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Is The Value of Teamwork Overrated?

According to Wikipedia, teamwork is defined as “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.”

One of the most fulfilling volunteer jobs I have is coaching my son’s basketball team. Last year, we had an undefeated season and won the league championship. People would ask me what our secret was. I responded, everyone had a roll and we played together as a team. We did not have superstars. We played as one. A new season is upon us. We have a few new faces on the team but the message is the same, “Play as a team and we will win games. A win is a result of the progress we make together from week to week.”

There is no “i” in team, but there is in business.

Does the sport analogy, ‘there is no “i” in team, translate to business? In a quest to answer my question, I stumbled upon research by Natalie Allen and Tracey Hecht.  The results may surprise you.

We see it all the time in job descriptions ‘must be a team player’. It has become a generic inclusion. The concept of teams within an organization is said to be one of the most common organizational changes over the last 20 years. More than half of all US companies have some sort of team format.

Two heads may not be better than one.

Do we really know what it means to be a team player in the office? Is it the best thing for business? Allen and Hecht’s research states team work is over hyped. The research indicates the romance of team outweighs the performance. The romance of team refers to faith in the effectiveness of team-based work. I was shocked to read that groups perform either no differently or significantly worse than individuals. Furthermore, groups recall significantly less learned material than individuals.

When it comes to brainstorming, another team related term thrown around in the office, Allen and Hecht state, “… numerous studies provide strong evidence that interacting groups actually generate far fewer or, at best, the same number of ideas, as compared with the combined efforts of several individuals working alone.”

But, teams do have value. Right?

If working in teams produces marginal returns, what is the value of the team? Allen and Hecht point out that teams can be psychological beneficial. Teams fulfill some of the social needs that all of us have (e.g., belonging, affiliation, social comparison). Work activities and goals shared by the team members provide meaning and satisfy belongingness needs. Furthermore their research shows people have more fun and view work activities as more enjoyable when working in groups. Groups provide ‘social verification’. This is the idea that we use other people to objectively confirm our beliefs and ideas.

How do you create a winning team?

If you are business owner you talk about building the team or working as a team, but do you know how to develop an effective team? There are multiple dynamics at play when determining whether a team will be effective for example, does the team leader have credibility and the personality required to lead a group? There are two main factors that will determine if a team is successful:

  1. The culture of the company
  2. The autonomy by which the team is allowed to function

How do you create culture?

As a business owner, are you prepared to implement the decisions your team has created? It comes down to trust and faith, and your leadership style. You are largely responsible for creating the culture and values in your organization. Ultimately through direct and indirect contact, you set the tone not only for how employees do their jobs, but how they interact with each other, and ultimately with the customer. If you are one that puts faith in a team, your are likely to have better performing teams – pretty simple. If you need the final approval on everything, foster a strategy that provides employees empowerment in some other way.

Do your employees have authority?

Are you empowering the team leader? Set the overall direction of the company and step aside to let your employees get to the mark how they see fit. This doesn’t means you cannot offer your opinion and do course corrections – at the end of the day, it’s still your company. The most successful teams feel they have accomplished something and know that they have the authority to implement their decisions.

If you are a small business owner, each member of the team is so crucial. The old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is never truer than in a small business. Building a great team starts with hiring the right people – a subject we’ll save for another day. As a small business owner, trusting and having faith in your team is one skill you need to develop.

One of the values we believe in at dlvr.it is building a strong team that has autonomy to see things through.

Key Points

  1. Teamwork accomplishes less work but produces happier employees. Happy employees = happy customers.
  2. Have a clear stated goals for the team to accomplish
  3. Provide your teams anatomy and authority to complete a task

Is teamwork central to your success? What do you think of the research? Is your corporate culture set-up for a team to succeed?