Americans love an individualist, a lone pioneer striking out on his own and blazing a trail to innovation (with the attendant rewards, of course). And while we will always celebrate the bold entrepreneur, it’s time we in the business world recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the secret to sustainable value creation is a good team.

“In a world that becomes more complex by the day, ‘command and control’ is out, and employee engagement is in,” says author and management consultant Bruce Piasecki in his new book Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning. “The days when a larger-than-life personality is allowed to steamroll over the rest of the company are over. This destroys morale, which destroys results. Teams, not individuals, drive performance.” The organizations with real staying power are those that rely on well-led teams.

“Teams are more important than ever because the way we work and do business has changed,” says Piasecki. “The ideas that allow an organization to achieve, grow and prosper (as opposed to merely survive) will be created only when teams leverage their combined skills and hold themselves mutually accountable. No individual, no matter how brilliant, is likely to have the skill set to take projects from start to finish in this fast-paced and complex environment.”

Those at the helm of industry can guide employees away from an individualistic mindset and toward cooperation without riding roughshod over their individual talents. But first, says Piasecki, “They must understand that managing teams, with their web of hidden politics and complex interplay of human differences, is very different from managing individuals.”

Here are four of Piasecki’s insights on teams:

1. Great teams have great captains. Anyone can call himself a “leader” and follow the rules set forth in leadership manuals. But a true team captain leads not just a loose affiliation of individuals but a group with shared values and goals. “Captains are quick to recognize the key capabilities of their team members, including strengths and weaknesses, and to build the plan around those capabilities,” Piasecki explains.
2. Great teams value all their members. Among a captain’s duties is to ensure that “the MVP syndrome” has no place on the team. If this syndrome is tolerated by the captain, she may inadvertently set the stage for other woes such as favoritism and sexism. “Do everything possible to promote and reward teamwork rather than individualism,” advises Piasecki.
3. Great teams hold their members to high standards. Captains honor the contributions of every team member, not just the superstars. Even the not-so-squeaky wheels can make contributions that are critical to the team’s success. “We are all aware of conditions when everyone else was willing to go along with a wrong,” notes Piasecki. “Captains must be mindful of this very human tendency, in themselves and in others, to look the other way, to give our victors the benefit of the doubt.”
4. Great teams accept defeat gracefully. Teams that become used to winning can resort to cheating to keep the adulation coming. “No one can always win. In fact, if a team becomes addicted to victory — entitled to it even — it may take the Lance Armstrong route and go to illicit extremes to keep winning. An inability to tolerate failure makes a team easy prey for ‘the dark side.’ ”

“The word ‘team’ is more than just a business buzzword,” says Piasecki. “If done well, building and captaining a team will determine whether you merely survive or instead thrive in this strange new economy.”

Sign up for The Lead and get a new tip in your inbox every day! More tips: