Most of us have seen those great teamwork motivational posters and almost every job description includes teamwork as a critical competency. Teamwork is over-rated, in my opinion. It can be a smoke screen for office bullies to coerce fellow workers. The economic stick often hangs over the team — ‘be a team player or lose your job’.
In the workplace, teamwork seldom takes into consideration the uniqueness of individuals. Usually you have to fit into the existing team like a cog in a machine. Team members can be replaced. In work teams, it’s business first. But we are more complex and multi-faceted than simplistic Homo Economicus. Our lives have psycho-social aspects. We are more than our jobs. Teams promote unity of purpose, not diversity, creativity, and passion.
Think of a football team, a common business metaphor in North America. There is only one coach and everybody has a specific job to do while ‘keeping your eye on the ball’. In today’s workplace, there’s more than one ball and the coach cannot see the entire field. The team, as work vehicle, is outdated.
As much as organizations advertise for ‘team players’, what would be better are workers who can truly collaborate by connecting to each other in a more balanced manner with multiple facets of their lives. There are other ways of organizing work. Orchestras are not teams — neither are jazz ensembles. There may be teamwork on a theatre production but the cast is not a team. It is more like a social network. Teams are what we get when we use the blunt stick of economic consequences as the prime motivator. In a complex world, unity can be counter-productive.