The Power of One Isn’t Very Powerful

Today's post is written by guest-blogger, Jake L.  He is a sports and entertainment consultant in Chicago, providing teams, venues, and facilities with the opportunity to maximize current and potential revenue opportunities.  Outside of work, he is usually found on the tennis court or golf course and wherever the Spartans are on TV.  He believes in being both a mentor and a mentee, and the power of never being the smartest person in the room. 


Let’s face it, business has an inherent group dynamic to it simply because it cannot be done alone. Even the leanest, meanest start-up run by one person needs customers to buy their product and a supplier to sell them toilet paper for the bathroom. From the very beginning, you’re going to be working with other people in your training program, on your team, or just your manager and, if you have clients, you’ll be working with them.

Other people will rely on you and you will rely on other people

It’s true. Business gets done as a collective group. The thing is that, when you’re an entry-level employee right out of college, there are a lot more people who get to rely on you than on whom you get to rely. You’re not going to come in and be a manager on day one and, in the unlikely event that you come in and are in that role, you’re probably not going to be a very good one. 

Remember those clients I talked about? That group is probably bigger than you think. My first role out of college tied to supporting the objectives of other lines of business within the company. It also tied to fulfilling multi-million dollar sponsorships with a handful of professional and collegiate sports teams, where I worked with an internal team, external agency, and numerous other stakeholders involved in small to large decisions. Oh… I had projects and other deliverables to fulfill for my boss. There are a number of people to whom I was responsible for my job, so it made sense to take an “everyone is a client” mentality. 

When you’re in the type of role where one day you’re supporting a line of business, the next your team, the next the Chicago Bulls, and the next your SVP, you are in a position to be delegated to. You do not get to delegate anything other than the place in your open schedule that the work can go. You will be responsible for contributing to these people and the group they are a part of. Don’t worry though! There are a few similarities in college that will help you prepare for this ahead of time!

Fact #1: To Stay in the Group You Have to Bring Something to the Table

In college, you have a group working on a project that are together until the due date or the end of the semester. You turn in the project and all go your separate ways at the end of the period. Maybe you have classes together again and you pick the same partners because you worked well together. Maybe you avoid certain people all together because you know their work product is crap. 

In your career, you have a deliverable due date when certain pieces of the project will be expected – either by a certain meeting, date or other event. When the next phase or next whole project comes around, the people who did a great job are probably going to be the group that gets the project. In an ideal world, you know who gets left behind? The teammate who did a poor job. 

Corporate Politics is a 365-day Business

Look, in an ideal world, the teammate who did a poor job gets left behind. Idealism is great, but more often than not, you’re waking up in an under-sized city apartment instead of a new Bugatti – trust me. 

Equally as disappointing, everyone you work with isn’t going to be someone you get along with. Some people naturally cause more trouble in groups and, whether on purpose or accident, aren’t exactly there to sing Kumbaya with everyone else. 

Fact #2: Different People Have Different Motivations

Later in college, you are in more specialized classes that are required by your major and generally come with a greater amount of interaction between your classmates as a result of smaller class size. However, when working in groups, you’re all working toward getting credit in the same class.

At face value, it seems fair to think that everyone would want to work well together and do a good job

When you enter the professional setting, you are likely working with people who not only have different reasons to succeed, but different reasons for being there in the first place. One person may have genuine interest in the project and want to work on it, another may have been assigned the project by their boss, while others may be mandated by their role or fulfilling their day-to-day requirements. More so, and depending on the reach and impact of the project, the politics between parties and other teammates who have personal agendas will come into play at some point. While these factors can derail progress on a project, learning to channel the personalities, politics, and agendas of your teammates into positive collaborative thinking will produce the best work possible. 

Regardless of motivations and politics, I would rather work with someone who brings a different perspective and makes the team better

My Experience Working on Teams

Maybe you were like me in college and you preferred being able to control your destiny in an exam. Maybe you enjoyed the group dynamic and the chance to work with others. Either way, you had to work in groups and should ask for your money back if you didn’t. Frankly, I’m still someone who enjoys putting his head down into some work alone for an extended period of time, but I’ve quickly realized that you can’t do everything on your own and, even when you do, it’s not going to be your best work. 

Coming up on two years in the post-grad professional setting, I can honestly think of more times I have spent working in small to medium groups than I can think of times I have spent doing work on my own, and, of that time working alone, most of it was spent preparing some bit of information. Working in these groups were the usual suspects - team members, employees in your vertical, your manager, but there were also people who I had never met and executives so high in the company, I may as well have been an intern. 

Learning to work effectively with others and be a part of more than your own career will give you the opportunity to learn valuable skills and expertise, work with key contributors and thought leaders, and eventually become someone with whom others want to work. 

Thought Starters

  • What type of role do you play in the projects you work on? Do you manage, coordinate, analyze, support? Or do you have your own strategy?
  • How can you work to better understand the motivations and agenda of your teammates? Is this a conversation you’re willing to have with them? Or do you have to find the information another way?