The “I” in Community

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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It's a cliché in business circles that there's no "I" in "team." Whenever I hear this, I want to respond, "Yes, but without the individuals, there would be no team." I'm still left with a question, though. Exactly how important is the individual in the context of a larger group or team setting?

On the one hand, there's the danger of elevating the group to the exclusion of the individual. This error tells individuals they are unimportant and interchangeable, replaceable and disposable, like cogs in a machine. On the other hand, teams can be derailed by strong individual personalities asserting their own self-importance. Star performers sometimes use a team merely as a vehicle for their own success.

The answer is to balance both individual and corporate identities. We see examples of this in the ministry of Paul. He did not go on missionary journeys alone if he could avoid it. Paul's standard operating procedure was to work in partnership, with Barnabas or Silas, or in a larger community, with people like Luke, Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, Sopater, and Gaius. These colleagues were Paul's coworkers in their daily efforts and often his collaborators and cowriters in his letters. Paul mentored them in community, and then sent them on individual assignments, going places Paul could not go himself. For example, Timothy served as Paul's emissary to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2), Phoebe delivered the epistle to the Romans (Rom. 16:1), and Titus was asked to troubleshoot in Crete (Titus 1:5). The strength of Paul's working community meant that his team members were well-qualified and equipped to take on their individual challenges.

The ultimate model for us is the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is simultaneously community and individuality. The Father sent the Son to do very specific individual tasks, and likewise the Spirit empowers us in ways that the Father and the Son do not. God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. God works as both community and individuals. Since we are created in God's image, we also work as individuals and in community.

This also parallels the Christian vision of marriage. The two become one flesh. In the healthiest marriages, couples find a balance between their individual personalities and their shared corporate identity as a couple. The husband does not succeed at the expense of his wife, and the wife does not succeed at the expense of her husband. Instead, both husband and wife work together so that they experience success, delight, and joy—as individuals and as a couple.

Ultimately, teams are only effective when they have effective individuals, and individuals gain strength and expertise when they are part of a healthy, highly functioning team. In my own workplace, my supervisor works to recruit the best people possible and to give them every opportunity to develop and succeed as well as they can—even if they outperform or surpass him in some ways. When individuals succeed, the team succeeds, and vice versa. And this is true whether talking about a small work group, a department, a division, or even an entire company.

Sometimes individuals will defer to what's best for the team. Other times the team affirms and empowers an individual to lead out and take the group in new directions. Savvy team leaders and team members alike will see individuality and corporate identity as two sides of the same coin, held in healthy dialectical tension. There may be no "I" in "team," but there's certainly an "I" in "community!"

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