & responsibilities and to bring the gifts and passions and energies that are 100% M-E.  One responsibility for everyone on the team is to hold others up when they are crumbling in thought, word, or action under pressure. If we hear ourselves or others giving in to gossip, complaining, or comparisons, we need to have the strength to stop it in its tracks. Healthy teams do that. Healthy teammates uphold that.

I think it is also important to extend humanity and grace to ourselves and our teammates.  While I think it is entirely appropriate that we be expected to bring 100% of ourselves to our work hours (after all, most of us expect 100% of our paycheck for those hours), the expectation of 100% effort is VERY different than the expectation of 100% perfection. I will make mistakes (and so will you). I will make stupid errors, tactical errors, communication errors and more; and a healthy team will help to hold me accountable for those errors … get this … for the purpose of making US better.  If I am to bring 100% M-E to the workplace, and not be afraid to do so, it must be understood that there will be imperfections because I am imperfect. The same holds true for how we treat our teammates. Mistakes are expected and they are opportunities for our growth.

People or teams who are not making mistakes are either not stretching themselves or they are hiding their errors out of fear (neither is a great sign).  We try to embrace the attitude of failing fast, frequently, and forward.  For ones who are averse to failure, this may sound like a poor model for business, but I would argue just the opposite. We strive to be willing to try new things … if we are consciously trying out new ideas, we must know that some ideas will be bad ones and we should be quick to identify them as non-fatal failures and recognize that this will happen with some frequency. Perhaps most importantly, we should fail forward … this using the failure as an opportunity for growth & improvement and is the very essence of embracing failures as non-fatal.  All the above, fosters a no fear culture where a person gets nearly as much a credit for how they handled a failure as they do for avoiding it in the first place (more on that in future blogs).  One of my proudest moments was when a teammate was set up by external circumstances to be a “fall guy”, but refused to take the bait to hide, cover up, defend, deflect, etc.  Instead, they calmly and confidently stepped forward to take full ownership and responsibility for the event and to seek open communication with how the current problem would be rectified and avoided altogether in the future. That is a sign of a healthy teammate and a healthy team culture. That is a person who understands that no matter their role or position on an organizational chart, they are a leader. That is a person who brings their M-E to the team.

So, what about you?  Do you see adversity as an opportunity for team growth and maturity?  Do you call a team huddle to acknowledge and prepare for the challenges ahead?  Do you expect some non-fatal failures from your imperfect self and teammates?  Do you acknowledge your own “dropped balls” to your teammates?  After a teammate “drops the ball” are you quick to give them a hand up knowing that your team needs their 100% on the next play such that dwelling on the last play won’t help?  These are just a few ways that you can bring your M-E to your team.  Your team will be better off when you bring your M-E … and believe it or not, you will too!

Ross’ career has spanned both private practice and academia. Along the way, he has joined or grown quite a few teams. Ross is a professor Orthopedics at Colorado State University, Associate Director of Education at the Translational Medicine Institute and a frequent educator at orthopedic courses held here at CSUVetCE and around the world. If you, too, believe there is great power in the collision between inspired learners, engaged educators and meaningful experiences, please get to know us at because nothing fuels our passion like rubbing elbows with those who are similarly driven.

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