A colleague/friend of mine asked me a very interesting question via email today…and it really struck a cord. 

“Which attribute is more important or favorable in American culture – being self sufficient or promoting team work?”

Full disclosure. My friend is not American by birth, but has lived here for quite awhile. So his/her perception and perspective is potentially different from someone born in the US.

My first inclination was to write, “team work, of course”.  But then as I considered the depth of the question he/she was asking, I started to lean to the ideal that being self-sufficient is more important. Though it might depend on the day, the week or even the job/type of work I was currently employed doing. Assuming, I’m somewhat representative of a typical American, I was struck by the fact, that honestly I could go either way on this question. And that a survey of people on the street (or even Facebook) might yield a similar result. 

Realistically, I guess you could point to the fact that everything is set up for us to want to be self-sufficient and driven for personal reasons in the US. Capitalism, democracy, professional Darwinism, etc. are all set up around the individual. But if you investigate the way that many companies run their HR review processes, they’re keyed to both individual and company wide goals. My personal experience is that the companies that consistently hire and keep the best talent, tend to focus their performance compensation on the individual piece. Because that’s the tangible portion that we as Americans care about…we want to be the self sufficient super stars who our superiors can count on to complete the most difficult of tasks. The group goals are often seen as out of our control, and  something that even the best teamwork can’t truly impact.

Yet, we as Americans also pride ourselves as being a melting pot and working through our differences to conquer things as a “team”. Team America, if you will. Any NFL or NBA fans can look to Tebow-mania and Lin-sanity as examples of talented people, who demote their own self sufficiency to become a true team player, improving the outcomes of the overall team. Simply trying to play a part of a bigger whole appears to be their ultimate goal. Not fattening their own statistics. 

What do you think?  What really is more favorable in American culture: A great individual, self sufficient talent. Or a person whose success is that he/she contributes to a winning team? Or is their a comfortable blend? And is that mixture the real recipe to succeeding in American culture in whatever way you personally define success…