Over the past umpteen years, the virtues of the ‘team’ have been almost endlessly extolled. The impression in some organisations is that ‘team’ is the only way to work, and if you are not a team member you are some sort of nutter or pariah.
Over the past few years I have become sensitized to the idea that the definition of the word team has become very broad and is often applied out of any meaningful context. For example, the espoused values of one large company included the value statement “We are one team” – all seventy-five thousand across some seventy countries!? Equally they had a group of technical consultants working out of a single office who only occasionally saw each other for more than twenty minutes a month, and rarely as a group, being described by their remote manager as a team.
A dictionary definition of a team says – ‘A number of people organised to function co-operatively as a group’. Dr Mike Woodcock, a onetime boss of mine and later a Member of Parliament for Ellesmere Port and Neston and author of many books on teams and team-working, defined a team simply as, ‘any group of people who must significantly relate with each other in order to accomplish shared objectives’. That’s good enough for me Mike. I can visualize ‘significantly relating with others’ and not be in a team and I can envisage ‘sharing objectives’ and not being a team but I can’t imagine being in a situation with both and not being a team. So Mike Woodcock gets my vote.
Is this enough? We are all individuals with our own quirks and talents. Are there some people who are just not team players and others who are lost without ‘significantly relating’ in a work situation, even though they are not sharing a common objective?
There appears to be three levels for a useful continuum:
• Team worker
Like to work alone with sole responsibility.
This does not mean the person is an isolate, although he or she may be. It does not mean the person is anti-social. Independents are likely to be introverts although one can’t exclude some extraverts. The person may be highly social outside of the work environment. One can imagine an author or fine art painter being an independent and once that is imagined many other jobs can be considered in this way. It might be argued that the professionals mentioned need other people to get their work published or exhibited, so for a phase of their work they may become team players. That may be true, or he or she may just pay fees to get the required job done. Independents just prefer to work alone in the way they want to work without having to make allowances for or take into consideration the needs and wants of others. There are indications that Independents tend to move into specialist roles away from the managerial stream (Belbin) and as a result can end up working for less talented people. Here speaketh an Independent, who was an executive leading an ace team.
Team Players are able to work with others towards a shared goal having clear personal accountabilities that are related to the achievement of the common goal.
Let’s use a sporting analogy to clarify this. A football team has eleven players. If you watch a group of six-year-olds playing they all run after the ball. The resulting melee may be great fun but achieves little. By comparison, when watching a professional team it is clear that each player has a defined job working within a sub-team with clear objectives working towards the ultimate objective of scoring more goals than the other team. Arsenal may be an exception, a team that has the ambition of playing together without scoring goals (a supporter!).
There are defenders, mid-field and attackers. Each sub-group in tune, with a role, working together and closely supporting the other groups.
So team players have a clear territory of accountability but need the others around to cover related accountabilities that are necessary for the common objective. This means that team players must be able to work with others, reading their needs and responding flexibly to meet those needs, and taking initiatives to support the other team members to prevent a breakdown in the operations, sometimes outside of their normal skill parameters.
Need to be with others and share work accountabilities.
Co-operatives are not productive if they have to work alone. In a solo situation they may become bored, unsettled, and in the extreme demoralised. They just need to be with others when they work. They are people that need people. For Independents, Co-operatives can be a pain, as they feel crowded by them, and for Co-operatives, Independents are a pain because they just can’t understand how one person does not want others.