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Everyone Wins When Your Employees Think Team First

By Carole Wehn

How do you get your employees to think team first in a world that's all about "me”? And further, how do you get them to think about their remote teammates when it’s easier to slip into an "out of sight, out of mind" mode?

Getting people to gel as a team has never been automatic. Some employees have egos that get in the way of thinking beyond their situation. Team dynamics may make it difficult to incorporate newcomers into the group. The need to operate "the way things are done around here" may make the environment uncomfortable for out-of-the-box thinkers.

Encouraging employees to think and work as a team across locations and even time zones can be challenging. Global teams struggle to find video meeting times that work for everyone. As more people have switched to remote work, even those in the same geographic area must learn to use new communication channels.

And our world, evidenced by social media posts and reality TV, has become more about "me" and my desires. There appears to be less concern about the community as a whole. The old expression "there's no I in TEAM" now has the add-on, "but there's ME."

To combat these dynamics, ensure the team is at the core of your company culture. Develop a culture that focuses on:

  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Customer orientation
  • Communication
  • Appropriate Compensation


Collaboration is simply the “two heads are better than one” adage at work. Individuals must put aside their single-mindedness to work with others on the team. And it’s not just a nice-to-have. A 2014 Deloitte survey found that companies with a collaborative strategy are more successful. Deloitte was able to quantify that when employees work together:

  • They work 15 percent faster
  • 73 percent do better work
  • 60 percent are innovative
  • 56 percent have higher job satisfaction

Assign projects to teams rather than individuals. This helps build bonds between people who don't typically work together or come from functions that tend to be at odds with one another. Walls break down once people align toward a common objective.

Innovation thrives when diverse teams collaborate and share the benefits of their experiences, ideas, and skills. And the teams' resultant success helps foster workplace engagement and satisfaction. Workers hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also get a sense of team community and organizational belonging, which encourages employee engagement. And engagement drives retention.

Collaboration generates more ideas than one person working alone. Team members can challenge and build upon each other's suggestions. Collaboration also counters the "me" attitude in that people must put aside their ideas in favor of the best idea for the desired outcome.


A creative culture uses teamwork to bring ideas to fruition. Individuals working alone certainly have creative thoughts. But their ideas can be fleshed out more fully when they come together.

The Walt Disney Company Imagineering team dreams, designs, and creates consumer experiences in theme parks, cruise ships, and hotels. Their development process requires collaboration among people in hundreds of unique disciplines.

A big idea begins with a team that wants to bring a Disney story to life or meet a consumer need. Once they agree on a basic concept, a high-level creative development group develops it further. The idea then enters the feasibility stage to ensure the product can be made. And it may evolve further as employees try to bring it to life.

In the design stage, mock-ups and prototypes are developed and refined. The cycle culminates at the final production stage. It takes many teams aligned toward the same goal and contributing their creative expertise to commercialize the next Disney theme park ride or movie.

Collaboration helps drive creativity as teams come together to solve internal problems and meet customer demands. The team-first approach means everyone contributes their unique skills and ideas toward the same project.

Customer Orientation

Keeping your employees focused on thinking team first results when they’re aligned toward a common goal – serving the customer.

While customer responsibility is usually assigned to the sales and marketing departments, all employees should be customer-focused. All functions need to consider who the customer is and how their work can improve the customer experience.

Your employees may need education about the customer and your products, including who your primary customers are, how they use the product, and how they feel about it. For example, back-office functions may not see how their work directly impacts the customer relationship and experience.

Consider letting these employees interact with sales and marketing coworkers and even with customers. Let them ask questions about their needs so that they can see how their functions might have an impact.

Sharing information is an important aspect of working towards the same goal. Some employees may hoard information for their self-interest. Stress the importance of sharing information to the customer experience. After all, it's hard for everyone to contribute if some people have more facts or a better understanding of what's happening. The more information shared, the easier it is to work together, especially across departmental lines.

Employees typically see things through the lens of their area of expertise. Yet coworkers from other departments may add a fresh perspective and contribute unique suggestions and solutions. Through teamwork, they can achieve the goal of customer satisfaction.


Without an emphasis on clear and constant communication, even the most team-oriented culture will fail. Every company culture should be based on respectful, careful listening, and clear, direct speaking to each other.

This communication should be in all directions—from peer to peer as well as up and down the organizational ladder. Teams need to exchange information about progress toward objectives and provide each other with the information necessary to do their job. Leadership needs to communicate overall company goals and progress.

Where practical, this communication should take place face-to-face, even if over video. Both parties must pick up on the nonverbal cues and learn to read one another's reactions. This contributes to developing trust in one another.

Thinking team first is enhanced when communication is frequent and includes updates on one another's work. Whether teams work in the same location or remotely, schedule update meetings where employees can share what they completed, what they are working on, and any potential roadblocks to progress.

Author David Burkus suggests in Harvard Business Review that teams develop rituals. These are opportunities for employees to share things about their week, perhaps the good and bad things that happened. This can happen either in person or on a video call.

For example, at CultureWise, we open meetings by discussing our Fundamental of the Week—one of the behaviors that define our company culture. Examples include Speaking Straight and Checking the Ego at the Door.

On video calls, try to emulate what happens at in-person meetings. Those who arrive in a conference room before a meeting starts typically chitchat and share information about themselves and their work. So open Zoom meetings early to permit the same to occur. And keep sessions open afterward so people can socialize for a bit before returning to their work.


Look to your compensation systems to see if you are inadvertently promoting a self-serving culture. As CultureWise CEO David Friedman wrote in Fundamentally Different,

"Sometimes our reward systems even serve to support this type of attitude by incenting personal success without regard to team goals. In fact, it's the very reason I've long been a proponent of having a significant portion of bonus compensation be based on team or company goals, rather than purely individual ones."

Ensuring your bonus compensation includes some element of team performance communicates that your employees win or lose as a team.

It Starts With Trust

Underpinning all this must be a foundation of trust. Trusting others starts with allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni says,

"The absence of trust occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses, or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible."

To work effectively together, we need to acknowledge that we're all human and we all have our frailties. And demonstrating vulnerability must start at the top. For example, Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company and founder of ConantLeadership, told his employees about previously being fired to show his authenticity.

Part of this vulnerability is being humble. As Lencioni says, "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." In a culture that's all about "me," this can be difficult to cultivate. But the more humility you demonstrate, especially in admitting mistakes, the more likely your team will do the same.

You build trust through small actions taken over time. Encourage your team to get to know one another better. Suggest that they make supportive comments to one another. Model listening to understand instead of listening to respond. Delegate work and empower people to come up with solutions. By demonstrating trust, they will learn to trust you and one another more. Trust breaks down when we are self-oriented and only seem to care about our own needs.

And once employees trust one another, they tend to support each another. They will be more inclined to go beyond their job descriptions for the team’s benefit.

As Friedman says in Fundamentally Different,

"it's impossible for a team to be highly functioning without teammates who rigorously support one another. And it's impossible for an organization to succeed without extraordinary teamwork."

Set your organization up for success by examining your company culture and whether it promotes a team-first mentality. At CultureWise, we offer resources on our website, including blogs, videos, and podcasts about culture. You can also contact one of our specialists for more information.