Teamwork : Easier Said Than Done

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Teamwork : Easier Said Than Done

Today’s team work is lateral networking in which each one is for everyone and not the do or die culture of an arm.


Not being able to work in a team goes against the professional career of an individual. All the interviews for any post or position are aimed at finding if the interviewee is a team worker or not. From time immemorial, team work has been lauded. The seven wonders of the past and the innumerable wonders of the present are the output of the multifunctional skills of many people working together. Today’s civilization is a gradual evolution from an individual’s effort to collective endeavours.  

Agricultural and industrial revolutions were successful because the individual was replaced by collective farming and division of labour on production lines. Political changes are occurring because of mass participation. Lying behind the concept of democracy is the principle of government by the people for the people and of the people. Good governance consists of co-operation and co-ordination of all the wings of government. The welfare of all, the participation of all and the benefits to all characterises team work in a family, society, corporation country and the world. Team work presupposes that every individual is endowed with talent and can contribute to the fulfillment of any objective to which he is attached. 

Since last year, Harvard Business Review has published 14 articles dealing with different aspects of teamwork in business organisations. The common theme of these articles is the necessary existence of team work in all the diverse business organisations of different hues and colours, and the success of such team work depends on the extra effort made by the members of the team to work in unison to make it a success. Usually members of a team with multifunctional skills and unequal capabilities can ill afford to rely on their solitary efforts for desired results. The old hierarchical structures have failed to respond to changes in technology, market demands, product innovation and differentiation as quickly as the situation demands because the communication sent down the line takes time and gets distorted. 

The horizontal team work basically has less rigidity, more informality and spontaneity, encouraging each member to take the initiative to innovative problem solving as collective effort. Though the management of business organisations especially large ones is becoming flat the world over, still the hierarchical system is still much in force in most small business organisations and government services in the developing world. This trend towards an individualistic approach to executing any work by solitary efforts requires deep analysis. Maybe teamwork is easier said than done. 

First and foremost, technology is depriving the necessity of working in a team. More and more types of intricate, complex, dangerous, dirty and monotonous works are being done by robots replacing humans in a team. The digital facilitation in terms of access to information, communication and data analysis has also reduced the necessity of team work in these areas. Even socialising which consisted of gossiping during the off time with fellow colleagues has been affected by access to social networking through social media by smart phones. Even families are becoming minimalist with little connectivity to other members. The trend is to be a loner. 

This shift in human behaviour as a result of the impact of technology and the observed casualness in relationships has a telling effect on successful team work at the work place. Northcote Parkinson said that “while men do not become robots as a result of automation, there has been a tendency on the part of management to treat them as if they were machines”. So long as men are treated as machines team-work suffers as the glue binding them together is human emotion and the awareness of the necessity of interdependence. 

It is heartening to note that there is a revival of faith in human ingenuity and creativity which, though lost for some time, has re-established the virtues that team work can bring about. The Japanese prize group efforts highly in their management style but Americans have always emphasised individual accomplishment and a highly competitive managerial environment. Technology and competition both have failed in the domain of innovative creations where team work success has been phenomenal. Even American corporations have started acknowledging that just working harder does not improve productivity. It is improved by the new ideas generated by team work. 

The irony is that the group normally has problems working together because each member may have a conflicting personality trait. Since the organisation has not taken cognizance of the work style of each employee while forming the team, the necessity of moulding different styles and personalities into a cohesive group which can create synergy for accomplishing the task is lost sight of.

Eben Harrel, in an article called “A Brief history of personality tests”, comments that it was first used by the US Army during World War Ι to try to predict which soldiers would suffer from “Shell Shock”. Personality testing today is roughly a 500 million US dollar industry with an annual growth rate estimated at 10 percent to 15 percent.

There are many tests available to evaluate an individual personality but a few are more in vogue than others. Myers-Brigg type indicators stress on intuition, thinking, attitudes and judgement qualities of an individual and classify them into 16 types on the basis of the combination of the above. A five factor model based upon psychological traits of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism has been found very useful to predict personalities that are likely to clash or work harmoniously together. A new branch of psychology stresses upon the positive strengths of an individual and based upon these positive strengths jobs are designed so as to take advantage of the group’s best qualities and make them compatible.

There are many variations of these basic tests but the tests are only an indication. There are negative sides also to any personality of which ego tops all and its impact sometimes negates the combined, positive effect of all other strengths. The fault lies in our upbringing which has always undermined group activities and sports and focused more on individual winning. The vertical system of a family structure where everybody is expected to follow the direction of a few from above is so prevalent that it has taken the status of a culture and any breach is taken to be a rebellion. 

This theme has been behind all the managerial styles not only in business but also in the family, society or even the state. While the individual directing his followers has reaped the profit alone, the suffering from consequential damages has always fallen upon the majority. The emergence of democracy and the voice of the people have started giving importance to collective leadership, group responsibility and team accountability only recently. Hence the science of working together is gaining momentum in terms of more research, deep analysis and a search for a conducive working environment that fosters team work. 

Vickbug on the theme of the new science of team chemistry through their systematic research classified the employees of business organisations in the following four categories.

a. Pioneers : They value possibilities and their focus is on the big picture.

b. Guardians : They value stability and their focus is on order and rigour.

c. Driver : They value challenge and focus on speed and results.

d. Integrator : They value relationship and focus on connectivity and harmony.

Biological research has also endorsed these categories citing that each type of personality is dominated by a certain type of chemical in the brain. Helen fisher who has done a lot of research on the biological system of personalities says that the dominance of either of the following chemicals or a combination thereof, of dopamine, serotonics, testosterone, estrone/oxytocin, determines the personality traits that psychologists have classified.

The above facts also emphasise that there will always be contradictory characters in a team and to reconcile these contradictions into synergy is the challenge faced by successful team work. A person is a bundle of contradictions and though there is a dominant personality trait, others exist also in descending order. 

When working in a team the selection of a coordinator is of crucial importance as his role will be defined not in terms of his expertise but for his co-ordination acumen in reconciling the team member’s work style into a cohesive whole. A pioneer combined with the trait of an integrator suits the bill than any other combination for a would be coordinator.

It is not that the personality traits are rigid and inflexible. Especially when it is a proven fact that certain chemicals in the brain determine personal traits and the production of these chemicals can be controlled by our life-styles, food habits and social behaviour, so the personality of an individual can be moulded so as to foster his career path. However, the person has to be conscious about it and take steps to round it up as per his need. 

Secondly given the knowledge that the group members are of diverse personality traits and those personality traits may be in direct contradiction to each other, the options are available to reshape the group in a way that members’ qualities are complimentary. 

It will be upon the coordinator of the group to ensure that each member of the group, in deference to his personality traits, is given equal importance in deliberation and assignment of responsibilities. Sometimes the dominant thought tends to suppress the alternative views because the advocates of such views are in a minority. It may also happen that a member of the group is not articulate and hence pushed to the back bench whereas he may hold a strong opinion on the subject. These diverse work styles, all have something important to offer but can cause conflict also among themselves. 

It will be upon the coordinator of the team to know how to manage the differences and team member potential so that each member approaches his colleague in the team positively. This building of team spirit is an art as well as a science. It is said that to foster productive friction leaders should pull opposite types closer, seek input from people with non dominant styles and pay attention to sensitive introverts who risk being drowned out but have essential contribution to make. 

Networking is a necessity and though people hate it, aversion to it can be overcome. With a higher purpose and benefits being shared by all, members of the group can then start working together. After all if networking becomes an opportunity to discover one’s talent and the group’s interests align with personal motives, then team work can start having a purpose for each team member who then starts offering whatever valuable input 
he or she has. 

High motivation to work in a team does help the furtherance of team work. But certain basic problems of incomplete information support, back-ups and lack of interest of the top management in the working of the team can jeopardise the working of it. Conflicts do occur. They are good if they foster respectful debate, bad if differences become dominant. How to evaluate team’s effectiveness periodically to identify room for improvement is equally necessary. 

Before a team can start functioning it should lay out its rules for resolution of conflict and evaluation of progress so that the direction is not lost. Today’s team work is lateral networking in which each one is for everyone and not the ‘do or die’ culture of an army.

The writer is the chairman of Nimbus Group.

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