A Pathway Toward Greater Teamwork

It turns out there really is no "I" in "team."

Posted Nov 16, 2012

As a member of a group or team, consider these two possible scenarios:

1.) You focus on your character strengths and abilities.

2.) You focus on the character strengths and abilities of your team.

Which approach is more likely to perform better?

If you said #2, you are correct! Recent research by Michigan State University researcher, Veronica Son and her colleagues found that focusing on the group’s ability, as opposed to focusing on one's personal ability, led to greater success and individual/team confidence.

They found it was more effective for individuals to use positive self-talk that focuses on the group, such as:

  • We are focused and ready.
  • We will perform well.
  • We believe in our ability.

Rather than self-talk that focuses solely on themselves, such as:

  • I am focused and ready.
  • I will perform well.
  • I believe in my ability.

This research helps to support the old adage that “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

This research also supports the importance of using self-talk that is phrased in a positive way. Individuals that used positive statements during self-talk were shown to perform better than a control group using neutral statements (e.g., “I am a student,” “I am a female”).

An important caveat to remember is that, in order for self-talk to be effective, you have to actually believe in what you are saying. For example, if you've never played table tennis and you enter a tournament repeating “I will perform well” over and over in your mind, this will not positively impact your performance. Self-talk does not take the place of hard work, training, and perseverance.

Getting practical:

While this research was done with a sports team, it is interesting to consider how it might be applied in other settings such as business, work, school, etc.

Consider the groups, collaborations, and teams you are part of. Perhaps you might experiment with this type of self-talk before a difficult meeting or a challenging event? And, don't forget to always consider your team's top strengths!


Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press, and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Son, V., Jackson, B., Grove, J. R., & Feltz, D. L. (2011). “I am” versus “we are”: Effects of distinctive variants of self-talk on efficacy beliefs and motor performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-8.

Interested in teamwork?

Do you consult with teams? Is part of your role to attempt to attain higher engagement, employee satisfaction, and/or improved team productivity? If so, take a look at this new online course on empowering teams.

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