Updated on 11.06.07

Is It More Important To Promote Myself or Promote the Team?

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar attempts to address challenging questions in personal finance by looking at both sides of the story and figuring out some of the factors you need to look at to make a decision.

Reading a lot of career advice gives a person some strongly mixed messages. In one book or article, it will suggest putting the team first when handing out credit in all instances because it builds team spirit and loyalty. Other articles and books will suggest just the opposite – take as much credit as you can for good work.

The benefits of each are pretty obvious. Giving lots of credit to your team will make everyone involved feel better about the work – everyone likes getting credit for their achievements. On the other hand, taking credit yourself will often do more to bolster a career and get you in place for a promotion – or for a great resume. Let’s look carefully at both sides of the coin.

Give Credit to the Team

Have you ever worked with a person who tried very hard to take credit for as much work as possible, regardless of how much effort he or she contributed to the tasks? Usually, before long, that person was seen for what he or she is and was ostracized for it (unless they had exceptional social skills, I should note).

This ostracizing occurs because others don’t like to be treated as pawns in your game, and they will resent you for it. It’s simply the right thing to do to assign credit where credit is due, and to take some of that credit for yourself might bolster you in the short run, but it will eat you alive in the long run.

Not only that, giving credit to your team gives a strong positive impression of your character. A person who has the strength of character to stand up and say that this wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of others, and enumerating their efforts, almost always comes out on top.

Giving credit to others is always the right thing to do, so why would you choose otherwise?

Take Credit Yourself

In today’s competitive environment, where the average person works at eight jobs before they’re 32 years old, you need to maximize what you can get out of each job. Points for your resume, contacts, and letters of recommendation are all essential things to build at any job, and the best way to do that is to work hard and make sure you get credit for that work.

The average organization shows little loyalty to you, so why should you show loyalty in return? Essentially, we’re all contracted employees, and if we fulfill the terms of that contract well, we should get credit for that work.

Even more important, if you don’t stand up and take credit for the work, someone else assuredly will. If you allow that to happen, you might spend months and months working on a project and watch someone else get a promotion or a new contract because of your hard work. It’s your obligation to stand up and take credit for your work.

My Take

I, like most people, prefer to work in an environment where credit is shared among the entire team. Luckily, most places where I’ve worked have been that way, where the team members each credit the other members of the team for their success. It does nothing but bolster everyone when you do that, and it’s that philosophy that has led me to doing morning roundups on The Simple Dollar. Obviously, it’s fine to take credit for the work you do during performance reviews, but in other environments, you usually don’t gain much by taking too much credit without passing some credit off to others.

However, there are work environments where everyone is cutthroat and seeking to get ahead. I worked in such an environment once and couldn’t wait to escape, but while I was there, I gladly took credit for everything I possibly could with my supervisor. I wound up walking out the door with some impressive things on my resume and some letters of reference that were stunning.

In a nutshell, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you work in a cutthroat office and don’t stand up for the work you’re doing, rest assured someone else will take credit for it. However, if you start taking credit for the work of others in a non-cutthroat environment, you will be ostracized. For me, I find it’s much better to work in a collaborative environment where we all give each other a lot of credit for the roles we all play.

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  1. Johanna says:

    Why not take credit for the work that you actually do, and give others credit for the work that they actually do? Or am I unusually lucky to work in a field where it’s possible to do this?

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    How do you “take credit” for team-based work, Johanna?

  3. Mark says:

    Perhaps looking towards being useful to society as a whole, instead of oneself, will solve this dilemma. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If we all put others happiness in front of our own, the workplace will be more productive and a nicer place to be…and it is the right thing to do.

  4. Samantha says:

    I was usually in environments where the other side of the coin was prevalent: rather than the team taking the credit/blame for missing a deadline… well, you get the idea. :D When things went well, however, the entire team took the credit to others (our clients, for example), but within the team, we were sure to take the credit for our part in a success.

  5. s says:

    You keep mentioning how on average people have “8 jobs by the time they are 32”. I suspect that this includes the temporary, part-time, and summer jobs that have become common for high school and college kids. If that’s the case, then this statistic isn’t really as meaningful.

    I had worked about 10 different jobs by the time I graduated college. I have had 1 job since. I don’t think that indicates much of anything.

  6. s says:

    PS. I do acknowledge that people are not staying at jobs as long — I just don’t think it’s quite as extreme as that statistic makes it seem.

  7. guinness416 says:

    Why is it not possible to take credit for team based work?

    “Oh, thanks for the compliment Client/Boss. Yeah I worked a lot of late nights on this one, wanted to make sure everything we reported was appropriate. But to give credit where it’s due, Joseph and Mary did a great job on the mechanical and electrical scopes. And Jane was a great help to me in completing the sustainability analysis. But yeah, I’m very satisfied with how the final report turned out.”

  8. Johanna says:

    As I said, it may be that this problem of team-based work pops up much less in my field than in others. I’m on the editorial staff of a magazine. The final magazine is definitely a team effort, but each of us has our own articles/departments that we are responsible for.

    I’m just saying that in principle, there needn’t be a contradiction between “take credit for the work you did” and “don’t take credit for the work other people did.”

  9. dong says:

    I think the most important thing to do when you’re young is to find a job with a good boss, one who will both mentor and give you credit. When you’re young, it’s not about the current opportunities, but opportunities in the future. A good boss will both give you credit, and take credit for your work. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing as long as they share in the largesses at a later date.

  10. Frank says:

    Most of what goes on at work is nonsense anyway. If someone deserves credit, I give it to them. I don’t take time to toot my own horn either. If you work for a boss with a brain they know if you are doing a good job or not. If you don’t (most of us probably don’t) then you can play the games if you want, but would you really feel good about yourself if you did? And what value is recognition if it comes from a fool?

    I wouldn’t take the ‘when in Rome’ advice too far either. Should the whole gang at Enron have just gone along with the good ol’ boys in charge? What if someone in that circle had stood up for what is right? Extreme example sure, but you shouldn’t compromise your values at any level for a job.

  11. MVP says:

    I wish I was in a position to even take credit for anything. My boss takes all the credit for himself. Yes, he’s a hard worker, but he cherry-picks all the big, noticeable projects and leaves the grunt work for the rest of us (who are all highly capable and well educated). Just once, after he gets a pat on the back for his work, I’d like for him to turn around and thank the rest of us for taking care of everything else so he could DO the big things.

    I think a good boss takes the hits when a member of the team screws up, and applauds the team when someone does well. That’s not to say an exceptionally high performer shouldn’t be duly rewarded. But in almost every work environment, success takes EVERYONE, even down to the folks answering the phones and keeping the place clean.

  12. 60 in 3 - Fitness and Health says:

    You can credit the team and yourself in most cases, at least in the field were I work. For example, if I led a project then I want to get full credit for that project but I’ll also make sure the people I work with get credit for the work they did. Don’t be afraid to take the credit for the work you did, it’s only when you take someone else’s credit that you start causing issues.


  13. There’s a time and place to take credit for yourself vs the team. Where’ I’m currently working, I feel that the success of the individual has been so closely interlinked with that of the team that we no longer think of what we do as work done by the individual. Most of the time, we take credit as a team and it almost feels awkward to take credit for yourself — this must mean the “team spirit” where we work is exceptionally strong. For us, any individual credit and other issues are typically taken in private.

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