Individual Effort vs. Team Effort: Why Both Are Important to Success

From left, Sergeant 1st Class Tyrone Griffin, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hubbard, Col. Cody Zilhaver, Sgt. Maj. Herlitz Henderson and Lt. Col. Leah Jones participate in a team-building fitness competition as part of the Financial Management and Comptroller Forum in Qatar.
From left, Sergeant 1st Class Tyrone Griffin, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hubbard, Col. Cody Zilhaver, Sgt. Maj. Herlitz Henderson and Lt. Col. Leah Jones participate in a team-building fitness competition as part of the Financial Management and Comptroller Forum in Qatar, Dec. 6, 2017. (Spc. Joseph Black/U.S. Army photo)

Learning to be a better team player is an ingrained skill set in military personnel from the beginning of basic training and beyond. This skill can be developed for decades before military service within the family setting, team sports and clubs. Similarly, getting things done on your own and building your durability to handle long hours of work and effort are skills that are also developed through years of school and work activities.

Many are good at one or the other ability, but must focus on improving in the lacking area. Here are some ways to help you understand how and why to be a better team player and ask for help when stuck on an individual task or goal.

The 2 Ways to Get Things Done: On Your Own or as a Team

Both abilities are important to your success in many endeavors, and knowing when you should be asking for help or doubling down on your efforts is part of growth and goal accomplishment. There will be teamwork events in military training, and communicating and performing activities with others will be a major part of any training program.

However, there will be moments when your success will be tested as the days turn into night and you become tired, hungry, uncomfortable and have to continue to get things done. These internal moments are often seen in intense military training, which I call the "moments when your will is tested," and you quit or keep moving forward.

Here are some things to consider in getting better at learning both ways to accomplish tasks and never quit moving forward with your goals:

'Teamwork Makes the Dream Work'

In the words of John Maxwell, "Teamwork makes the dream work." Great teams perform at high levels because of collaborative efforts, respect for each other's strengths and weaknesses, and common purpose. Communication is key, regardless of the low or high performance of the group or individual needing help.

Helping, coaching and a supportive ear when teammates seek advice are crucial. Demonstrating this respect for one another establishes a low-stress working environment and bolsters teamwork and collaboration. By being helpful to teammates, a strong foundation is laid.

Then with communication working up and down the chain, a culture of accountability can be created that encourages teammates to take responsibility for their actions. As humans on a team, we will make mistakes. Embracing personal and professional accountability where mistakes are admitted and learning is part of the process, and regrouping and finding a solution that works comes much quicker.

Establishing meaningful relationships with teammates can transform a team into an exceptionally high-performing machine. When team members feel empowered to utilize their strengths and partner collaboratively, loyalty and dedication to the team and organization are cultivated, ultimately leading to peak performance for both individuals and the team.

It Is All You; Time to Get Tougher

Some tasks are one-person jobs, but chances are that someone in your workplace has "been there and done that." Seek information on prior applications of the tasks you are charged with to see whether there are operating procedures to assist with your assignment.

Depending on your situation, there could be a time when you do not have time to get stronger, faster or smarter, and you need to get to work and grind it out. About all you can do is get tougher in times such as these and get it done. This may require a missed night of sleep or multiple nights working extra hours to finish a deadline. Sometimes this is what it takes to be part of an organization that expects high performers in their workplace.

However, even though you are "on your own," you can always ask for help from someone immediately in your world or online. Even how-to videos can be helpful if you are stuck on a certain task and closing deadlines. Take a few minutes to research the task or long-term goal in mind and you may find that you do not have to recreate the wheel.

If overwhelmed and lost, ask for help. If you have tried your methods and not seen results, instead of repeating the same protocols, ask for a new perspective from a trusted colleague or someone with experience in what you seek to do. You may find someone not beaten down by multiple attempts and failures with a different outlook on possibilities you may not have considered. Be open to these suggestions and try them out.

The Importance of Seeking Help as an Individual or Within a Team

In pursuing personal and professional growth, one must acknowledge the personal limitations of your abilities and those around you. No matter how determined or skilled you may be, no one is perfect and all-knowing. This is where the notion of seeking help becomes most relevant. This is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of communication skills, self-awareness and maturity. When faced with daunting tasks or challenges, collaboration and support from others become essential to navigating complex tasks and long-term goals. This also builds stronger teams and relationships within your world.

Stressing out in a vacuum is a horrible way to maneuver yourself through challenges. Have you ever considered that asking for help is critical to your well-being and mental health? Ultimately, seeking help reflects an understanding of one's capabilities and builds respect for the expertise of others. Doing so minimizes our burdens and contributes to a supportive and collaborative environment on our team or unit.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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