Define Ten Boundaries for “Taking One for the Team.”

Ron McIntyre
4 min readMay 13, 2024

‘Taking one for the team’ is a phrase that carries significant weight in diverse settings, be it professional or personal. It signifies a scenario where an individual willingly sacrifices or shoulders a burden for the collective benefit of their group or team. Grasping this concept can equip you to implement it with precision in your own life, regardless of whether you’re a professional, athlete, or social group member.

In the Workplace

In a work environment, taking one for the team might involve staying late to meet a deadline, handling a difficult client to spare colleagues, or taking on extra tasks to ensure a project’s success. The underlying principle is to contribute to the team’s overall success, sometimes at the expense of personal time or preferences.

In Sports

In sports, this phrase is quite literal at times, like a player intentionally getting hit by a pitch in baseball to get on base or a soccer player committing a strategic foul to stop an opposing team’s advantageous play. Players may sacrifice personal stats or endure physical pain for the team’s strategic benefit.

In Social Settings

Socially, it can mean agreeing to a group decision for harmony, even if it’s not your first choice. For example, deciding to see a movie everyone else is excited about, even though it might not be your preferred genre.

Characteristics and Impact

  • Altruism: The act often stems from altruistic motives, where the individual intends to contribute positively to the group.
  • Team Cohesion: This behavior can enhance team cohesion and morale, demonstrating a commitment to group goals.
  • Recognition and Resentment: While often appreciated, if the same individuals repeatedly make such sacrifices without recognition or reciprocation, it can lead to resentment or burnout. Individual recognition is crucial in maintaining a healthy team dynamic and making each member feel valued and appreciated, fostering a sense of worth and belonging.

Ethical Considerations

It’s essential that ‘taking one for the team’ is not exploited by others and remains a voluntary and recognized act. Leadership must play a vital role in ensuring such sacrifices are distributed and acknowledged somewhat, fostering a healthy team dynamic, and building trust among team members. This ensures the practice is fair and just, making the audience feel secure and protected.

Understanding when and how to “take one for the team” involves balancing individual rights and group needs. Ideally, this decision should respect personal boundaries and contribute to a collective goal.

When it comes to ‘taking one for the team,’ it’s crucial to set boundaries. This ensures that commitments remain healthy and don’t lead to resentment or burnout.

Here are ten possible boundaries to be considered:

  1. Time Commitment: Define the maximum time team members will devote to team efforts outside your regular responsibilities. I have heard too many compliments regarding great employees because they were willing to work 70–80 hours a week and at any time of day or night, while others are just considered average employees because they only work their hours.
  2. Scope of Responsibility: Delineate which tasks are within an employee’s role and which would be outside their job description. This often applies both ways, either stepping up to fill in for a supervisor or a supervisor stepping down to fill in for an employee. Both deserve consideration.
  3. Personal Values: Avoid compromising personal core values and ethics, even for team unity.
  4. Work-life balance: Ensure that helping the team does not consistently encroach on personal time or well-being. Those are great words, but they are often nothing more than lip service.
  5. Physical and Mental Health: Set limits that prevent physical or mental exhaustion, such as taking breaks and not working beyond a healthy number of hours. Burnout is real and dangerous.
  6. Recognition and Credit: Ensure that contributions are acknowledged and others are not consistently in the shadows while others receive recognition.
  7. Financial Compensation: If taking one for the team involves extra work, discuss whether it should be reflected in employee compensation.
  8. Skill Relevance: Limit tasks to those that utilize the employee’s existing skills or contribute to their professional growth.
  9. Legal and Ethical Limits: This is the responsibility of leadership and employees. Refuse tasks that could lead to legal issues or ethically compromise the individual or the company.
  10. Repeated Sacrifices: Monitor the frequency of these sacrifices to ensure they are distributed fairly among the team and not always falling to the same individuals.

By setting these boundaries, team members can effectively contribute to their team’s efforts while maintaining their integrity and well-being. One major factor allowing this to happen is a willingness to empower employees and allow some autonomy.



Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.