The Teamwork Secret: Personal Accountability

Former Butler U. basketball coach, Brad Stevens (now head coach of the Boston Celtics), “gets” teamwork.

Do people in your organization?

They might not if you’ve allowed the Great Teamwork Lie into your culture. Do you know what that lie is? Before I share it, here’s an email I received from Cathy in Indiana:

“Brad Stevens, head coach of the Butler Bulldogs basketball team (in the “Final Four” in 2010 and 2011), spoke at our staff meeting. Part of his message was about personal accountability. He referenced the QBQ! book, required reading for his players. When something goes wrong on the court, like a bad call or a missed pass, the players sometimes come back to the sidelines distracted by what just happened. That’s when the coaches say “QBQ!” The players all know what that means—and they get refocused. Something certainly is working for them, so I was compelled to read the QBQ! book, too!”

That email meant a lot to us here at QBQ, Inc. But then, almost as if to corroborate it, another email came in from a man who said he’d taken his son to a basketball camp at Butler and when he walked into the team’s locker room he saw three huge letters hanging on the wall:


And that’s the truth. Now, that teamwork lie:

“There are no I’s in TEAM.”

Hogwash! Baloney! Balderdash!

I sure hope your organization didn’t pay a consultant to come in and propagate such nonsensical thinking. I also hope you’ve not allowed it to creep into your culture by some other means.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a team—corporate, nonprofit, government, family, church—that wasn’t full of I’s. Those “I’s” are George, Katie, Robert, Frank, Amanda and Seth—and their power lies in this truth:

The team can do great things when the “I’s” take care of themselves.

That’s what the Butler coaches mean when they say “QBQ.” They know the wrong questions are what we call Incorrect Questions (IQs) such as, “When is he going to do his part?” “Why can’t the ref see what’s going on out there?” “Who’s going to fix this?”

And the right questions—called “QBQs”—are:

“How can I elevate my performance?”

“What can I do to move the team forward toward the goal?”

“How can I support those around me?”

Does this mean we never get frustrated with the people we work with or that they never let us down? Of course not. But it does mean that pointing fingers at each other or at outside forces beyond our control—it’s called BLAME—wastes precious time, energy, and talent.

This does NOT exist in outstanding teams!
Page 45 of the QBQ! book!

The truth is, when we buy the “there are no I’s in TEAM” lie, what we’re really saying is, “Not my job. Not my department. Not my problem.”

And there’s no accountability in that.

So don’t deny it, just buy it—the teamwork secret is PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. It’s just as simple as that. Ask Coach Stevens and his fine staff. They know.

Discussion Questions:

If you are part of a team—and almost everyone is today—what is your view? Is team success about others or is it about each team member practicing PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY?

Share your views below and begin the dialogue!


28 Responses

  1. I love this. It reminds me of an employee on my team who periodically says “W.I.T” which stands for “Whatever It Takes.” That means she jumps in, helps out, takes action, and makes sure things get done – she doesn’t wait to see if someone else will take care of it. As you can guess, she’s a high performer on the team.

  2. I too like this very much! We have always been told that there is no “I” in team, but yes there absolutely has to be. Our firm read the QBQ also and trys to model its efforts and attitudes after it. This was a great reminder to focus on the QBQ principles. I am from Indiana and am a huge Brad Stevens/Bulldog fan! I think it is awesome that his team uses QBQ in their daily efforts. Thank you!

  3. Great post John.

    Here is a question for you – “How can you make sure you hire people who get personal responsibility?”. I just saw a presentation by Mark Murphy on “Hiring for Attitude” and it got me thinking about what you can ask a candidate to see if they get it, or have the potential to get it. If you ask someone if they are team players everyone is going to have a rehearsed response.

    1. Jim, have candidates read the QBQ! book and then tell you what it meant to them and how they would apply. Always listen for them blaming their last employer. If they do, DON’T HIRE THEM!

  4. John,
    Once again you are right on target! Far too often we allow the concept of “teamwork” and “collaboration” mask the absence of personal accountability. This is the best example of articulating the importance of personal accountability in a team environment.
    Well Done!

  5. Great reminder of personal responsibility. The whole “no I in team” has always baffled me. Thank you for your perspective on the fact there are “I”s and we each need to focus on making sure we do our part so we win and our team wins.

  6. Awesome article today! I have heard the statement “There is no I in Team” many times. I liked your analogy and thoughts. Something that you can reply when given that statement is: “There may not be an I in team but there is a Me! Just another thought.

  7. This an outstanding note. A Team is a group of individuals that hold themselves accountable for doing their job in order to help the team be outstanding.

  8. Howdy John,

    This was a really great QuickNote and certainly hits the nail on the head about the Importance of I in teams.

    In both my worklife and personal life, I have been involved with some really exceptional teams. I have also been part of some less than great teams. I would have to say that the common thread about each exceptional team was that every member of the team lived personal accountability. Each team member held themselves accountable for the results of the team and would help each other out without ever being asked. There were seldom any ‘overdue action items’ and when these did occur, a plan had been put in place to bridge.
    Thanks for this excellent QuickNote.

  9. Wow! This post could not have come at a better time for me! My husband had major shoulder surgery this past Friday and is having a hard time already with me taking over everything. Poor guy is just gulit ridden – even though I have tried to explain we are a partnership/a team.
    This message gives me fresh explanations for the next time he starts in about not being able to do anything. In many ways he has stepped forward and dealt with additional household duties due to my decline in health (as I deal with Parkinson’s Disease). It’s time “I” work harder for the team – doing my very best to keep things up and take care of him.
    We have been a team for over 39 years now……working together or at times one or the other of us have carried the load individually. Wish me luck as I try to get my point across during the coming 6-8 week recovery time! LOL

  10. I was a college football coach for 15 years and now I am a high school athletic director and girl’s basketball coach. This applies so well especially when things go wrong in a contest. It’s such a simple way to express a profound concept and trigger the right response quickly – QBQ. Don’t waste time blaming a team mate or get down about it. Step up and ask what you can do to make a difference. When everyone does that it’s a win win every time.

    And it’s so important to prepare to do this every day in practice. When you do it’s so drilled in that when stuff happens in a game everyone is ready to live out QBQ. Thanks again for the message.

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