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The Difference Between Selfish and Selfless Teammates

Selfish teammates ensure mediocrity for the team.

She never did anything for anyone – unless there was a payoff. I am not talking about a financial transaction. She wanted someone to match her action equally. If the other person did not reciprocate to her satisfaction, she’d remember. She’d dwell on it. And she’d focus more and more on her own work world. Her time with our company became all about her. As a result, the rest of the team pulled away from her.

There are two types of teammates - selfish and selfless. We define teamwork as:

Teamwork: Selfless acts towards a common goal.

Selflessness is the hallmark of an elite team and an elite player. In the work world, as in sports, there are plenty of examples of talented yet selfish teammates. It’s interesting to watch some NBA players mature throughout their career. I can think of one example who will remain nameless.

He would routinely score 30 points in a game for a losing team. His individual statistics in his youth impressed everyone. As he matured, he realized the joy of individual highlights was fleeting. He wanted a team with which he could win a championship. To do that, he passed more, worked harder on defense, and became more of a coach on the floor to younger players. Before his career was over, he had won his championship.

In many ways it is easy to see the futility of selfishness in athletics and trying to win in a team sport. Yet most of us work in a place where teamwork is necessary to succeed, and the futility of selfishness doesn’t seem as obvious.

Selfishness versus Selflessness in the Workplace

Selfishness: A teammate who ignores the people who clean and maintain the buildings they work in.

Selflessness: A teammate who stops, asks these people for their names, and makes conversation with them.

Selfishness: A teammate who consistently checks his phone or watch while speaking with others.

Selflessness: A teammate who takes the time to look the other person in the eye and focus on them.

Selfishness: A teammate who interrupts and is more interested in telling her story or sharing her ideas than she is in hearing from someone else.

Selflessness: A teammate who waits and asks follow-up questions so she can better understand the other person’s point of view.

Selfishness: A teammate who worries about who receives credit and whether he is getting his fair share of acknowledgement.

Selflessness: A teammate who celebrates a victory for someone on the team no matter how large or small his own role was.

At work, selfless players ensure a team’s success. Without people who focus on the team’s common goals, mediocrity is the best that the team can hope to achieve.

I won’t guarantee you that a selfless team can overcome a poor strategy. But, a selfish team will almost always kill a great strategy. If you want to be part of a winning team, you need to decide to put the needs of others before your own needs and concentrate on the team’s common goal.

The question is this: do you want to be on a winning team, and what type of player do you want to be?

Dig Deep Questions:

  • What selfless acts will help your team win?

  • Do your teammates see you as selfless or selfish?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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