definition of team play / definition of team player / definition of teamwork / definition of no “I” in “team”

an original definition by J. E. Brown

team player
  1. A term used by control freaks. A term used by verbally abusive bosses.
  2. A term used for purposes of manipulating employees into compliance while whitewashing the motives of management.
  3. A term used for its power to make innocent people stop and think and doubt themselves and question their own motives, not for its dictionary definition.
  4. A term used in workplace bullying. How it works: Some employees are so trusting that they have a naïve faith in the goodness of power. Such employees are incapable of believing that management would take advantage of them. Devious supervisors know that they can push such employees around, and the employees will never call them on it. When corrected, these employees will blame themselves first: they will question themselves and tear themselves apart trying to figure out what they did to offend their bosses.
{You’re reading “Definition of team player” by J. E. Brown.}
Street Definition: An over-compliant employee who puts up with mistreatment.

Related Concepts:
  • arrogance; authoritarianism; belittling; bullying; coercion; control freaks; cooperation; double standards; exploitation; group-think; hostile work environment; insulting; management by euphemism; management by stress; micromanagement; mismanagement; obedience; office politics; retention and retentiveness; scapegoating; strictness; undermining; verbal abuse; workplace cults.

Related Symptoms: To determine whether your supervisor is mistreating you, first look for these related behaviors: {Read this comp1ete article at .}
  • The Blowfish Tactic. Your boss refers to himself as “the team” to make himself appear bigger and to make his orders appear more important and less arbitrary.
  • Flexibility Rhetoric. If you are being told to be a team player, you are probably also being advised to be more “flexible”. The word “flexible”, when used by abusive bosses, means “compliant without complaint or question”. It’s a form of spin (propaganda) used by control freaks, a method to shift blame onto the chosen target by demonizing a normal employee behavior.
  • Insinuations. The topics of “professionalism” and “teamwork” mysteriously keep coming up, and come up more often than they are relevant. Personal remarks against your character are direct attacks on your self-esteem, and are not acceptable management techniques.
  • Every Discussion Leads Back to this Topic. Your boss uses every opportunity to segue back to the topic of teamwork. What has likely happened is that the boss has discovered that these topics upset you and/or subdue you and/or disarm you, and has begun using them solely for that purpose.
  • Nebulous Accusations: You will not be told specifically what you did wrong. You should regard every pattern of nonspecific allegations as intentional harassment.
  • Low Threshold for Correction. The number of chew-outs vastly exceeds the number of real offenses.
  • Feeding Frenzy: Some workers report being attacked by their bosses shortly after the worker has a medical emergency or after the breakdown of an off-the-job personal relationship. Research has found that sadness is often a trigger or magnet for persons with bullying disorders. In addition, criticism of “your attitude” may come up at these times, and is a sign that your normal human emotions are being inappropriately criticized. It is not your boss’s place to comment on or meddle in your personal affairs. Only a self-centered person would expect you to be entertaining and cheerful after experiencing a personal crisis or family emergency. (For more about this personality defect, see stoicism.)
    (Chilling example here.)
  • Ignorance of the Topic. Your boss hasn’t actually read any of the books on teamwork, and doesn’t recognize the names of the authors when you quote them. ;^)

If your boss is using these tactics on you, Relationshop advises you to obtain as much evidence as possible. Write down your boss’s words in as much detail as you can, because you may need to file a grievance or a civil lawsuit, and detail is key. Do not assume that your boss is correct just because he or she is able to shame you into silence. Get Human Resources involved as soon as possible, and let them decide. Communicate with your supervisor by e-mail whenever possible, and send copies of worrisome memos to your personal (offsite) e-mail account. You have a right to keep copies of all correspondence which affects your benefits or your employment status.

If your boss’s tactics are taking a toll on your emotional well-being, you are almost certainly being abused.

Excerpts from my book (in progress)

The answer to injustice is not more flexibility. Flexibility is the food of injustice. The more flexibility you give, the more will be demanded. {You’re reading “Definition of team player” by J. E. Brown.}

— J. E. Brown

There is no “I” in “team”.

— common managerial singsong

There’s no “condescending prick” in “team”!

— Peter Chiykowski, Now available in a motivational poster!

Dear Supervisor: You’re fired. Ha ha! Now there’s no “U” in “team”.

— J. E. Brown

Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.

— a popular coffee mug slogan, a parody of management

Bizarro Management Beliefs.

I once saw these job postings — Notice the contradictions in these:

Should have thick skin and be able to play well with other staff members.

Uh, hello — The purpose of “playing well with others” is so that others don’t NEED to get a thick skin!

If you’re a versatile, self-directed, goal-oriented team player, our firm might be the place for you.

I just have to laugh at this one. There is no such thing as a “self-directed team player”. ;^) Ludicrous. Because under the popular definition, “team player” means “slave”. Someone who NEVER thinks for himself. Micromanaging bosses hate self-starters and self-directors, because self-starters and self-directors aren’t surrendering their decision-making power to the leader every second of the day.

My résumé turnoffs include:

• Excessive use of “I”, “my” or “me”. It can show that you’re not a team player.

See how easily some people jump to conclusions?

My advice would be: Always use “I”, “me” and “my” in your résumé. It’s a great way to avoid hostile work environments. … Also a great way to get a Beatles song stuck in your head.

I say we work together, guys! [to the camera:] I said we should work together, but the daughter didn’t want to hear it.

— female contestant on CBS’s The Amazing Race, July 2004

Uh, hel-lo: Seizing control and giving orders are not “working together”!

Do these people honestly not hear how they sound?!?

With all this blindness to how people are being treated, it’s no wonder that they say
“There’s no eye in team.”

— J. E. Brown

How Creative People Do It.

Productivity doesn’t just mean getting to the goal, it means getting to the goal faster whenever possible, by finding new methods and new procedures. In healthy workplaces, employees should be seeking out better solutions all the time. A big benefit of new procedures is that they make whole new products possible, products which no one had thought of before, or products which were not cost effective to produce before; new technology makes new procedures and new products possible all the time, and employees need to be watching for those opportunities all the time. Unfortunately, the average office despot absolutely hates this kind of independence in his or her subordinates, and expects them to seek permission and approval for every change, no matter how small. Any investigation of new processes is frowned upon and strictly punished. In dysfunctional businesses, it’s called “goofing off” and “not following orders”; in normal businesses it’s called “Research and Development”. {You’re reading “Definition of team player” by J. E. Brown.}

For an example of how AT&T Bell Labs got it right and led the way in computing, watch “The Factory of Ideas: Working at Bell Labs” (at YouTube). Of course, to make the Bell Labs model work in your business, you need employees who are eager to use their time to research and to create stuff. Staff members who don’t understand this and won’t take initiative don’t need or deserve the extra freedom.

By the way, if you’re working for a petty tyrant who punishes this kind of initiative — that’s a dead-end job. Quit. Seriously.

— J. E. Brown

It Happened to Me.

I was in an abusive work environment once, and here’s what I learned:

Most people (and this includes most supervisors and managers and HR staff) do not study psychology, and do not recognize an abusive manager when they see one. If you read any management manual, you’ll find that management isn’t science-based, management is power-based. Management is based on Machiavelli, right down to Machiavelli’s advice that it’s more useful to be feared than loved. Management is not usually based on the enlightened model of negotiation, where solutions are based on civility and workable plans which respect the dignity of all parties. The world of work is the world of wild animals, where the social order and the level of production are decided by discovering how much unfair treatment each member of the herd will put up with. And so, if you find that your supervisor is abusive and is using power as a weapon against you, your best reaction and response will be a power-based reply. {Read this comp1ete article at .}

As a bottom-level employee, you may not have many ways of using power, but quitting is certainly one of them. You do not have to give two weeks’ notice — no less a pundit than Judith Martin (Miss Manners) has pointed out that if you are being mistreated, you always have the option of quitting immediately; I’ll add that anyone who counsels you otherwise is treating you unethically and is no friend of yours. Most certainly, if you are being abused to the point where your well-being is affected (extreme example: if you wish you were dead), then you are obligated to take charge, defend yourself, demand that the mistreatment stop, and if/when the behavior doesn’t stop, you are entitled to quit. Your employer will probably ask you to explain the problem in minute detail, while pretending to care about fixing the problem, while pretending not to understand. Your demand should be simple: the offending behavior will stop, and you are not going to negotiate or provide education on basic people skills.

Do not say “If the behavior doesn’t stop, I’ll quit.” This is counterproductive because (1) you should never tell people how to get rid of you, and (2) you should use Fear Of The Unknown whenever you talk about consequences. The correct wording is “If the behavior doesn’t stop, I will take further action.” This approach leaves the final decision in your hands the whole time. You will retain the element of surprise.

— J. E. Brown

Workplace Cults.

Bosses who go on and on about teamwork are similar to leaders of religious cults:

Bible-based cults may proclaim they have no clergy/laity distinction and no paid ministry class — that they are all equal.

— Jan Groenveld, “Identifying a Cult” (at

— J. E. Brown

Instant Dislike.

Remember that what applied on the playground still applies in the adult world: that it is quite common for superiors and other employees to take an instant, durable dislike to other staff members whom they barely know, and so, there’s no need for you to doubt yourself every time you meet such a person. In my experience, if one supervisor likes you and works happily with you, but your next supervisor does not, then the difference and the problem are in the new supervisor, not in you.{Read this comp1ete article at .}

— J. E. Brown

Random Thoughts.

The election of a scapegoat is not an example of team play.

Have you ever noticed that the pushiest people are the ones who pay the most lip service to teamwork?

Nitpicking over trivia is not teamwork.

Okay, I’m going to spell it out now.

1. Control Freaks are not Team Players. They do not make decisions based on what the team wants — they make decisions based on what they want, and then berate anyone who doesn’t go along with it. That’s not how teams operate. {You’re reading “Definition of team player” by J. E. Brown.}

2. Control freaks are easily identified as the ones who:
   (2a) pay lip service to teamwork but
   (2b) frequently insult others by calling them non-team-players.

Control freaks are easy to identify: They go on and on about The Team, all the while creating divisions by pointing fingers of blame and trying to seize power — which, obviously, is not very team-player-like.

It’s always about power. Ever notice how “teamwork” is a word used only by those above the team? Apparently, “team play” is for others. Team play rhetoric is popular among the powerful, who are above the team and therefore exempt from playing by its rules. It’s not that they’re hypocrites; they’re just paying lip service to something they don’t believe in doing. … Oh wait, that is the definition of hypocrisy. ;^)

I like to work with team players too, but it’s important to me that they know how to define team play, and how to define teamwork in terms of its component behaviors. Unfortunately I run into a lot of tiny dictators who think it’s enough to use the verbiage of team play while knowing nothing about it.

Does teamwork mean humiliation? Do team members have to eat a lot of crow? “Teamwork” spelled backward is pretty close to “crow meat”. Just sayin’.

“It’s not slavery, it’s teamwork.”

It’s somewhat horrifying to think that these slavery management styles have always secretly existed, even while styles of big governance have been publicly evolving and growing more enlightened and (imperfectly?) trickling down toward the peasants, even as far back as the Magna Carta. In fact what has happened is that workplaces have not really kept pace with history by becoming more democratic, but rather, slave drivers have adopted and co-opted words like “team” to give their workhouses a more modern, democratic feel.

— J. E. Brown

From the chapter on “How to Be an A-Hole Boss”:

  • Have Separation Anxiety. If your subordinates go off and try to work separately on things that need to be done, and you start to feel lonely, your separation anxiety is called “their non-teamwork”. (Also called “Bring Your Inner Child to Work Day”.){Read this comp1ete article at .}
  • Talk a lot about win-win strategies — but propose only solutions which involve you winning and them losing. Because it’s no fun to win-win unless somebody else can lose-lose. ;^)
  • If one of your underlings offers a more efficient solution, which saves time and/or money and/or labor, you shouldn’t hear that as efficiency, you should hear that as insubordination. You should scream “Dissent will not be tolerated!”

— J. E. Brown


What happens in most companies is that you don’t keep great people under working environments where individual accomplishment is discouraged rather than encouraged. The great people leave and you end up with mediocrity.

— Steve Jobs

4th edition 06 May 2016
3rd edition 09 Jun 2011
2nd edition 11 Jan 2008
1st edition 27 Dec 2007

Further Reading at Other Sites

more Thoughts of the Week


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about the author

J. E. Brown, relationship activist and writer, decided in 1987 that verbal abuse will be wiped off the planet.

He once worked in a hostile work environment, and has known a number of abusive people, all of which set him on his mission.
While writing a book on relationships, he occasionally designs online surveys and writes educational materials for this web site.


More at This Site

  • The Employment Compatibility Quiz™. An online test of people skills. Ask your next boss to take this test. Detect problems in advance.
  • Definition of Verbal Abuse
  • Is there a booklet of manners in your house?
    We offer this one:
    How Rude! — a booklet about rude and abusive people, and how to recognize them

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