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Ego and Teams

  • Illness was no doubt the final cause
    Of the whole urge to create;
    By creating, I could recover;
    By creating, I became healthy.

      • – German poet Heine imagines God explaining Creation

We come together in teams and organizations for many reasons. One foundational reason is that we know we can achieve certain goals with others that we cannot do alone.

However, with all the emphasis on teams, we sometimes lose the value of the individual contributor. I think we sometimes blame individual contribution or a focus on the individual’s results as “anti-team” mentality. When an individual’s interests overshadow the team’s interests, the individual may be seen as “egotistical.”

Despite the history and ongoing controversy around Sigmund Freud’s theories and practices, critics and followers alike agree that Freud’s contributions to psychology were profound and significant … so significant, in fact, that they are still resonating in contemporary human development today.

Freud introduced the “psyche model,” comprised of the ego, super ego and id. For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the ego – how we think about ourselves – and the id – the “gate keeper” or the regulator of how we behave in demonstrating how we think about ourselves.

This gate keeper or the id was later significantly challenged by William James’ theory of free will, in which he suggested the gate keeper is not needed; that we have a “pure ego and do not require a gate keeper or a soul.”

As much as I admire and respect the work of both Freud and James, they were not working in our modern world where incredibly talented people are not only plentiful, they are very mobile and able to come (and go) to work in teams and organizations in unprecedented magnitudes. However, their work is applicable to today’s teams and organizations.

I am not making a case for too much ego in teams, but I am suggesting that ego is needed. People need to feel valued and leaders need to be bold at times. The ego allows this; however, the unregulated and misdirected ego contributes to team dysfunction. In his book “The 5 Dysfunctions of A Team,” Patrick Lencioni suggests that the ultimate team dysfunction is “the inattention to [team] results” where “ego and individualized results” become the focus. I would argue that what Lencioni is really sharing is that the unregulated ego is the problem.

How do we regulate ego through a healthy and highly functional id, so we can come together in any relationship having our gifts and talents embraced and valued? How do we integrate the talents and needs of the individual while ensuring that teams and organization are psychologically safe, collaborative and highly functional?

Freud was skilled at finding appropriate quotations or literary examples, and had utilized the Heine poem above to illustrate his ideas of sublimation … the ability to utilize and redirect energies for more constructive purposes.

If you’d like to know more about team, organizational and individual development, please contact Emergent at

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
The Story of Psychology, Morton Hunt, Second Anchor Books Edition, Copyright 1993, 2007 by Morton Hunt

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