There's no 'I' in Team. Or is there?

The Rise of the One Person Unicorn and why Being a Team Player is Still Relevant

I recall it vividly. The inspiring CEO of an ed-tech start-up I’d joined was giving a passionate speech about the business. She spelt out the vision and then moved quickly onto how we would work together. One thing stuck in my head that day when she said ‘You’ll all have to help each other here. There is no ‘I’ in team!’

And she was right. We collaborated in some haphazard way and found our feet through the typical highs and lows of a small start-up. I couldn’t have imagined the business to be successful without developers, designers, strategists, PR, marketing and so on.

But times have changed. Or have they? I saw a headline a few month’s back ‘Wargraphs, a gaming startup with only one employee and no outside funding, sells for $54M’ (TechCrunch) and digging a little deeper I found that this may very well be a new trend. The one man band that can launch a tech company and single-handedly exit for millions. I believe there was even a one person unicorn recently in the news.

So if that’s the case then does the mantra go out the window? That teams aren’t valid anymore and that we have so many tools at our disposal that an individual can launch their own entity and make it successful?

No entirely! Being a solo start-up might work for some but for the most part being a true team player is where you’ll find more success stories. Having been in environments where I’ve seen teams or individuals be siloed and lead to poor outcomes I thought I’d dive into why partnerships and being a true team player are so vital in any organisation.

Why Good Teams Succeed

1. Diverse Skill Sets

One of the most significant advantages of partnership in a product team is the diversity of skills and expertise each member brings to the table. A single person can only possess a limited range of skills and knowledge, but a team can cover a much broader spectrum. Combining skills in design, development, marketing, and project management leads to a well-rounded approach that can tackle complex challenges effectively.

2. Creativity and Innovation

Innovation thrives on diverse perspectives. A team consisting of individuals with various backgrounds and experiences can generate a wide array of ideas and approaches. This diversity sparks creativity and innovation, which can lead to groundbreaking solutions and unique product features that can set your product apart in a crowded market.

3. Accountability and Responsibility

Working as a team promotes accountability and responsibility. When team members know they are dependent on each other, they are more likely to meet their commitments, stay on track, and ensure the project’s success. The shared sense of responsibility helps in maintaining a high standard of work and project management.

4. Efficient Problem Solving

In a product team, different team members can approach problems from various angles, making it easier to find efficient solutions. When faced with a complex issue, multiple heads working together can brainstorm, analyse, and develop strategies that a single person might overlook. This dynamic problem-solving approach leads to better, more robust solutions.

5. Knowledge Sharing

A team is a knowledge-sharing powerhouse. Each member can bring their unique knowledge and experiences to the table, teaching their peers and expanding the collective wisdom of the team. This knowledge sharing not only accelerates learning but also reduces the chances of mistakes being repeated. You’ll often find that more senior members of the team can bring a unique level of empirical thinking to the table or even just experiences that younger members cannot possibly have gained yet.

6. Effective Communication

Clear communication is the backbone of any successful product team. Effective teamwork requires strong communication skills to ensure that everyone is on the same page, knows their roles and responsibilities, and can provide feedback and insights. Collaboration within a team ensures that everyone is aware of project developments and goals, reducing misunderstandings and conflicts.

7. Support and Motivation

Working in a team provides emotional support and motivation. When individuals are part of a group, they are more likely to feel motivated and inspired to overcome challenges. They can also offer help and encouragement during tough times, creating a positive and supportive work environment.

8. Speed and Efficiency

Lastly, partnering in a product team can significantly boost speed and efficiency. Tasks can be divided among team members, enabling parallel work and faster project completion. With more minds focused on different aspects of the project, you can deliver products to the market more swiftly.

9. FUN

Being a solo entity is great if you can make it work. But a singular success path of selling your idea may not be as enjoyable as being part of a team. Humans need each other. We become stronger and more interesting and interested by our interactions. Emotions fly, sparks ignite, ideas gestate. Being part of a team in an organisation can have it’s challenges sure, but it can also provide you with memories that last forever and often friends for life. Being a team player can be fun.

In conclusion, the importance of partnership in a product team cannot be overstated. The combination of diverse skills, creativity, efficient problem solving, accountability, knowledge sharing, effective communication, and emotional support all contribute to a productive and successful team. When you work together, you’re not just building products; you’re building a culture of collaboration and innovation, making your product team a powerful force in the ever-evolving world of business. So, next time you’re thinking of going solo, consider the immense benefits that partnership can bring to your product development journey.

Closing Thoughts

I started out solo. Determined to launch a music career, I approached The Princes Trust nearly 30 years ago and put together a business plan, strategy and creative. Months later I’d signed my first album to a German label and embarked on a career that changed my life.

Solo tech entrepreneurs are now becoming far more common. The tools available to individuals now mean that you can literally create your own product, sell it, monetise it and exit for millions.

But that’s not for everyone. 

Part of the joy of working in a product-led organisation is the collaboration and the memories you’ll make building something. You’ll not often have the incredible exit or monetised event but by joining a team and being a strong team player you’ll fulfil the human need for curiosity, learning and wonderment.