How to Succeed by NOT being a Team Player

I’m unusual in that I don’t support a team, football or otherwise. I can’t say I feel any particular loyalty to my home town either really. Neither am I permanently allied to a political party. I don’t feel much of a kinship with a country (I’m British but I don’t feel that Britain is superior to any other country). At job interviews you’ll always get asked ‘are you a team player?’ as though team playing is always a good thing. But it’s not. Not convinced? How about I name some powerful and effective teams? ISIS. British National Party. Boko Haram. Ku Klux Klan.

At work I’m a member of a team and it works well (mostly). Teams can be good. People work in teams every day of the year in hospitals, hotels, governments, hairdressers, shops and factories and achieve wonderful things. Competition between teams can drive people to achieve excellence as when the Russians and Americans were locked in a bitter battle to be the first to land on the moon in the 1960s. But our need to belong to a team or ‘tribe’ can become toxic.

Seemingly, there exists a need for humans to feel a sense of belonging. These days that can be hard to find. When we feel a strong allegiance to a family, a football team, a political cause, a nationality, a religion… we feel empowered, energised, protected and strengthened. The problem arises when we feel we need to defend that allegiance, no matter what. Allegiance can lead us make skewed decisions.

For example, I know rational people who refuse to dress their children in colours worn by football teams which rival their own. My own grandparents refused to attend the wedding of their only son if if it took place in the church of any other religion apart from their own. Maybe it’s part of our ancient, tribal drive to survive. When humans lived in tribes it must have been essential to prevent competing tribes from taking the food. Back in primitive times it must have been a matter of life and death. Maybe we’re still more primitive than we like to think.


It’s a weird impulse in us. Think about this; I say my favourite colour is orange, you say your favourite colour is purple. I say why I think orange is so good and immediately the person who likes purple is on the defensive. Purple person feels the need to tell me why his decision to love purple is a better decision than my decision to love orange.  When you’re a member of a team, you defend that team, no matter what. For me, being a team player means accepting the team’s actions without question. And the most important thing of all is to always always always always always ask questions.

In a way, even a family is a team. We all feel loyalty to our family (even me), In fact, personally, that is the only team I can honestly say I feel a part of. I know that I would defend my family to the death, no matter what. If we were on the Titanic and there were spaces for my family but no others on the lifeboat, I know that I would do anything in my power to make sure that it was my family getting saved, even at the expense of others. I would even kill to save them.

Seems a pity that we don’t seem to identify much with the biggest, most important team of all; the human race. I wonder if that’s because we haven’t yet found another team to play against.


Published by Jon Kenna

Author of two novels; 'Ghost Road' and 'Mr. Mad' plus 'Susan Shocks' a book of stories for children. All available from

3 thoughts on “How to Succeed by NOT being a Team Player

  1. I hear you on that. I guess personal loyalties (Stemming from teams and general relations) promotes some irrationality within us. You used the perfect word to describe it; it’s tribal. That said, community spirit may be a necessity for a functioning society but to what ends? – not too sure on that. Great post! This one made me think.

    1. Thanks. I was playing devil’s advocate a bit because everyone always goes on about how important team playing is I thought I’d put an alternative view. Thanks for reading.

      1. I totally agree with a new angle. I must have read a billion pieces of popular lifestyle topics with nothing new to add – just the regurgatation . I read alternative, even controversial views with far more interest.

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