(Read Part 1 here)
“It is amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” – John Wooden
The language we use matters, especially when working with a team. This is why I love Wooden’s quote (above) so much. Wooden, being one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time knew something about teamwork. That the healthiest teams (sports or otherwise) are the teams that work first and foremost for the benefit of the team. On the other hand, unhealthy teams are pretty easy to spot because individuals are quick to take credit for good ideas and pass the blame for bad ones. Here’s what I mean.
My family and I recently went out to dinner at a chain-style sit-down restaurant. I ordered a burger with some french fries and a side of barbeque sauce. When our meal came out, the barbeque sauce failed to come with it. So the next time that our waitress came to check on it, I mentioned (politely, of course) that I was missing the barbeque sauce. Her response was telling, “Did they not give you any barbeque sauce?”
To be fair, our waitress was not the person that prepared our food, nor the person who delivered it to our table. In her mind, it was someone else’s fault. But whose fault it was mattered little to me. What mattered, on a basic level, was that the restaurant/staff/team/waitress failed to bring me any barbeque sauce. All I needed was an apology (if even that) and someone to go and bring me some barbeque sauce.
Now you may be thinking that I’m making a big deal over nothing. And I agree, in the grand scheme of things, having a side of barbeque sauce is not a big deal. But language matters. Our waitress’s language indicated a dysfunctional team dynamic: “I” and “them.” The bottom line for her was not the team winning, but her individual success. She threw the other members of her team under the bus in order to make herself look better. And this is a sure sign of an unhealthy team.
It happens the other way around as well. Right now we are in the middle of March Madness, or as I like to call it, college basketball heaven. I love listening to the post-game player interviews, because you can tell a lot about how their team functions by their language. And let me assure you, it takes a (more than) functional team to make it to the Final Four. The teams that make it this far (by winning) all have similar sounding interviews: We did this. We made it. Our team played hard. Our team hustled. We look forward to playing our next opponent.
Did you catch that? These are superstars, who just played the game of their lives on a national stage, and they are giving credit to their team. They are using “we” instead of “I.” Even though they played a major (individual) role in getting their team this far, they are deferring glory to the entire team.
So if your idea or project works, give credit to your team. Use “we,” not “I.” Because, honestly, even if you are the superstar on your team, you had help. And if your idea or project fails, take the blame yourself. Use “I,” not “they.” Even if it’s not your fault, most people don’t care whose fault it is, only that the problem gets resolved.
Language matters, and Wooden would be so proud.