Top Myths and Facts about Teamwork

A general dictionary defines teamwork as a Cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together in the interests of a common cause, unison for a higher cause, or people working together for a selfless purpose, and so on. Applied to workplaces teamwork is a method that aligns employee mindsets in a cooperative (and supposedly selfless) manner towards a specific business purpose. Today there is no organization that does not talk about the need and value of teamwork in their workplaces. And there is no dearth of management gurus who argue and describe about the immense benefits of teamwork. However, while the concept of teamwork and its benefits are well known and talked about, it is very rare to see it being practiced in reality. And secondly what you may have noticed outwardly as teamwork is not really teamwork internally. To understand why you need to first be aware of a few myths and facts about teamwork, and why it does not work in reality, or cannot be sustained for a long time.

1. Human nature: Human beings are fiercely independent animals and will have always their own opinions and independent methods of doing something, though they may be unwilling to express it openly. This is the way we humans are hardwired by nature from millions of years. Except for a very small percentage of people, sharing and collaboration with others is not exactly programmed inside every human being. This is because each person is mainly concerned about his or her rewards, appreciation, need for power over others, and so on. But teamwork insists on everyone playing an unnatural ballgame that aligns our mindsets in a cooperative and usually selfless manner towards a specific business purpose. And this involves unpalatable stuff like sacrifices, compromises, sharing of rewards, sharing blame and punishments, suppression of personal opinions, etc., which is not acceptable to almost anyone. No matter what is expressed on the outside, internally it is always, What is in it for me? rather than, What is in it for us?

2. Illusion of teamwork: A popular proverb says birds of the same feather flock together. Groups and crowds are often mistaken for teams. Employees form groups, crowds, mobs and unions for personal reasons and desires. For example, it is quite natural for people belonging to the same religion, speak the same language, belong to a certain ethnic group, share the same bad habits (or hobbies), share a common enemy, studied in the same college, etc., to stick together. But they don't really become a team. And again just because a bunch of employees stick together for lunch, cigarettes, boozing, movies, rag juniors, have wild parties, indulge in idle gossip, etc., does not mean they have actually formed a great team. That is just a mob at work or marriages of convenience formed mainly for personal reasons and interests. This illusion or togetherness is often mistaken for teamwork. But the underlying reason people collaborate with one another is because they believe it is in their personal interest to do so, and not for a higher selfless purpose. In reality, what usually unite people are mainly common fears and limitations. They see safety in numbers and behaving in a similar fashion. For example, employees at junior levels easily stick together to help and assist each other because are bound by common fears and limitations. The common fears and limitations are things like young age, lack of knowledge, experience, power, etc., which does not allow them to survive independently yet.  Even historically from centuries kings with small kingdoms would form diplomatic partnerships with other small kingdoms, not because they wanted to form a team. They united because they believed by combining their powers they could prevent an attack by a bigger or more powerful common enemy.

3. The lifespan of teamwork: Teamwork, even when it works in rare cases, always has a limited life span. Continuing the above example, once people grow up and get the required experience, knowledge and money power you will rarely see them stick together the way they used to do before. For example, kids are always close to their parents when they are small. But once they grow up and gain worldly experience they hardly depend on their parents anymore and will even oppose them at every opportunity. Similarly once employees gain more knowledge, more money, more clout, more talent, more seniority, etc., they will rarely want to work as a team bound by a common purpose. Instead they start seeing themselves as independent advisors, decision makers and want to lead a team towards their perceived directions of success, and not like work inside a team led by someone else. This is why you rarely see teams at the top layers of management, or with professors, doctors, lawyers, judges, artists, surgeons, etc., and instead only see icy jealousies and cold wars for power and prestige. Just try to make them work as a collaborative team.

4. People behavior during success and failure: The true colors of people can be seen when there is a reward or punishment to be shared. When something succeeds you definitely see and hear a lot of noise about teamwork and how they pulled it together as a team. For example, when a project, task or some activity succeeds then suddenly every Tom, Dick and Harry will join the bandwagon to share the laurels and a piece of the cake. But if the same project, task or activity fails miserably the group will never lift their hands together in unison to share the blame. This will not be seen even in employee groups that earlier used to shout the loudest claiming they are a great team. Instead the first thing that will definitely happen is to find one or more scapegoats to pin the blame on.

5. The need for it: Often, people who give sermons on teamwork will rarely work as a team themselves if given a choice. For example, politicians are the one who talk the most about teamwork. They always like to have a large number of people with them because they will need a large number of votes to win. If the rules of winning in democratic politics was somehow changed and did not depend on the high number of votes you will never see any politician talking about teamwork.

Finally, we can conclude this chapter with a quote about teamwork from Michael Winner who said, A team effort is a lot of people doing what I say.

Article Author - Thejendra B.S

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