5 Reasons Why Teamwork Is Overrated

Teamwork is defined as work done by a team of people who share a common goal. Anytime a group of people accomplish a common goal, we cannot help but celebrate the spirit of their teamwork. Whether it is in sport or in business, there is an excitement that we experience and feel (or want to feel) when we succeed in a team, or even watch teams succeed.

There is little debate that teams can be very effective when they work together. And it has been acknowledged by many business experts that teamwork, although difficult to achieve and sustain, can be very fulfilling. The business emphasis on the concept of teamwork and highly collaborative thinking is still relatively new. Although leaders have been preaching teamwork for quite some time, the notion of people collaborating has never been as popular as it is today.

A high level of collaboration among team members is a desired state for most companies and business leaders. More and more hiring managers look for prospective employees who work well with others, get along, and collaborate harmoniously with others. Just 30 years ago, teamwork was only referenced in sports, but today, it’s a competency that organizations measure and evaluate in their people. Most if not all job postings today describe the ideal candidate as one who works well in teams.

However, is this emphasis on teamwork a good one? Is it possible we have gone too far in our celebration of teamwork and the team spirit? It might very well be. Teamwork, like many other trends, might be one of the more over-rated concepts in organizational behavior.  The business section of any bookstore is riddled with books examining, describing, and analyzing the very impact of effective teamwork. Business authors have spent years researching the implications of teamwork in business. It is without a doubt one of the most talked about business topics among leaders and followers today.

More and more companies, leaders, and coaches are focusing their efforts on building effective teams by working on their team rapport, trust, accountability, and performance. But how has this increased focus actually helped? Are people working better in teams than they did decades ago or even centuries ago? Have people developed into better “team players”? Not likely. Teamwork isn’t really getting easier. Okay, so there are probably more meetings in a typical day at the office, which forces people to “work together,” but teamwork isn’t actually improving.

How can we measure if that’s true? Look at teamwork’s challenges. Have they actually changed? Not really, and that’s because at the center of all teams is a group of people, and people are human, and humans have different self-interests, emotions, expectations, and motivations as they did centuries ago. That has not changed.

Business leaders are always looking for an edge to improve the performance of their teams, whether it be through team building exercises, training, or town hall speeches. This ambition and drive for team spirit is what causes leaders to sometimes look aimlessly and make dangerous assumptions. What’s worse, it may cause them to think that a current trend is just what they need for their team.

The problem with trends is that they may mislead leaders into believing there’s an area of opportunity for improvement, when in fact there isn’t. If you can’t find a solution, then maybe you don’t have a problem. People are individuals before they are teammates. Effective business leaders allow individuals to collaborate at will. It is more natural when they do. Perhaps the emphasis on teamwork can be toned down a couple of notches. Perhaps teamwork has morphed into a novelty that’s bound to wear out over time. Until then, teamwork is what everyone is talking about, and here are five reasons why it is over-rated.

5 It Takes More Time Than What It’s Worth

Getting people to collaborate requires time and since time is money, why waste it. In order to get people to work together, every team member needs an understanding of the team’s common goal, individual roles and responsibilities. Then plans need to be drawn up, which includes a process, and every few days everyone needs to report their own progress to the team. Usually, weekly meetings are setup, where people share what they did on the weekend and their thoughts on the weather – that’s only if they can get the conference line and desktop sharing-app working.

This is where the trouble lies. The time it takes to get teams to perform effectively can quickly outweigh the benefit. Teamwork is not about meetings and more meetings. It’s not about constant collaboration. In some cases, it’s about allowing team members to work independently so that they can be more productive. Before business leaders assume that all work requires teamwork, they should probably consider how best to achieve the goal and if the effort to assemble and deploy the team is even worth it. Some work is best left to the individual.

4 We Don’t Remember Teams, We Remember People

Most teams rely on the leadership, talents, and accomplishments of one person or a few. Not many teams consist of a group of people sharing equal leadership and equal tasks. Of course this can be by design. There are teams that intentionally fill in the gaps by bringing in specialized individuals or those who can provide the helping hand. However, generally teams consist of peers who intend to have equal talents, but don’t, which is why we mostly remember individuals rather than the teams themselves.

We remember the rise of one person and their individual efforts more so than we remember the rise of a collective effort, because a collective effort is actually a string of individual efforts, one or two of which come from a person who stands out among their peers. And although some may argue that all efforts count, no matter how large or small, the truth is that the balance of influence, action, and responsibility often rests on the shoulders of an individual or a few individuals – it is often referred to as the core of any team.

3 Teamwork Is A Process

Teamwork is often described as the joint efforts of many. However, when examined closely, teamwork is more like a process of tasks. The effectiveness of teamwork is measured by the execution and timing of a series of individual tasks, a lot like a car’s engine. Although no car part can actually run a car, some parts are unequivocally more important than others, not just in their role and responsibility, but in their efforts, significance, and impact.

The difference between car parts working together and people working together is that car parts don’t need to get together and iron out their differences. They don’t need to have weekly status meetings. They just need to perform. All too often teamwork is perceived as this kumbaya moment where everyone embraces each other’s differences and learns to work alongside each other,  but really all it sometimes has to be is a process made up of individual tasks. Some projects are processes and some require real collaboration. Knowing the difference is critical.

2 Teamwork Can Be For The Sentimental

The nostalgia of successful teamwork and the emotional connection of sharing a common goal can mislead people into believing in teamwork and team spirit even when it’s not the right time to work together. Because teamwork is about people, and people are filled with emotions and motivations, teamwork is often built on this emotional foundation that can be destructive.

When the game is on the line or a proposal requires the effort of key individuals, the coach or business leader makes a crucial decision to choose someone to make the difference. Successful leaders do this regardless of people’s emotions or feelings. It is not always team spirit and effective teamwork that wins the game or big proposal.

1 Teamwork Forces Compromises And Concessions

When people brainstorm in groups or collaborate, they actually undergo the exhausting task of negotiating. They negotiate to win their position, idea, role, and responsibility amongst the group. Unfortunately, a good part of negotiating is about making compromises and concessions, and when teams “brainstorm” or “collaborate”, it actually forces individuals to compromise their creativity, initiative, or even leadership.

This happens for a variety of reasons - mostly all human reasons, not business reasons. It's because when people work together, they are cautious about each other’s feelings, their own feelings, and even their peers’ perception of them. This dynamic can be distracting and misleading to the group. Allowing individuals to move in and out of silos and teams might actually promote creativity that otherwise may not have existed in the presence of a group.

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