I’m sure at least 90% of the working population has at one point or the other has mentioned ‘teamwork’ as a valuable skill on their resume. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Working with people in teams is a good skill. But I think we place too much importance on teamwork and pay little to no attention to the fact that sometimes, teamwork is overrated.
Consider the findings of this study by Allen and Hetch (2004).
Although advocates of teamwork suggest that teams enhance performance, empirical evidence does not consistently, or robustly, support these claims. Still, a belief in the effectiveness of teams—among managers, employees, and the general lay population—seems very strong.
According to the study, the benefits of teamwork are minimal at best. Yet, the social interaction that we derive from it seems to colour our perception of teamwork as beneficial. Also, most people are plain terrible at teamwork.
But if you are still not convinced, here are a few reasons why teamwork does more harm than good.
No room for dissent
In a team, there tend to be established social norms. Members of a team might not be comfortable expressing dissenting opinions, especially if those opinions are the kind that might disrupt the social fabric of the group. This is because, when the status quo of the group of disturbed, social interactions suffer, the team might be split, based on their opinions or even worse, the team might fall apart. Nobody wants to be that person who is responsible for the dissolution of a team. In the attempt to prevent any fallout which might impact the team negatively, even if team members have differing opinions, they might not voice them.
Everyone cannot be a team player
Let’s face is. Not everyone is a team player. And that’s not a bad thing. Some people enjoy working in teams and some don’t. Individuals who do not enjoy working on teams should not be forced on teams. Because when we tell employees to ‘just deal with it and move on’, you are jeopardizing the team as a whole. Employees who do not want to be on a team will ensure that everyone knows of their discontent. Or they might stall a team’s work by simply being difficult and obstructive, engaging in spurious arguments and the time. Teamwork should not be forced on every employee like it’s a tonic for wellness. Rather, give employees the opportunity to be a part of a team and leave the decision-making up to them.
Teams foster social loafing
Social loafing can be defined as a phenomenon in which people exert less effort when working collectively on a task. Unfortunately, in a team, there will always be a few members who will put less effort than the others because they assume that since they are in a team, they don’t need to expend that much effort. This drags down the efficacy of a team because not everyone is giving their 100%.
Teams tend to value those who speak first
In a team, the ones who speak first tend to establish the status quo and the rest of the team members view the person who speaks first as the de facto leader, even if they aren’t. It is important to remember that in a team, there are different kinds of people. Some people might talk just because they want to. Others will not open their mouths until they truly have something they think is worth saying. Both these qualities are not bad. Rather, they highlight the fact that people within a team are not all the same. However, the point I’m trying to make is that a person’s value cannot be determined by how fast or how slow they speak, yet that is exactly what happens in a group. Sometimes this dynamic benefits the group. But more often than not, it does not.
Teams stifle creativity
We think that teams foster creativity and improve productivity but that’s not always true. In fact, the opposite might happen. This is usually an unintentional mistake. When there is an established order or process at play, team members might be leery of coming up with ideas that rock the status quo. If someone has an idea that steps outside the norm or is out of the comfort zone of team members, they might not even bring it up. Even if they do bring up the idea, they might face a lot of pushback and resistance, which defeats the very purpose of the idea.
Teamwork works, but only when you a get a lot of things right. We need to recognize that teamwork has benefits, but not so many that we force it upon employees or just throw employees together in a team.
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