Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Is teamwork overrated?

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Groups and teamwork have long been talked up
Groups and teamwork have long been talked up

Don't you hate that pithy little sentence "Together Everyone Achieves More"? It's what the letters that make up the word "team" are supposed to stand for. Cute, isn't it? Or does it make you want to quietly throw up? I'm in the latter camp. Happy-clappy, touchy-feely sentiments leave me cold.

Then, of course, there's the old: "There is no 'I' in 'team'." Pass me a bucket. In fact, when I've been caught displaying some especially selfish attribute I've been known to say: "There is no 'team' in 'I'." It makes about as much sense as that oft-heard initial statement.

Groups and teamwork have long been talked up yet there's a bland uniformity and dullness associated with the way they're promoted that is virtually guaranteed to repel anyone with an ounce of creativity and independent spirit. Consider the examples set by such international superstars as Eleanor Catton, Lydia Ko and Lorde. Their respective areas of expertise - as an author, a golfer and a solo artist - are uncompromisingly individual. I'd put money on the fact none of these high achievers has "Together Everyone Achieves More" Blu-tacked to her bedroom wall.

Nonetheless teamwork continues to be hailed as a one-size-fits-all solution in the business world. It's as if creating conveniently sized and reasonably homogenous groups of people is the only way corporations can deal with staff members. Groups stifle individual flair while making people easier to manage.

For the company, group thinking offers efficiencies and economies of scale. But for every employee who finds the anonymity and diminished accountability afforded by being part of a group appealing, there's certain to be someone else who finds such an approach soulless and mechanical.

'Top Dog': Unselfish Teamwork Is Overrated says: "Search for the phrase 'team player' on Monster.com and thousands of posts come up listing it as a necessity for the job in question. Lawyers and accountants, machinists and bakers, even night-shift delivery drivers ... are all expected to work well in groups."

Yet the authors of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing think that the emphasis on teamwork is likely to repel top applicants who fear that collaboration means their individual efforts will not get the recognition they deserve. One of the key problems with the team framework is that it can be difficult to assess personal contributions and therefore it's easy for the poor performance, lack of talent or laziness of a particular person to be camouflaged by the work of others.

According to one commentator at Teamwork? It's just so overrated, says expert, "[p]erformance should take precedence over teamwork because over-emphasising the harmonious nature of a team can have a negative impact on performance". Why Teamwork is Overrated says: "People in groups often waste time squabbling over goals" and "the benefits of teamwork are nowhere near as clear as the fashion would suggest".

Artificially generated teams are the refuge of the mediocre. They are foisted upon all-comers regardless of whether they are likely to flourish in such an environment. A convenient way of structuring big organisations, teams provide a production-line approach for dealing with personnel. They keep everyone neat, tidy and in one position.
And, of course, the culture of gratuitous teams keeps an entire industry afloat. There are specialist organisations that run corporate team-building exercises in which grown adults must participate in events such as Mini Olympics and Survivor-style games for the purpose of fostering team spirit and enhancing bonds between team members.
As mind-numbingly worthy as all that forced fun and compulsory camaraderie sounds, it's really no worse than this last inspiring motto I found: "Teamwork isn't about ego. It's about 'we go'." Seriously? What is wrong with these people?

What's your experience with teams? Is it true that Together Everyone Achieves More - or is it just an annoying saying? Does everyone really do their best work within a team environment?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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