Taking One for the Team?

April 24, 2017

Taking One for the Team?

Taking one for the team—it seems to have originated with baseball (thanks, Wikipedia!)—but is often used in work settings. It usually means agreeing to personally take on an unpalatable task in order to help your team.  Let’s look at an example.

You work in a large company with a history of developing its people, but upheavals in the industry have meant cutbacks of all kinds. You’ve been in your job for two years and, every year, the company allows your unit (three of you—YOU, Sacha, and Tim—and your manager—Gwen) to attend the conference in your field. You’ve learned a lot each time and made useful contacts you’ve used in your work. Gwen calls a team meeting.

Gwen: I’ve just had a management meeting. The budget is really tight. No lay-offs, at least for now, but they’re cutting back in other ways.
You: Like what?
Gwen: Well, for one thing, I only have money for three of us to attend the conference later this year.
Sacha: One of us can’t go?
Gwen: I’m afraid so.
Tim: So who?
Gwen: (not looking at anyone) Well, I was kind of hoping for a volunteer. Someone who would take one for the team.
  (Silence)

So, should you volunteer?

Pros and cons of taking one for the team

Pros on volunteering Cons on volunteering
·       You’ll be seen as a good team player ·       You lose a chance to expand your skill base
·       Your manager and team members might be grateful ·       You won’t find out what’s new and exciting in your field
·       You’ve avoided creating tension within the group ·       You can’t add to your list of valuable contacts
·       You can catch up on some of your nice-to-do projects ·       You miss heads-up of any job openings in other companies

Uh-huh. So look at the two sides. Notice how the pros are all advantages to your team or company? And that the cons are all about how you will be personally disadvantaged? This is the essence of taking one for the team.

Not only that…

And while we’re at it,

  • Why should you volunteer rather than either Sacha or Tim? You all want the experience. Why should you be the one to take the hit?
  • How come Gwen—presumably the most experienced among you as she is the manager—how come she doesn’t volunteer?

Should you never take one for the team?

Seems like it when you read the pros and cons, right? And yet, in order for teams to function effectively, individuals in them do occasionally need to take on an unpalatable task for the good of all.

In the next posts, I will cover:

  • When you should take one for the team
  • When maybe you should not
  • Downsides of refusing to take one for the team
  • How to combine team and career

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